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Detox Learning Center

Rope Worm: Parasite or Mucoid Plaque?

  • You may see rubbery rope-like ropy strands in your stools when you do a parasite cleanse
  • It’s not been scientifically confirmed what these blobby strands are — they could be rope worm parasites or a form of intestinal debris called mucoid plaque. 
  • Rope worm, or Funis vermis, is not a scientifically “confirmed” parasite.
  • Mucoid plaque is thought to be a mixture of fecal matter,  lymph, mucus-like material, and toxins that gets stuck in your colon.
  • Whether rope worm is a parasite or mucoid plaque isn't the issue — what’s critical is that it may be contributing to poor health.
  • You can help your gut health by supporting drainage, removing toxins, and clearing pathogens.

You might be alarmed (and a bit disgusted) to see rubbery rope-like strands appear in your stools during a parasite cleanse. But lots of people do see them — they’re a common occurrence. 

Many types of intestinal parasites can infect humans, including hookworms, pinworms, roundworms, tapeworms, and more. There's been a lively discussion of another potential intestinal inhabitant called the rope worm in recent years.

Those ropy strands in stools are not scientifically-identified parasites. Their true identity is a bit of a mystery. 

Two leading theories explain the stringy strands. One speculates that they're "rope worm" parasites. The other believes they're a form of intestinal mucus debris called "mucoid plaque."

Unfortunately, little science exists to confirm either viewpoint.

Let’s take a closer look at this peculiar substance, including reviewing the theories and helpful suggestions to address this.

What Causes Rope Worm?

Some people report passing rubbery, brownish-colored strands in their stools during colonics, enemas, parasite cleanses, water fasting, and other detox regimens. This rather disturbing stringy stuff can even be up to a few feet long and even have a distinct smell. (1)   

If you're not familiar with colonics, they are a more thorough colon flush than enemas. Trained professionals administer them — you don't do them on your own. 

Interestingly, the so-called rope worms people observed during colonics and parasite cleanses aren't a recent phenomenon. 

 A 1930s article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association noted people passing the unsightly materials after taking colonics. They were described as "brown or blackish sheets, strings, and rolled-up worm-like masses of tough mucus with a rotten or dead-fish odor." 

The article also reported that ill people who purged this unpleasant, stringy material had relief of their symptoms. (2)

Some people believe that these ropy blobs are a by-product of health protocols. For example, it could be psyllium husk fiber leaving the gut. But people also see them when they haven’t taken psyllium.

Scientists aren't sure what the material is, yet something odd is coming out.  

The Parasitic Rope Worm Theory

The Parasitic Rope Worm Theory

According to this theory, the rope-like material passed during a parasite cleanse or other gut detox regimen is a parasite called "rope worm." 

A scientist advanced this theory in 2012. During a 17-day water fast, he passed what he suspected was a parasite during an enema. After purging this "rope worm," he claimed to have immediate relief from his chronic back pain. (3)

This surprising outcome prompted him to study what he experienced and wrote it with another scientist who had previously investigated this. However, their papers aren't published in scientific journals. Reportedly, journal editors rejected the documents due to a lack of scientific evidence and inadequate research protocols. Still, they share some intriguing information. (3)

Here's a closer look at this theory and the details the scientists provided.

Could it be a parasite?

Rope worm, or Funis vermis, has never been confirmed to be a parasite. Scientists don’t understand how you would contract it or where it comes from. (3) 

Complicating matters, it is claimed to be an anaerobic critter, meaning it fails to thrive in an oxygenated environment. It dries out quickly when outside your body, making it harder to identify.

Still, it can be seen in photographs in different forms or stages. Rope worm theory is alleged to have five growth stages: (3)

  1. Thin mucus stage: A slimy goo with very little structure — except for a few bubbles — found in various places in the body.
  2. Thick mucus stage: A slimy mucus with more gas bubbles. The bubbles are said to enable the parasite to move throughout the body.
  3. Branched jellyfish: An irregularly-shaped structure with branches protruding in multiple directions. 
  4. Small rope worm: A critter that resembles a short adult rope worm with a softer, slimier body. The bubbles may develop into suction cups.
  5. Adult rope worm: A parasite with a long rope-like structure with a suction-cup for a "head," which attaches it to places like your gut wall. The adult pest may reach over three feet in length.  

The scientists also claimed that they’ve seen microscopic scales on rope worms. They also appear to have inner tunnels where gas bubbles travel. But they don't have muscles, a nervous system, or reproductive organs. (3)

Only a small portion of the rope worm genetics have been analyzed. This assessment showed that only 10% of the DNA could be matched to current databases and that DNA matched a mix of human and bacterial genes. (3)

So at this point, DNA evidence doesn't yet confirm it's a parasite. More extensive genetic analysis is needed.

Why weren’t they discovered sooner?

Rope worms typically come out during cleansing protocols. They may not be seen otherwise. Plus, some people simply won’t notice they're passing them in their stools. Reasons for this include: (3)

  • Broken pieces: Rope worms usually don’t come out in one piece. So they could be overlooked as merely part of your stool. 
  • Immature form: You may purge one of the earlier growth stages and not see much difference in your stools. 
  • Mistaken identity: They may be identified as parts shed from your intestinal lining. 

Regardless, it's important to remember that there isn't any conclusive evidence that what is called rope worm is actually a parasite. 

The Mucoid Plaque Theory

The Mucoid Plaque Theory

The mucoid plaque theory was put forth by a naturopathic doctor in the 1990s. He coined this term to describe the stringy masses he saw in his stools while doing a cleanse with wild herbs.

Mucoid plaque in stools is said to be a mixture of fecal matter, lymphmucus-like material, and toxins that gets stuck in the nooks and crannies of your colon. Mucoid plaque symptoms from buildup is thought to represent movement toward a disease state. For example, it may point to a bacterial infection or the development of bowel disease

Is it protection from toxins and poor diet?

Proponents of the mucoid plaque theory suspect that this rubbery barrier is formed from biofilm to prevent your body from absorbing toxins

Others suggest that an unhealthy diet rich in processed foods and alcohol may promote mucoid plaque buildup. Consumption of genetically modified foods (GMOs) is another proposed trigger.

Some of these unproven ideas might have some merit. 

The human gut produces mucins, which are sticky carbohydrate/protein combos that form mucus. A single layer of mucus blankets and protects your small intestine's inner lining, while a double layer of mucus coats your large intestine. This mucous undergoes continual replacement and renewal. (4, 5, 6)

Still, it's unclear whether old mucins can build up and exit in large quantities as stringy mucoid plaque.

Is it protection from parasites and bacteria?

It's also suggested that harmful bacteria and parasites could stimulate mucoid plaque formation in your gut.

In one published case study, a woman with Clostridium difficile bacterial infection-induced colitis was found to have oozing mucoid material and yellowish plaque lesions during a colonoscopy. This condition cleared up after treating the infection. (7)

The ropy goo may be lymph tissue built up in the gut from bacterial infection. Plus, a bacterial or parasitic infection may trigger some of the intestinal lining to die prematurely. This leads to shedding dead cells. (8, 9, 10, 11)

Furthermore, studies suggest that an increase in mucus may be an attempt to bind onto a pathogen to expel it. And animal studies show that mucus production in the colon increases when clearing parasites. (4) 

So, the stringy sludge in your stools may be a combination of bacteria, dead cells, lymph, mucins, and parasites. However, the science remains inconclusive.

mucoid plaque or rope worm (square)

Challenges of Solving the Mystery

Why is this issue that's commonly reported still clouded in mystery and insufficient scientific evidence? Reasons include:

  • Existing studies are unpublished: The small amount of completed research isn't published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. The investigations so far have lacked the appropriate scientific methodology. 
  • Lack of scientific investigation: Most of what is known about rope worm is based on personal experience. Although many stories and photos exist online, little scientific study has been done. 
  • Limited interest and awareness: Most researchers don’t know about rope worm, partly because of a lack of published research. It's also hard to spark interest because mainstream medicine doesn't consider parasites a significant health problem.
  • No research funding: It takes a lot of money to do proper studies. Groups like the National Institutes of Health aren't likely to help fund a study of something that isn't deemed a health concern.

However, a recent article published in December 2021 looked at newly discovered rope worm infections when trying to find the cause of intestinal blockage in a couple of cases. While both patients were only able to pass the rope worms using enemas, the results were determined inconclusive since further research is required to identify rope worm. (12)

Therefore, it's unlikely that a clear and authoritative answer on rope worm will be available any time soon.

How To Get Rid of Rope Worm or Mucoid Plaque

Whether rope worm is a parasite or mucoid plaque isn't the critical issue. Instead, what warrants attention is that if you’ve got the rubbery goo in your gut, it may be contributing to poor health. 

So, supporting your body's drainage and detox is your best course of action. Of course, a healthy, active lifestyle will only help your entire body function swimmingly, as well as a diet high in nutritious, whole foods. Make sure to check with your healthcare practitioner to help you with this process.

Support drainage

To help purge rope worm or mucoid plaque from your body, try:

  • Coffee enemas: Enemas are gaining in popularity because they may help remove toxins from your colon. You can do these yourself at home as a colon cleanse. Boost effectiveness by using coffee in your enema. (13)
  • Colon support: Make sure you're pooping at least once daily — and ideally, more often during detox. Certain herbs may support your bowel movements and also support the lowering of inflammation. (14, 15, 16, 17)
  • Kidney and liver support: Toxic buildup can be hard on your liver and kidneys. Nurturing their function aids detox. Some herbs may support your liver and kidneys against damage. (18, 19, 20)

Remove pathogens and rebuild the gut

Both the rope worm and mucoid plaque theories involve pathogens, including parasites. Whether the stringy goo is a parasite itself or forms due to your body's defensive efforts against pathogens, it may help you to get rid of it.

Certain herbs can help support your gut and trigger you to pass the stringy substance if you choose to do a parasite cleanse.

Both the parasitic rope worm and mucoid plaque theories suggest that the stringy goo in your stools signals your gut needs support. Reclaiming your gut health requires hauling away toxins. You also need to rebuild tissues damaged by pathogens and toxins.

Binders can support grabbing toxins like pesticides and heavy metals. At the same time, they can help provide additional support the body needs. (20, 21, 22)

Shift Your Focus

If you do a parasite cleanse or other detox regimen and find stringy goo in your stools, you don't need to worry about which theory is the right one. The limited science doesn't confirm whether "rope worm" is a parasite, mucoid plaque, or something else.

However, what is clear is that you could be healthier and feel better when it's gone. So shift your focus to things you can do to support your gut health.