Why The Tapeworm Diet Is Even Riskier Than You Think

Over the years, we have seen hundreds of weight-loss diets, fads, and methods. Some may be healthy, but many of them are not. Take, for instance, the tapeworm diet, which involves ingesting a small capsule that contains the egg of a tapeworm. While the idea might sound remarkably dangerous, it might even be more risky than you know.

The idea behind the "diet" is that after the egg hatches, the worm begins to eat what the host eats, eliminating any excess calories. It may work, but at a dangerous cost.

Tapeworms, however they manage to get inside a body, eventually form proglottids, which attach to the intestines to absorb nutrients. Sometimes they attach themselves to organs and tissue outside the intestines, which is when things begin to get especially ugly.

Complications from tapeworms include neurocysticercosis, an infection of the nervous system that can cause dementia. The worms can interfere with the functions of the lungs and liver, and block bile and pancreatic ducts. Other complications include diarrhea, weakness, pain in the abdomen, bacterial infections, brain swelling, and in rare cases, death (via Healthline).

Tapeworms can lead to other dangerous conditions

Tapeworms can create other complications. Patricia Quinlisk, medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, was notified by a doctor in 2013 of a patient who admitted to taking a pill containing a tapeworm. This incident prompted her to issue a warning to health professionals about the dangers involved with such drugs. 

Quinlisk explained that the growth of the parasite could lead to an infection called taeniasis, according to USA Today.  In humans, taeniasis can develop into a more dangerous condition called cysticercosis, which can cause seizures as well as muscle and eye damage (via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). The most obvious sign of taeniasis is the passing of proglottids in feces.

Thankfully, there are ways to treat tapeworms. Doctors usually prescribe oral medications that kill the ones that live in the intestines. If the worms happen to be on the outside of the intestines, other medicines might also be needed to treat seizures or brain swelling. In some cases, the tapeworms might need to be surgically removed.