Soil-transmitted helminth infection and intestinal inflammation among the Shuar of Amazonian Ecuador

Am J Phys Anthropol. 2019 Sep;170(1):65-74. doi: 10.1002/ajpa.23897. Epub 2019 Jul 1.


Objectives: Little research exists documenting levels of intestinal inflammation among indigenous populations where exposure to macroparasites, like soil-transmitted helminths (STHs), is common. Reduced STH exposure is hypothesized to contribute to increased prevalence of elevated intestinal inflammation in wealthy nations, likely due to coevolutionary histories between STHs and human immune systems that favored anti-inflammatory pathways. Here, we document levels of intestinal inflammation and test associations with STH infection among the Shuar of Ecuador, an indigenous population undergoing socioeconomic/lifestyle changes that influence their hygienic environment. We predict that fecal calprotectin (FC; a measure of intestinal inflammation) will be lower in STH infected individuals and that FC will be negatively associated with infection intensity.

Methods: Stool samples to analyze FC levels and STH infection were collected from 69 Shuar participants (ages 5-75 years). Children (<15 years) and adults (15+ years) were analyzed separately to understand the role of exposure in immune system development and the intestinal inflammatory response.

Results: Two species of STH were present: Ascaris lumbricoides and Trichuris trichiura. The relationships between infection and intestinal inflammation were age- and species-specific. While no significant relationships were found among adults, children who were singly infected with T. trichiura had lower FC levels than uninfected children. Infection intensity was not significantly associated with FC in children or adults.

Conclusions: These preliminary results provide limited support for our hypotheses, documenting tentative age- and species-specific associations between FC and infection status. Findings may point to the importance of species-specific STH exposure during immune system development.

Keywords: fecal calprotectin; hygiene hypothesis; inflammatory bowel disease; old friends hypothesis; soil-transmitted helminths.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Ascariasis / complications
  • Ascariasis / epidemiology
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Ecuador
  • Feces / chemistry
  • Feces / parasitology
  • Female
  • Helminthiasis / complications*
  • Helminthiasis / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / complications*
  • Inflammatory Bowel Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Leukocyte L1 Antigen Complex / analysis
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Trichuriasis / complications
  • Trichuriasis / epidemiology
  • Young Adult


  • Leukocyte L1 Antigen Complex