Add this to the list of crazy dieting tactics.

An Iowa woman bought a tapeworm off the Internet and swallowed it, hoping to drop a few pounds, according to a Today article.

The woman told her doctor about her tapeworm diet attempt. The physician didn’t know what to do, so he contacted the Iowa Department of Public Health for advice.

Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, medical director of the health department, issued a warning and treatment advice in her weekly email to public health workers, according to the Today article.

“Ingesting tapeworms is extremely risky and can cause a wide range of undesirable side effects, including rare deaths,” she wrote in the email, as the Des Moines Register reported Friday. “Those desiring to lose weight are advised to stick with proven weight loss methods — consuming fewer calories and increasing physical activity.”

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, weight-loss schemes would offer “easy to swallow,” “sanitized tapeworms,” according to the article.

Quinslisk said the capsules sold then and online today likely contain the microscopic head of a beef tapeworm. It would develop into a 30-foot-long tapeworm, according to Quinslisk.

“The worm would get into your gut – it’s got little hooks on the head – and it would grab onto your intestine and start growing,” she said.

To get the parasite out of a person’s body, doctors usually prescribe an anti-worm medication that forces all the muscles in the worm’s body to contract, killing it. The tapeworm will then “harmlessly pass through the intestines and out of the body,” according to the Today article.

Harmlessly? Maybe. But I certainly wouldn’t want to find out first hand.

Marissa Harshman

Marissa Harshman

I'm the health reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. I started at The Columbian -- my hometown newspaper -- in September 2009. Reach me at or 360-735-4546.

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