For some intestinal diseases, like colitis caused by Clostridium difficile, doctors may recommend a treatment that's far from glamorous--in fact, some might call it downright disgusting. That's right, I'm talking about a poop transplant.
Interestingly, the continued use of more traditional treatments, like life-saving antibiotics, has had the unexpected consequence of increasing these infections, since suppression of bacterial growth causes an unbalanced ecosystem in your gut.
Despite the ick factor, most patients would opt for a fecal transplant if they needed one, according to a recent study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases. Would you undergo a poop swapping procedure? Watch the video above and leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Come on, talk nerdy to me!
Hi everyone. Cara Santa Maria here. It goes by many names: fecal microbiota transplantation, fecal bacteriotherapy, stool transplant, fecal flora reconstitution, even human probiotic infusion (that one has a nice ring to it, no?). What I'm really talking about here is using poo to cure disease. Seems counterintuitive, right? That emissary of E. coli, transporter of toxoplasmosis, it's generally thought of as an agent of infection. But the human gut contains trillions of bacteria, working together in what scientists call the microbiome. In the right balance, this so-called gut flora is highly beneficial, aiding in digestion and immune function. But sometimes it falls out of homeostasis, often due to antibiotic treatment, and that can cause a whole host of problems.
One such condition is colitis caused by an overabundance Clostridium difficile. It gives you fever, abdominal pain, and severe diarrhea. It can even cause toxic megacolon, which is, well, exactly what it sounds like. Suffers are sometimes prone to relapse, and persistent symptoms can be debilitating--even fatal. Around 14,000 deaths per year in the United States are linked to this bacterial infection.
Most of the time, C. difficile colitis is treated by stopping the antibiotic course that's likely causing the infection, and starting a new one targeted to this specific bacterial agent. But this doesn't always work, can cause even more complications, and some people are left with little or no options. Enter the disgustingly wonderful world of poop transplants.
It's not new. The first fecal infusion was performed in 1958. And wouldn't you know, it worked! The logic is simple: fill the colon with healthy poop, and the bacteria it contains will begin to populate the infected intestinal lining. Eventually, it will get that pesky C. difficile in check, and the colitis symptoms will start to subside.
And the procedure is simple too. First, you need to find a donor. And unlike whole organ transplants, they don't have to be a match. I honestly don't think there's such a thing as a poop match, and regardless, rejection isn't a problem in fecal transplants. The donor does have to be free of potentially harmful pathogens though, so first they'll have their blood and stool tested. Once they get a clean bill of health, they'll donate a sample. (I don't think I need to explain how that part works.) The patient will undergo the same kind of prep necessary for a colonoscopy. Probably the grossest part is that the poo has to be liquified so it can easily squirted into the colon. This is done through a tube or a simple enema.
There are a several reports of success from fecal transplant in the medical literature. And a 2011 review article published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases reveals that across 27 reports and 317 patients, the success rate of this treatment is 92 percent. But so far, nobody in the U.S. has done a double-blind trial using fecal transplant techniques. So, what we're really talking about is anecdotal evidence. Apparently, researchers are pushing to see that change soon. But first, the FDA will have to approve the experimental procedure and the NIH will have to grant funding.
Few physicians currently use this treatment in practice, many hailing it as a last resort. But clinical research on the horizon may change our views of this unconventional therapy. If we can get past the ick factor, perhaps one day this will become the first line of defense for patients with debilitating C. difficile colitis, or even other intractable diseases, like irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune disorders, and Crohn's disease.
Alright everyone, I'm especially interested to hear your thoughts on this one. Reach out on Twitter, Facebook, or leave your comments right here on The Huffington Post. Come on, talk nerdy to me!