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PSA: Swallowing a tapeworm to lose weight is still not a good idea
An Iowa woman had to learn the hard way
 
You should probably try Weight Watchers instead.
You should probably try Weight Watchers instead. Science Picture Co./Corbis

It goes without saying that people do really weird things in the name of beauty. Some folks allow carnivorous fish to gnaw at their feet and call it a pedicure. Our friends in Japan, meanwhile, have been known to pay hundreds of dollars to let slimy snails crawl all over their face for smooth skin.

And you may have heard of dieters swallowing tape worms in a desperate bid to lose weight. Snopes even tried to debunk the notion as an urban legend a few years ago, only to find evidence that "tape worm diet pills" may have been marketed in the United States as far back as the 1920s.

A quick Google search reveals that a few misguided weight watchers still would very much like to try swallowing the invertebrates. Here's a screenshot taken from your neighborhood repository for intelligent, thoughtful discussion, Yahoo Answers:

Then, there's this bit of news: Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, recently revealed what happened to one such curious dieter who ordered a tape worm off the internet in hopes of shedding a few pesky pounds.

The outcome was, perhaps predictably, not good:

Her physician was so stumped by the news and with little clue what to do next he called the Iowa Department of Public Health for help.

Iowa's Public Health Department medical director Dr Patricia Quinlisk told the GP to prescribe an anti-worm medication and then issued a warning to health workers about the dangerous practice.

She said: "Ingesting tapeworms is extremely risky and can cause a wide range of undesirable side effects, including rare deaths," she wrote.

"Those desiring to lose weight are advised to stick with proven weight loss methods; consuming fewer calories and increasing physical activity." [News.com.au]

Tapeworms are capable of surviving in the human digestive tract, and are typically contracted by eating undercooked meat. (Taenia solium, for example, is a species of tapeworm typically found in pork.) With no digestive tract of their own, the worms are parasites in the truest sense, subsisting off the already digested food of other animals. The idea is that the tapeworms will help you shed pounds by eating some of your food.

They can vary in size, too, anywhere from 1/250 of an inch to 50 feet, and can survive for as long as 20 years.

Also: Many species are capable of laying tens of thousands of eggs at a time, which means you may need invasive surgery to remove them from your intestines. (Warning: The linked YouTube video is one of the most disgusting things I have ever seen.)

So, yeah: Don't intentionally ingest tapeworms as an easy way to lose weight, lest you end up YouTube famous in the worst way possible. Consider this a public service announcement from The Week.

 
Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for TheWeek.com. Sometimes he writes about other stuff. His work has also appeared in TIME, Men's JournalEsquire, and The Atlantic.

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