This Parasitic Worm Appears To Increase Women’s Fertility

The idea of becoming infected with a parasitic worm is enough to make all of us to feel sick in the gut, as more than 1 billion people are infected with intestinal worms, mainly in tropical areas with poor sanitation. The giant roundworm, one of the most common, resides in the small intestine of its host and eats a portion of the person’s food.
But, a new study says that giant roundworms have a shocking, unexpected side-effect, as they can make women more fertile.
This Parasitic Worm Appears To Increase Women's FertilityThe research, led by the University of California Santa Barbara and published in the journal Science, showed that women who were repeatedly infected with the giant roundworm Ascaris lumbricoides had up to two more children than those who had no parasitic infections. The scientists studied nine years’ worth of data from 986 women from indigenous Tsimane women living in the Amazon rainforest in Bolivia.

The team looked at the natural fertility rates amongst women, 70 percent of whom had a parasitic infection. On average, the birth rate was nine children per woman – but those infected with the giant roundworm averaged two extra children.

This Parasitic Worm Appears To Increase Women's FertilityThe parasite, which can grow up to 36 centimeters (14 inches), was also found to shorten the time between pregnancies and reduce the age at which women first gave birth. The researchers then hypothesized that the roundworms altered the women’s immune systems, making it easier for them to become pregnant.

How is that so? Should women be thankful for that?

We think the effects we see are probably due to these infections altering women’s immune systems, such that they become more or less friendly towards a pregnancy,”according to Professor Aaron Blackwell, as he noted that women’s immune systems natural change during pregnancy so their bodies don’t reject the fetus.

Blackwell and his co-researchers also suggested that the worms may aid in conception and implantation of the embryo in the womb by reducing inflammation.

This Parasitic Worm Appears To Increase Women's FertilityOn the other hand, another parasite, the hookworm, was found to decrease fertility, leading to an average of three fewer children in a lifetime.

 

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