Schistosoma mansoni might not be as famous as other nasty parasitic worms like flatworms or roundworms, but outside the U.S. this pesky bugger infests more than 200 million people. Symptoms range from rash to organ damage to paralysis. For years, patients have had to rely on drugs that ward off the infection, but for remote or communities in the developing world this may be out of the question. There’s a widely available remedy found almost anywhere in the world though, according to Egyptian researchers. And it’s so cheap that it literally grows in the ground: garlic.
Schistosoma mansoni causes Schistosoma infection, also known as bilharzia – a disease for which there is no vaccine. The only treatment is a drug called praziquantel, which is quite effective. Lately a wave of resistance to the drug has got a lot of doctors worried prompting scientists to look for alternatives treatments. Schistosomiasis is considered one of the Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs).
In the lab, some studies reported promising results. During clinical trials, however, these have fallen disappointing short.
Hopefully, the same might not apply to garlic which was found to destroy the infection in mice, according to recent study published by researchers at the Ain Shams University, Cairo. They worked with several groups of mice to study the effects of garlic during the six week trial: control, garlic control, untreated infection, and garlic-treated infection.
It’s well known that garlic has both anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. Schistosoma infection causes inflammation, so it was not surprising to see garlic oil given to the infected mice produced fewer biomarkers of inflammation.
Again, this wasn’t surprising to anyone. The real highlight, however, was that the garlic oil therapy only worked for mice in their first week of infection. If the garlic was given two to three weeks after the mice became infected showed only mild improvements. This result clearly showed the importance of inflammation in the early stages of infection. It may be that later on the worms are too strong to be affected by the garlic, and in the first week these are rendered weaker and more susceptible to immunological clearance. Though it wasn’t tested, the Egyptian researchers reckon praziquantel must become more effective under these conditions.
Let’s just hope clinical trials confirm these findings can be transferred to humans.