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Have People Ever Really Eaten Tapeworms for Weight Loss?

striped socks on a pink scale
A tapeworm can grow quite long inside a human host. But is this really a healthy weight-loss solution? Melissa Ross/Getty Images

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A tapeworm is like something out of a horror movie. It's a wiggly, creepy looking, ribbon-shaped creature that lives inside its host, absorbing nutrients and laying millions of eggs. They can reach 80 feet (25 meters) or more in length and live in a host for up to 30 years [source: Mayo Clinic]. And if the idea of having a worm living inside of you doesn't have you shuddering in revulsion, just wait until you hear how they reproduce.

Fortunately, the average person living in the developed world isn't likely to wind up with a tapeworm infection, as it's strongly linked to poor sanitation practices both on a personal and societal level. People with subpar hand washing and bathing practices are more likely to transfer contaminated fecal matter to the mouth, as are those people who are exposed to livestock and live in locations that lack proper animal and human feces disposal methods. Ingesting undercooked or raw meats also put people at risk because any tapeworm eggs present in the food doesn't get killed off during the food preparation process, so you might want to take a beat to consider whether you really want that steak rare, or not [source: Mayo Clinic].

Despite the extreme "gross" factor of tapeworms, it has been suggested that acquiring one intentionally would be a relatively simple way to lose weight. In fact, tapeworm pills may have been sold as weight-loss aids in the past. In some ways, it seems to make a certain amount of sense – that is, if you can get past the gross-out factor. If a tapeworm is absorbing your body's nutrients and calories, you can eat all you want and enjoy the taste. Then the worm diverts it all before it hits your waistline, right?

We'll see about that! Actually, there are lots of rumors and myths surrounding tapeworms, so we're going to untangle this bizarre mystery. How do you get a tapeworm, anyway? Once you have one, how does it come out? Did a legendary opera singer lose her girth (and some say, her voice) by intentionally ingesting a tapeworm? Also, how much weight can a tapeworm really help you lose?

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