Can worms defend our hearts? Chronic helminthic infections may attenuate the development of cardiovascular diseases

Med Hypotheses. 2005;64(5):904-9. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2004.09.028.


The established risk factors for atherosclerosis fail to fully explain the extent and severity of coronary artery diseases in 50% of the patients. Thus, the causative agents and processes, which may be involved in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis, are being sought. Notoriously, atherosclerosis and cardiovascular event rates are much lower in developing countries. Clinically, severe infections by intracellular pathogens are widespread mostly in developing countries with poor sanitation, nutrition and massive worm infections. A link between atherosclerosis and helminth infections has never been examined. Based on the present knowledge of immune and infectious mechanisms related to atherosclerosis, it is proposed that chronic helminthic infections can have a significant bearing on the epidemiology of cardiovascular diseases. How can helminthic infections affect the cardiovascular risk? (1) Helminths evade or suppress host immune responses, by producing anti-inflammatory and other immunomodulatory molecules. (2) Helminths induce chronic Th2 activation, which can modify cytokine profiles and immunological responses to heat shock proteins, Chlamydia pneumoniae and cytomegalovirus. (3) The chronic Th2 profile may modulate monocyte activation and chemotaxis to inflammatory sites (atherosclerotic plaques). (4) Chronic Th2 activation may lead to a cytokine profile that could be beneficial for attenuation of atherosclerosis development (upregulation of IL-4, IL-10 and IL-13 and downregulation of proinflammatory cytokines). (5) Helminthic infections may reduce plasma LDL level not only by affecting the host nutrition, but also via modulation of naturally occurring antibodies to cholesterol. Studies are needed to clarify these suggestions. If the hypothesis that helminthic infections impact atherosclerosis is correct, it should be taken into consideration in atherosclerosis immunomodulation therapy and especially in the design of vaccines and vaccine trials.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Helminthiasis / immunology
  • Helminthiasis / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Th2 Cells / immunology