A study that appeared in the Science journal introduces the idea that there might be a link between parasitic worm and female fertility. The discovery was made with the conjoined work of researchers from California, United States.
I think I never heard of someone who was fond of worms. When they hear about, not to mention see or touch, a worm, people’s first reaction is “eeeew!”. A parasite is a creature that makes its home on our inside, a host, that is not necessarily welcoming it. However, recent discoveries have shown that a parasite might not be that bad and could actually help in some cases.
A team of researchers from the University of California led by Aaron Blackwell has been collecting data for over nine years from 984 women of the Tsimane, who live in the Bolivian Amazon. The reason why they were interested in these particular women was that among them, the average birth rate is of nine children per woman.
In this area, parasitic worms are very common and they infect approximately 70 percent of the population. These worms are called helminths and it can vary in type. For example, according to the scientists’ findings, the women who were infected by the roundworm gave birth earlier and the gap between each pregnancy was shorter. On the other hand, the women who hosted the most common type of parasitic worm, a hookworm, had their first child later and also had bigger gaps between births.
By projecting these discoveries in time and by comparing the two forms of infections, the researchers realized that the women who had a roundworm were more likely to have two more children than uninfected women. Meanwhile, the ones who had a hookworm were more likely to have three fewer kids than uninfected women.
How did they come upon this idea? It seems that a team member, who was trying to conceive in Bolivia during fieldwork, quickly succeeded which raised the question of whether a parasite infection might have anything to do with it.
In more scientific words, the infection with hookworms leads to two types of immune cells which are 1 T cells and 2 T cells. The former type of cell is directing other cells to attack pathogens, whereas the latter type instructs cells to produce antibodies. On the contrary, the infection with roundworms makes the immune system to produce more type 2 T cells which definitely helps pregnant women by creating a sort of defense mechanism which protects the embryo from being harmed.
In conclusion, parasites are not all bad, and especially if you’re a woman who’s trying to get pregnant, you might think twice before saying “ew!”.
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