The dangerous crash diet technique is a thriving business on the internet – but Iowa public health officials were forced to issue a warning this week after a woman attended her doctors surgery in a distressed state.
Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, the medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said: “Ingesting tapeworms is extremely risky and can cause a wide range of undesirable side effects, including rare deaths.”
“Those desiring to lose weight are advised to stick with proven weight loss methods — consuming fewer calories and increasing physical activity.”
Quinlisk was contacted by the woman’s doctor who explained that the patient had eaten the parasitic tapeworm as an extreme form of crash diet in order to lose weight - but health officials immediately told the woman to take anti-tapeworm medication.
Beef tapeworms, which are used in crazy online weight-loss schemes can grow up to 65ft long in the gut. The diet phenomenon is growing at such a pace that Tyra Banks even discussed the issue on her show.
Dr Quinlisk said in the 19th century quack doctors would sell tapeworm eggs in a pill to lose weight or for other purported health benefits.
She added: “When people would order from snake oil medicine kinds of people a weight loss pill, it would be the head of a Taenia saginata … and it would develop into a 30-foot-long tapeworm in your body.
“The worm would get into your gut – it’s got little hooks on the head – and it would grab onto your intestine and start growing.”
In 2009, reports surfaced that people were intentionally eating tapeworms to lose weight in Hong Kong.