Neurocysticercosis is the name for an infection of the human central nervous system by pork tapeworm larvae. The invasion of baby pork tapeworms in the brain has become an increasingly important emerging infection in the United States, and is the #1 cause of epilepsy in the world. It is the most common parasitic disease of the human brain and used to be found throughout only the developing world (with the exception of Muslim countries, since less pork is consumed there). That all changed about 30 years ago, and now it’s increasingly found throughout North America.
Besides seizures, the pork parasites may actually trigger brain tumors or cause an aneurism or psychiatric manifestation like depression. It can also result in dementia, but with deworming drugs this is often reversible. (Only rarely do surgeons have to surgically remove the larvae.)
I’ve talked about pork tapeworms before (see my videos Pork Tapeworms on the Brain, Avoiding Epilepsy Through Diet, and Not So Delusional Parasitosis). What’s new is that we now know that they may present as chronic headaches—either migraines or so-called “tension-headaches”—even when the worms in our head are dead. What researchers think is happening is that as our body tries to chip away at the worms’ calcified bodies, bits of them may be released into the rest of our brain causing inflammation that could be contributing to headaches.
This condition is rare even in endemic areas, but we can avoid getting infested with an adult tapeworm in the first place by cooking pork thoroughly. It’s found in some parts of pig carcasses more than others (watch the above video for the diagram), and the worms can be frozen to death no matter how infested the muscles are by storing pork (cut up into small pieces) for a month at subzero temperatures. Then to ensure the larvae are dead the meat is recommended to be cooked for more than two hours. That’s one well-done pork chop!
Michael Greger, M.D.