The tapeworm diet works by swallowing a pill that has a tapeworm egg inside. When the egg eventually hatches, the tapeworm will grow inside your body and eat whatever you’re eating. The idea is that you can eat whatever you want and still lose weight because the tapeworm is eating all your “extra” calories.
But this only works in theory.
The tapeworm diet is the same thing as a tapeworm infection, which is incredibly dangerous and can cause more harm than good. It’s also still considered an infection even if ingesting a tapeworm or its egg is voluntary. Let’s take a look at the dangers, origins, and effectiveness of the tapeworm diet.
When a tapeworm hatches and attaches itself to your intestine, it begins to feed off your body’s nutrients and grow by reproducing from the proglottids. Proglottids are what make up the chain-looking body of the tapeworm.
One of the biggest dangers you risk with a tapeworm is that you can’t control where it attaches itself. A tapeworm can attach itself to other organs or tissues outside your digestive tract and cause serious damage. When this happens, it’s called an invasive infection. It can cause unpleasant symptoms, like:
You may also experience:
- allergy to the tapeworms
- bacterial infections
- neurological issues
Complications of a tapeworm diet
Dangerous complications that may occur with a tapeworm diet, potentially resulting in death, include:
- blockage of bile ducts, appendix, or pancreatic duct
- neurocysticercosis, a complication of the brain and nervous system which can cause dementia and vision issues
- disruption in the function of various organs in your body including the lungs and liver
It’s difficult to tell if the pill has a live tapeworm egg inside or not without opening or breaking it. There are many sources that scam people by saying they sell tapeworm diet pills. You cannot get these pills from a reputable medical professional. The Food and Drug Administration have banned these pills.
People that’ve tried the tapeworm diet have reported:
- unpleasant side effects of a tapeworm infection
- weight gain while infected as a tapeworm can increase appetite
- an increased craving for carbohydrates
To get rid of a tapeworm or treat a tapeworm infection, your doctor may prescribe oral medication or other treatments depending on the type of infection you have.
The medications commonly used for an intestinal tapeworm infection depend on the type of tapeworm you have, which includes:
- Albendazole (Albenza)
- Praziquantel (Biltricide)
Treatments used for an invasive tapeworm infection (outside your intestines) may include prescribing Albendazole to treat cysts in addition to other treatments as well. These treatments may include:
- treating inflammation caused by the infection
- anti-seizure medication if the infection is causing you to have seizures
- treatment for hydrocephalus (swelling of the brain) if it occurs, by placing a tube in your head to drain off the excess fluid
- surgical removal of cysts
Each type of treatment is determined by the type of infection you have, the type of tapeworm, and the complications that’ve developed due to the infection.
If the tapeworm diet is so unhealthy, then where did it come from? The tapeworm diet started with women in the Victorian Era who wanted to achieve what that society viewed as beautiful. This was done in the hopes of attracting a husband. At that time, the standard for beauty was to look as if you had tuberculosis. They wanted pale skin, eyes that looked dilated, red cheeks and lips, and, of course, a tiny waist.
To achieve this standard of beauty, women went through extremes. They wore corsets so tight that they changed their bone structure and internal organs, took small doses of poison, and more. Ingesting tapeworms was one of the radical measures that were used to lose weight.
This diet is still being used by some people today because, in theory, it seems like an easy way to lose weight without dieting or exercising regularly. In effect, it seems to be a “magic” pill. However, the reality is that its result may be far less than magical.
There is no magic pill to weight loss, even if it comes in the form of a tapeworm. The tapeworm has dangerous complications as well as a lack of proof that it can effectively help you lose (and keep off) weight. However, there are a number of healthy strategies you can do to improve your health that may also help you lose weight. Some of these healthy methods include:
- ensuring you’re not deficient in metabolism vitamins
- staying hydrated with lime water
- exercising daily
- eating a healthy diet emphasizing plenty of vegetables
A healthy diet and regular exercise will always be the safest and most effective way to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Check with your doctor and dietitian before starting any diet or exercise program, especially if it’s a drastic change from your normal diet. They can help provide recommendations on how to make a healthy transition.
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- Kokroko J. (2010). Tapeworms and the search for a slimmer waist. https://web.stanford.edu/group/parasites/ParaSites2010/Jolene_Kokroko/Jolene%20Kokroko%20ParaSites%20paper.htm
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014). Tapeworm infection: Complications. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tapeworm/basics/complications/con-20025898
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014). Tapeworm infection: Definition. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tapeworm/basics/definition/con-20025898
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014). Tapeworm infection: Symptoms. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tapeworm/basics/symptoms/con-20025898
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014). Tapeworm infection: Treatment. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tapeworm/basics/treatment/con-20025898
- New guideline recommends treatments for tapeworm infection that is on rise in U.S. (2016). https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130408172021.htm
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- Zapata M. (2016). The horrifying legacy of the Victorian tapeworm diet. http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-horrifying-legacy-of-the-victorian-tapeworm-diet