Globally, the Tsimane women from Bolivia are often considered the most fertile with an average of 10 children during their lifetime. However, some of them are even more fertile compared to others.
In the process of gathering information from about 1,000 women from this community across a period of nine years, researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara discovered that this enhanced fertility may be attributable to something bizarre – infections from parasitic worms.
Infection from a particular type of round worm is pretty common among this community and those who from chronic infection typically had 12 children on an average. In contrast, the experience of women with successive infection from hookworm was the opposite with a drop in birth rate to 7 from the community average of 10.
Aaron Blackwell, the lead author of the study, wrote in journal Science this week that he along with his colleagues theorized that the effect of the worm infection might relate to the balance of immune response that different types of worms induce.
Infection from roundworm was also associated with early first births and reduced interval between births. On the other hand infection from hookworm was linked to delay in first pregnancy and extended intervals between births. Speaking to BBC, Blackwell stated that changes to the immune system in the body of a woman could perhaps make the body somewhat friendly towards pregnancy.
Could this observation be perhaps positioned as a better alternative to IVF? Experts in the field of fertility hold the view that this could support new methods of treatment for women who have problems in getting pregnant in future. However, they also warned that women under any circumstance should not venture to get pregnant by getting themselves infected with roundworms. In the first place, they add that these results are pretty preliminary in nature, and only evidence an association as opposed to a casual link, and researchers have no knowledge as yet of the mechanisms that are at play.
Roundworm infections are pretty common and in most instances, they are asymptomatic. They can also cause fever, short breath, and anemia. In some cases, the complications could even be fatal.