Chronic Headaches & Pork Tapeworms

Chronic Headaches & Pork Tapeworms
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Chronic headaches such as migraines or “tension” headache symptoms may be a sign of pork tapeworms in the brain.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Neurocysticercosis is the infection of the human central nervous system by pork tapeworm larvae. Little baby pork tapeworms invading one’s brain “has become an increasingly important emerging infection in the United States,” and it is the #1 cause of epilepsy in the world. It is the most common “parasitic disease of the human brain,” and used to only be found throughout the developing world—”with the exception of Muslim countries,” of course. That all changed about 30 years ago, and now it’s increasingly found throughout North America.

Besides seizures, the pork parasites may actually trigger brain tumors, cause an aneurism, or psychiatric manifestations, like depression. But, who wouldn’t be depressed, having worms in their brain? It can also result in dementia. But, the good news is, with deworming drugs, it’s often reversible. Only rarely do you have to open one’s skull, and extract the larvae surgically—once they get into your eyeballs, though, you really do have to remove them, dead or alive.

I’ve talked about pork tapeworms before, but what’s new is that we now know that they may present as chronic headaches—either migraines or so-called tension-headaches—even when the worms in your head are dead. What they think is happening is that our body tries to chip away at their calcified bodies, and it may release bits of them into the rest of the brain, causing inflammation that could be contributing to headaches.

Now, it’s still rare, and even if you live in an endemic area, you can avoid getting infested with an adult tapeworm in the first place by “cooking pork thoroughly.” But what does that mean, exactly? Well, first of all, it’s found in some parts of pig carcasses more than others. And, you can freeze the little suckers to death, no matter how infested the muscles are, by storing pork, cut up into small pieces, for a month at subzero temperatures. Then, cook the meat for more than two hours. That is one well-done pork chop.

The New England Journal of Medicine recently featured a case of some guy who must have had thousands of pork tapeworm larvae wriggling through his muscles. See all those little white streaks? Each one is a baby tapeworm. But that’s why you can get infected by pork, since they get into the muscles. So, cannibals might want to cook for two hours, too.

Not all parasites are associated with meat, though. “An anxious but healthy 32-year-old male physician presented to the family medicine clinic with a sample of suspected parasites from his stools, which had been retrieved from the toilet that same day.” And here they are. They look to be about an inch long. He had previously traveled to India; had Chinese food the night before—who knows what they were. Maybe it was hookworms? “The sample was sent to the microbiology laboratory for analysis. Later that day, the microbiology physician called to report positive identification of Vigna radiata (previously known as Phaseolus aureus) in the stool sample.” Or, “[i]n common parlance,…a bean sprout.” They were bean sprouts!

“The patient was called and gently but firmly informed of the diagnosis. Given the nature of the identified specimen, the information was presented in a non-judgmental, respectful manner so as not to offend the sensibilities or sensitivities of the patient.”

“[Their] parting advice to fellow physicians in cases of this nature would be as follows:…as comical as the findings might seem, try not to laugh!

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thank to Roberto J. Galindo via Wikimedia. Thanks to Ellen Reid and Shane Barrett for their Keynote help.

 

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Neurocysticercosis is the infection of the human central nervous system by pork tapeworm larvae. Little baby pork tapeworms invading one’s brain “has become an increasingly important emerging infection in the United States,” and it is the #1 cause of epilepsy in the world. It is the most common “parasitic disease of the human brain,” and used to only be found throughout the developing world—”with the exception of Muslim countries,” of course. That all changed about 30 years ago, and now it’s increasingly found throughout North America.

Besides seizures, the pork parasites may actually trigger brain tumors, cause an aneurism, or psychiatric manifestations, like depression. But, who wouldn’t be depressed, having worms in their brain? It can also result in dementia. But, the good news is, with deworming drugs, it’s often reversible. Only rarely do you have to open one’s skull, and extract the larvae surgically—once they get into your eyeballs, though, you really do have to remove them, dead or alive.

I’ve talked about pork tapeworms before, but what’s new is that we now know that they may present as chronic headaches—either migraines or so-called tension-headaches—even when the worms in your head are dead. What they think is happening is that our body tries to chip away at their calcified bodies, and it may release bits of them into the rest of the brain, causing inflammation that could be contributing to headaches.

Now, it’s still rare, and even if you live in an endemic area, you can avoid getting infested with an adult tapeworm in the first place by “cooking pork thoroughly.” But what does that mean, exactly? Well, first of all, it’s found in some parts of pig carcasses more than others. And, you can freeze the little suckers to death, no matter how infested the muscles are, by storing pork, cut up into small pieces, for a month at subzero temperatures. Then, cook the meat for more than two hours. That is one well-done pork chop.

The New England Journal of Medicine recently featured a case of some guy who must have had thousands of pork tapeworm larvae wriggling through his muscles. See all those little white streaks? Each one is a baby tapeworm. But that’s why you can get infected by pork, since they get into the muscles. So, cannibals might want to cook for two hours, too.

Not all parasites are associated with meat, though. “An anxious but healthy 32-year-old male physician presented to the family medicine clinic with a sample of suspected parasites from his stools, which had been retrieved from the toilet that same day.” And here they are. They look to be about an inch long. He had previously traveled to India; had Chinese food the night before—who knows what they were. Maybe it was hookworms? “The sample was sent to the microbiology laboratory for analysis. Later that day, the microbiology physician called to report positive identification of Vigna radiata (previously known as Phaseolus aureus) in the stool sample.” Or, “[i]n common parlance,…a bean sprout.” They were bean sprouts!

“The patient was called and gently but firmly informed of the diagnosis. Given the nature of the identified specimen, the information was presented in a non-judgmental, respectful manner so as not to offend the sensibilities or sensitivities of the patient.”

“[Their] parting advice to fellow physicians in cases of this nature would be as follows:…as comical as the findings might seem, try not to laugh!

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thank to Roberto J. Galindo via Wikimedia. Thanks to Ellen Reid and Shane Barrett for their Keynote help.

 

Doctor's Note

I previously covered the topic of brain infections with pork tapeworms in my videos:

Other parasites in meat include toxoplasma (see Brain Parasites in Meat), sarcosystis (see USDA Parasite Game), and Anisakis (see Allergenic Fish Worms). There are even some critters in some dairy products (see Cheese Mites & Maggots).

Eating Outside our Kingdom describes a brain malady caused not by meat parasites, but by meat proteins.

One of the nice things about eating plant-based is that plant parasites, like aphids, don’t affect people. When’s the last time you heard of someone coming down with Dutch elm disease?

For more context, check out my associated blog post: Chronic Headaches & Pork Parasites.

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