Parasitic Worm May Make Women More Fertile

Women infected have an average of 2 more kids than others
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 20, 2015 10:10 AM CST
Parasitic Worm May Make Women More Fertile
An indigenous woman braids her daughter's hair before the start of a parade in El Alto, Bolivia, Friday, Oct. 23, 2015.   (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

A roundworm infection is bad news for a number of reasons, but it's possibly a bonus if you're trying to get pregnant. In a nine-year study that one fertility scientist says raises the possibility of "novel fertility-enhancing drugs," researchers analyzed 986 Tsimane indigenous women in Bolivia, reports the BBC. Their unusual discovery: Those who carried a type of roundworm known as Ascaris lumbricoides had an extra two children on average. They also gave birth at a younger age compared to women without the worm and experienced a shorter interval between pregnancies, reports the Telegraph. Researchers suggest the infection—about 70% of the Tsimane population carry it—may alter a woman's immune system to make it easier for her to become pregnant.

"The effects are unexpectedly large," says a study author from the University of Santa Barbara. However, he adds that while using worms as a fertility treatment is an "intriguing possibility," much more research is needed before that step. On the flip side, researchers found that women with hookworm had three fewer children during their lifetime. "It's horrifying that the hookworm effects are so profound," a specialist in parasitic worms tells the BBC. "Half of women by 26 or 28 have yet to fall pregnant and that's a huge effect on life." One theory is that the infection may cause anemia, which can lead to infertility, or may actually suppress the immune system, per the Independent. (A worm lived in this guy's brain for four years.)

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