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Human Tapeworms & Weight Loss

By Lee Woodard ; Updated July 18, 2017

Tapeworms, parasitic worms, live in the intestinal tracts of animals and may be passed to humans through food or water contaminated with tapeworm eggs. Unconfirmed rumors of celebrities who have lost large amounts of weight cite tapeworm infestation in those individuals as the chosen mode of those losses. This may seem a prudent--and carefree--manner of weight loss, but the many complications that may arise from such a choice show otherwise.

Risk Factors

Certain factors increase your risk of tapeworm infection, echinococcosis, notes These factors are: poor hygiene practices, eating raw or undercooked meats, travel to developing countries and exposure to livestock. Additionally, close contact with dogs can also lead to echinococcosis. In the United States, the areas where tapeworm infection occurs most often are Alaska and the Southwest.


All tapeworm infestations are not created equally. Some infestations are limited to the intestinal tract, while others move outside your intestines and invade other organs.

If the parasite's involvement is only in the intestine, these symptoms may be present: nausea, diarrhea, loss of appetite, weakness, abdominal pain, weight loss and poor absorption of nutrients. Hunger may also be a symptom of tapeworm infection.

Tapeworm infection that becomes invasive--migrates to body organs and forms cysts--may not present symptoms for 20 to 30 years, advises the American Academy of Family Physicians. Symptoms of invasive tapeworm infection will vary greatly, depending on the organs involved. Seizures, fever, chest pain, jaundice, bloody stools, headache or a cough that won't go away are some of the possible symptoms of invasive echinococcosis.


Complications from an intestinal tape worm are uncommon, but as the tapeworm grows, it could block your bile or pancreatic ducts. Complications from invasive tapeworm infections may include brain and central nervous system impairments, organ function disruption and even death.

Expert Insight

The most commonly incurred tapeworm infection is from the dwarf tapeworm, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Parasitic Diseases. The dwarf tapeworm grows to about 2 inches in length maximum. And, this type of tapeworm infection does not generally lead to weight loss.


There were rumors in the early 20th century that diet pills were being sold that boasted to contain tapeworm heads and some body segments. Some jockeys and celebrities were reported to have purchased such pills, but there is no proof that tapeworms were contained in the pills.

Bottom Line

Consult your health care provider if you believe you have been exposed to tapeworms or their eggs or have symptoms of tapeworm infection. The risks of an untreated tapeworm infection outweigh the slight chance you might lose weight.

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