Tapeworms are parasitic worms that live in the intestines and consume nutrients from their host. When someone has a tapeworm infection, the tapeworm competes for nutrients and can cause increased feelings of hunger and odd food cravings in the host. Understanding what tapeworms crave can provide insight into some of the symptoms and signs of an infection.
Why Tapeworms Cause Cravings
Tapeworms attach themselves to the wall of the small intestine using hook-like mouthparts and segmented bodies. As food passes through the intestines, the tapeworm absorbs nutrients through its skin and may also eat food contents directly.
This constant nutrient and calorie theft can lead to increased appetite and abnormal food cravings in the human host. Even though a person is eating normal amounts of food, the tapeworm is depriving them of full nutrition and causing constant feelings of hunger.
Some of the peculiar cravings associated with tapeworms include:
- Refined carbohydrates
These cravings arise because the tapeworm infection is causing malnutrition. The body responds by seeking out foods that provide calories, protein, and other nutrients. Sweets and carbs especially help provide fast energy.
One of the most common food cravings with tapeworms is a strong desire for meat. This makes sense when you consider the tapeworm’s biology and life cycle:
- Tapeworm larvae live in the muscle tissue of cows, pigs, and other animals.
- Humans can become infected by eating undercooked contaminated meat.
- Once inside the intestines, tapeworms thrive on protein, iron, Vitamin B12 and other nutrients abundant in meat.
So in essence, the tapeworms are used to a meat-based diet inside their animal hosts. After transmission to a human, they continue to stimulate cravings for meat in order to access the nutrients they desire.
Meat Craving Mechanisms
Researchers have identified a few ways tapeworms may spark meat cravings:
- Appetite hormones – Tapeworms may interfere with leptin, ghrelin and other hormones that regulate hunger and satiety.
- Inflammation – Meat cravings may arise due to inflammation from the infection.
- Nutrient demand – The tapeworms increase demand for protein, iron and B12 found in meats.
Sugar and Carb Cravings
In addition to meat, people with tapeworms often report craving sugars, refined grains, pastas, breads, potatoes, and other high-carbohydrate foods.
There are a couple reasons why tapeworms may stimulate appetite for carbs and sugars:
- They provide fast energy that the tapeworm is diverting from the body.
- The infection causes inflammation, which research links to cravings for comfort foods.
High glycemic foods like sweets and refined carbs cause fast swings in blood sugar. When blood sugar crashes, it triggers hunger signals and cravings for more fast-acting carb sources.
This creates a vicious cycle where the tapeworm infection causes the body to seek out sugar for fast energy, followed by crashes that lead to even more carb and sugar cravings.
Sugar and Refined Carbs Feed Tapeworms
Interestingly, sugars and refined carbs don’t just help appease hunger caused by tapeworms – they also directly feed the tapeworms:
- Tapeworms have a symbiotic relationship with candida yeast in the intestines, which thrive on sugars and carbs.
- This candida overgrowth benefits the tapeworms and helps them absorb more nutrients.
So when someone craves sugary foods with a tapeworm, it may be the actual tapeworm driving the craving to create a more hospitable environment for itself!
Other Cravings and Symptoms
In some cases, tapeworm infection may cause cravings for strange non-food substances, a condition called pica. Items like chalk, dirt, paint chips and clay provide minerals that the tapeworms are stripping from the body.
Some other signs and symptoms related to tapeworm cravings and nutritional deficits include:
- Increased appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Diarrhea orDigestive issues
- Weight loss
- Weakness and fatigue
- Brain fog
These issues arise as the tapeworms continue to deprive the body of calories, protein, vitamins and minerals.
Getting Tested for Tapeworm
If you suffer from frequent hunger, odd food cravings or any of the symptoms listed above, consider getting tested for parasites. A stool test can detect tapeworm eggs or segments that may be passing.
Blood tests can check for antibodies against tapeworms or measure vitamin and mineral levels to assess nutritional deficits.
Your doctor may also wish to perform an MRI or CT scan to visualize the actual worm in the intestines, if present.
Treatment and Prevention
If a tapeworm is found, medication is needed to kill the parasite. Options may include:
After treatment, cravings and other symptoms should resolve as nutrition is restored. To prevent reinfection, avoid eating undercooked beef, pork and other meats.
Proper hand washing, food hygiene and caution around pets that eat raw meat can also lower infection risk. Water filters and boiling water can remove contaminants when traveling.
Tapeworms are intestinal parasites that deprive nutrients from their human hosts. This can cause increased hunger, strange cravings for meat, sugars and other foods. Understanding the weird cravings tapeworms create can help identify possible infections for testing and treatment.