Prof. Disbrow gives us the poop on medicinal...poop
I think it’s fair to say that science can be messy. Especially medical science. I mean, there’s blood and bones and synovial fluids and…. poop.
That’s right, I said poop (a.k.a. “feces”). Believe it or not, poop, specifically human poop, is being used to treat intestinal disorders.
And, if you’ll take your fingers out of your ears, and stop saying “La la la, I’m not listening,” I’ll explain how it works.
As you probably know, we humans aren’t actually 100 percent human. In fact, its not too far-fetched to imagine each of us as a collection of a large number of different microbial colonies that decided to work together so that all the other microbes out there would stop eating them.
These different groups of microbes that live in and on our bodies all have a task to fulfill for the benefit of the overall organism (i.e. “you” and “me”) and if one group of microbes gets sick or goes missing, the impact on your overall health can range from being annoying to straight-up fatal.
“Intestinal Microbiota Transplant” (“IMT” or “Fecal Transplant”) is a procedure whereby the Intestinal Microbiota (“gut bugs”) of a healthy person (preferably a relative) are transplanted into the intestinal tract of a not-healthy person.
The goal of this action is that the healthy bugs will set up shop and thrive inside the guts of the recipient and replace the missing bugs, thus restoring health.
Now, there are several ways that this transplant can be accomplished. In almost every case, the healthy donor poop is removed and placed in a saline solution. This is then introduced into the gastrointestinal tract of the recipient via one of the following methods:
Colonoscopy: The most common method of delivery, the mix is delivered via modified colonoscopy equipment while you enjoy a relaxing, anesthesia-induced nap.
Enema: In this case, the mixture is delivered via a setup similar to what your grandmother had on hand. (Well, OK. It’s probably not exactly the same equipment, butt the idea is the same.) It’s doubtful that anesthesia is involved, but (t) it should be.
Pills: Really? Pills? Pills made of another person’s poop. You swallow them...and...you get better? Sure. Why not? Poop Pills! (Follow-up psychotherapy to deal with the fact that you had to swallow pills full of poop is probably also advised.)
Nasogastric Tube: Wait. No, no. That can’t be right. “Naso” means “nose,” doesn’t it? Let me just Goog…Oh, God! No!
Now, at this point, you may be thinking that I’m making all this stuff up, but I’m not. This is something people have been doing for a long time.
It started with the 4th-century Chinese, who used a preparation they called “Yellow Soup,” and continues to this day. (All of the delivery methods I mentioned above? Those are all real, and to my mind, all preferable to anything called “Yellow Soup.”)
As to whether or not it works, well, that’s a different question. As with any other crazy “medical” procedure, you can easily find a quack that will happily shove stuff up your bottom for money. However, this procedure seems to be slowly making its way out of the realm of pseudo-science and into the world of actual medicine.
Various studies on the efficacy of IMT when used to treat “Clostridium difficile” (a gut bacteria that can get out of whack and cause life-threatening diarrhea), have actually shown a success rate between 89 and 95 percent. That’s pretty amazing for something which, honestly, seems like a crappy idea. (To be clear, C diff is the only ailment that the FDA has approved IMT for.)
You’ll often hear IMT proponents say that, to date, there’s no record of anyone dying or contracting a secondary infection as a direct result of IMT.
But that’s only when done in a proper hospital-type setting where all potential donors and their poop are screened for disease before their stools are put to use.
There are however, a lot of butt-heads out there that have decided that IMT is a perfect “DIY” home remedy. These folks regularly end up with bowel infections that they hadn’t bargained on and have to be hospitalized anyway.
So, are fecal transplants pseudo-science or actual medicine? Honestly, the jury is still out, and anyone that tells you different is full of…well…you know.