September 2, 2014

State’s top doctor warns against trying to use a tapeworm to lose weight

Swallowing a tapeworm you bought on the Internet to lose weight sounds like a crazy notion, but some Iowan did just that recently. The state health department’s medical director, Dr. Patty Quinlisk, says she got a call from an Iowa physician whose patient was seeking treatment for removing an intestinal parasite.

“Tapeworms can be very, very dangerous and even in rare circumstances have killed people,” Dr. Quinlisk says. “No, this is not a good idea. Even if you can find a place that would sell you something like this, it’s definitely not something to do. You could ruin your health by doing this.” Just because a product is illegal doesn’t mean you can’t find it for sale online, still, Quinlisk says she’s stunned tapeworms are apparently available for purchase.

“To sell something that is an infectious worm and to sell it to somebody who may not have any idea how dangerous this could be, I think would be just a really bad idea,” Quinlisk says. “Today on the Internet, people sell things, especially from other countries, I guess it’s possible. Obviously, this person got it from somewhere.” While it’ll give many Iowans today the heebie-geebies, in decades past the thought of swallowing a live tapeworm may not have been completely outlandish.

“I’ve heard that say 150 years ago, the proverbial snake oil medicine people would go around and, indeed, sell tapeworms as a weight loss remedy back then,” she says. “Those were the days before there was any government regulation on these things.”

In the case of the Iowan who gobbled the live tapeworm, Quinlisk advised the physician to prescribe an anti-worm medication which would kill the worm, forcing it to detach and be flushed out through the digestive tract.