Feces transplants benefit health
Poop is perhaps the last thing anyone would think of as a treatment for anything. After all, it is everything that our bodies did not want and decided to throw away. Yet, two studies have shown that a fecal transplant – yes, that’s right, moving poop from one person to another – has tremendous medical promises.
In the Netherlands, doctors conducted a clinical trial using fecal transplants as a treatment for recurring diarrhea. An abnormal amount of Clostridium difficile, a species of bacteria native to the human digestive system, is usually to blame for recurring diarrhea that does not respond to most remedies. In a normal course of treatment, the doctor would prescribe vancomycin, a last-resort antibiotic, to essentially empty the patient’s gut of all bacteria.
However, vancomycin treatment is effective in only 60 percent of all cases. Because of natural selection, the use of vancomycin creates antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. With each treatment, the effectiveness goes down as resistant bacteria reproduce. Anecdotal evidence about the effectiveness of fecal transplants in hospitals has floated around for quite a while, but the Dutch doctors decided to put the stories to the test.
In the study, healthy volunteers were screened for diseases, and those who came clean donated their bodily productions to the hospital, where it was mixed with saline and had the waste removed. 16 patients who had their digestive system cleaned, were given the prepared solution through a gastro-nasal tube. 13 were cured of diarrhea after a single transplant, and two more were cured with a second transplant. Therefore the procedure obtained a success rate of over 90 percent, a marked improvement over vancomycin.
Of course, it was not the poop that had healing powers. It was instead the bacteria that had hitched a ride. The feces from the healthy volunteers had a good balance of gut bacteria. When given to the patients, the transfusion established a normal balance of bacteria in the gut, curing their diarrhea.
Another study, conducted in Canada, showed that a fecal transplant may even have the potential to slow the onset of type-one diabetes. Type-one diabetes is modeled well by a select strain of mice, which reflects most of the symptoms seen in humans, including the fact that it affects females more often.
When female mice were given a fecal transplant from healthy males, the progression of diabetes slowed. The bacteria caused an increased level of testosterone in the mice, and the accompanying immune response was apparently able to halt diabetes. Though the mechanisms are unclear, data shows that bacteria in the digestive system play a key role in preventing diabetes, whether by activating the immune-system response or causing hormonal changes.
Both of these studies reveal the presence of a complex ecosystem of bacteria in our body, which must remain balanced in order to maintain our health. The establishment of a healthy balance can be more effective than the more traditional treatment of drugs. Though the scientific evidence is promising, convincing patients to accept another’s poop may be easier said than done.
Another way to obtain healthy bacteria levels: transplanting feces.