by Harriet Hall, MD
When I first heard about rope worms, I assumed it was a spoof. Alas, not so!
Rope worms are rope-like meter-long human intestinal parasites that were only recently discovered in the returns of cleansing enemas and are often reported after coffee enemas. Strangely, no one had ever noticed them until 2009. They have never been observed during endoscopy or surgery, during medical bowel cleansing in preparation for surgical or imaging procedures, with x-rays or MRIs, at autopsy, or by any colorectal specialists. Yet according to Nikolai Gubarev and Alex Volinsky, the two of them have never yet found a single patient who didn’t have these parasites.
Two articles by Volinsky, Gubarev, and colleagues (here and here) describe the rope worm and its five developmental stages. They include pictures of each stage. I urge you to take a look. You will be amazed, and not in a good way. You might even bust a gut laughing.
The articles have not been published in a peer-reviewed journal, but are available online at arxiv.org. That was originally a repository for pre-prints of scientific papers on physics that was subsequently expanded to include astronomy, mathematics, computer science, nonlinear science, quantitative biology, and statistics. But not zoology, medical science or clinical medicine; so I don’t understand why these articles appear there. The lead author is a mechanical engineer. None of the authors have any credentials that would indicate any level of expertise in the relevant areas of study, and it shows.
The 5 developmental stages are:
- Mucus that can be hosted almost anywhere in the human body.
- Viscous mucus with bubbles. The bubbles are later used as attachment points.
- Branched jellyfish stage. (No, I’m not making this up! Look at the pictures.)
- Rope parasite 4th stage — looks similar to the 5th adult stage, but is softer and slimier.
- Adult rope parasite: anaerobic, resembles human feces, dries out outside the human body in air. They resemble twisted fibers of rope; the color depends on the food a person eats, varying from white to black. They can be located anywhere in the human body but prefer the small and large intestines. They attach to the intestines with suction cups/heads that develop from suction bubbles. They twist like a corkscrew, increasing their cross section and blocking the intestine. They squeeze the juice out of the fecal matter and feed on it osmotically. They achieve this with multiple channels along their length. They emit gas bubbles inside these channels that allow them to move by jet propulsion. (Are there two different kinds of bubbles? Propulsion by jets implies high pressure, attachment by suction implies a vacuum.) They are most active between 1 and 6 AM. They release toxins that suppress the immune system and can alter human attention and reaction. They can cause multiple symptoms, including weight gain or loss, food allergies, common colds, coughing, back pain, rashes, headaches, indigestion, hair loss, etc. They produce slime with a distinct odor.
It is thought that they also feed on blood, because some come out with their heads covered with blood. (How do they know it’s a head? And if they feed on fecal matter by osmosis in those long channels, how and why do they penetrate the intestinal wall and get at the blood?) Volinsky and Gubarev tell us that people with alkaline blood (pH 8-10) are the most susceptible. They helpfully tell us that blood pH can be determined by examining the color of the conjunctiva of the eye: bright pink signifies normal blood pH, bright red means alkaline, and pale means acidic blood. (In case you don’t realize how colossally ridiculous this is, people with a blood pH of 8-10 would not be “susceptible” to anything because they would be dead, and the color of the conjunctiva has nothing whatsoever to do with pH; it becomes redder with infection or inflammation and becomes paler with anemia.)
Unlike other parasites, rope worms do not have muscles, nervous systems, or reproductive organs. They are often mistaken for decaying remains of other parasites, feces, or intestinal lining. (Or vice versa, perhaps?)
These parasites can be purged with eucalyptus and lemon juice enemas. Conveniently, the second author, Gubarev, who works for an occupational safety organization in Russia, just happens to hold a Russian patent on a eucalyptus enema concoction for treating various intestinal parasites. But caution is advised because this leaves open wounds in the intestine, causing internal bleeding.
And they know all of this how? They provide no explanation of how they figured it all out or how they determined that the various stages were the same entity. What would you do if you thought you had identified a new species of parasite? I hope you wouldn’t just write papers like these. I hope you would consult zoologists, taxonomists, and parasitologists; especially if your training was in mechanical engineering and you were ignorant enough about biology to think a person could survive with a blood pH of 10. New animals don’t arise de novo by special creation. They evolve from other species. These “rope worms” bear no resemblance to any other known human parasite or to any known relative of worms or to anything else in the animal kingdom. There is no reason to think these “worms” are anything other than enema artifacts analogous to the spurious “gallstones” produced by liver flushes. Those who claim they are real animals have the burden of proof, and they haven’t offered anything that would qualify as such.
Science, anyone? When rope worms were tested for DNA, only human DNA was found. Never mind — no sufficiently intelligent, imaginative, motivated rationalizer is ever stymied by contrary facts. It was suggested that the rope worm triggers the gut to produce a body for it that may be a mix of parasites and human DNA. Others have suggested that rope worms are a biofilm produced as a way for the body to detoxify itself. It has been suggested that they form in response to GMO foods. They are even suspected of being involved in cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
Volinsky uploaded a video to YouTube titled “Rope Worm in the Nose.” It is no such thing: it shows an ENT surgeon removing polyps and suctioning thick ropy mucus from infected sinuses, explaining as he goes and never once mentioning worms.
As would be expected, patients report feeling better after expelling these “worms.” The patented treatment methods are being advocated by “CAM experts” for treatment of Lyme disease, Morgellon’s and autism.
Rope worm parasites? There’s no such critter. This is just another example of the fallible human brain’s susceptibility to delusions and illusions. It is reminiscent of N-rays, of the liver flukes that Hulda Clark zapped, of the mysterious elusive Morgellon’s whatsis-thingies, of the nonexistent Oscillococcus bacterium that provided the rationale for the most popular homeopathic flu remedy, and of the Virgin Mary’s portrait on a toasted cheese sandwich. Look up pareidolia and apophenia. Such errors are part of the reason we need the scientific method.
Pardon my French, but in my opinion everything that has been written about rope worms is arrant pseudoscientific merde de taureaux.
Harriet Hall, MD also known as The SkepDoc, is a retired family physician who writes about medicine, so-called complementary and alternative medicine, science, pseudoscience, questionable medical practices and critical thinking. She received her BA and MD from the University of Washington, did her internship in the Air Force (the second female ever to do so), and was the first female graduate of the Air Force family practice residency at Eglin Air Force Base. During a long career as an Air Force physician, she held various positions from flight surgeon to DBMS (Director of Base Medical Services) and did everything from delivering babies to taking the controls of a B-52. She retired with the rank of Colonel. She is an editor and one of the five MD founders of the Science-Based Medicine blog. Dr. Hall writes the SkepDoc column in Skeptic magazine, and is a contributing editor to Skeptic and Skeptical Inquirer, as well as a medical advisor and author of articles on the Quackwatch website. She recently published Women Aren’t Supposed to Fly: The Memoirs of a Female Flight Surgeon and co-author of the recently released textbook “Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions,” and was appointed to the Executive Council of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry.
Healthy Skepticism is republishing selections from Dr. Hall’s blog with permission. Please visit Science Based Medicine.