An Iowa woman went to desperate measures to lose weight.

She told her doctor that she bought a tapeworm on the Internet and ingested it to drop a few pounds, Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, the medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said.

"Ingesting tapeworms is extremely risky and can cause a wide range of undesirable side effects, including rare deaths," she wrote to the Des Moines Register and advised the woman’s physician to prescribe anti-worm medication.

Tapeworms are parasites that live in the intestines of animals and humans. The beef tapeworm or Taenia saginata have been marketed for quick weight-loss, Quinlisk said.

“When people would order from snake oil medicine kinds of people a weight loss pill, it would be the head of a Taenia saginata … and it would develop into a 30-foot-long tapeworm in your body,” Quinlisk told “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.”

Since the tapeworm would eat its host’s food, the person would lose weight, she said. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, symptoms include loss of appetite, abdominal pain, weight loss and upset stomach. “The most visible sign of taeniasis is the active passing of proglottids (tapeworm segments) through the anus and in the feces. In rare cases, tapeworm segments become lodged in the appendix, or the bile and pancreatic ducts.”

Tapeworm eggs were sold in pill form about a century ago by schemers. Most recently, guests on the Tyra Banks Show said they would willingly eat tapeworms to lose weight.

“Probably, some people have done it. I have no question in my mind that people have done everything in the world to try to lose weight,” Diet historian Susan Yager said. “But I don’t think it was ever widespread."

Other dieticians see the tapeworm diet among other extreme diets as a symptom of a larger problem “I think that’s a red flag -- that they would be willing to sacrifice their health in order to lose weight,” New York City registered dietitian Elisa Zied said.

Quinlisk remains baffled by the Iowa patient.

“I can’t imagine anybody doing this on purpose,” Quinlisk said.