by Christine Schoenek, ND
You read that right: We’re talking about poop and how it could be the answer to your health concerns. People are talking more and more about what their stool looks like and what it can tell us about our health. Poop can provide us with direct information about our gastrointestinal tract, which plays many central roles in our overall well-being. It protects us from outside invaders, toxins and wastes; contributes largely to our immune system; produces neurotransmitters that influence mood; is responsible for breaking down nutrients and eliminates the majority of our waste production. All this considered, it’s no wonder that gut health can have such a profound impact on how we feel.
The gut microbiome, made up of hundreds of trillions of various bacteria, viruses, fungi and protozoa, helps to regulate all of these important GI functions. Our bodies are comprised of 10 times more bacteria cells than human cells. This ecosystem of microbes supplies our bodies with essential vitamins, balance the immune system, ward off invading pathogens and help to regulate weight and metabolism.
A healthy balance of these microbes is necessary for our bodies to maintain well-being. Many factors, including stress, unhealthy or processed foods, overuse of antibiotics and medications, yeast or fungal overgrowth and infections, can disrupt the gut microbiome. These disturbances in our inner ecosystem can contribute to poor health and result in debilitating health conditions. Some are direct GI conditions: IBS, gas, bloating, Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis; while others are less obvious: chronic fatigue, joint pain, headache, brain fog and autoimmune disease.
Repopulation of the gut through probiotic-rich foods or taking quality probiotics are two of the most well know ways to restore balance to the microbiome and support health. These methods can take some time, as probiotics can have billions of units of bacteria with 1-30 different strains, and finding the right probiotic for you can be a challenge. Another approach that has been gaining more traction can provide hundreds of trillions of units of microbes in more than 1,000 strains. This process is known as Fecal Microbiota Transplants (FMTs), or the transfer of stool from a healthy donor to an individual’s colon. That’s right: Poop can be transplanted from one individual to another and can even save lives. Since our stool contains a microbiome that regulates our health, that transfer of poop from a healthy donor to an unhealthy receiver has been shown to correct the imbalances that create disease.
The process is currently only available in the U.S. for those with recurrent Clostridium Difficile, or C. diff, a potentially fatal infection that causes painful inflammation of the colon.
Emerging research is showing how FMTs can be beneficial in the treatment of many other health conditions including IBS, leaky gut, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmune disease, obesity, allergies, chronic fatigue and more.
While this may seem like a strange procedure, it has been shown to be extremely safe and effective. When done properly, fecal transplants have been found to have a 98 percent success rate in correcting an imbalanced microbiome and helping to heal chronic disease. Furthermore, no serious side effects have been reported as a consequence of FMTs.
A qualified physician who has received the proper training performs FMTs. The donor stool should come from someone who is healthy, with no medical history of intestinal infections or digestive disorders. The procedure takes place in a doctor’s office and involves collecting the donor stool before immediately transferring it to the patient. The donor stool can also be collected ahead of time, frozen to preserve it and thawed before inserted into the receiver’s colon. The receiver’s colon can also be washed out before the procedure, so the donor stool has a clean colon to repopulate, which has been suggested to help improve FMTs success rates.
As mentioned above, the only patients that are currently able to receive a fecal transplant at a clinic in the U.S. are those with recurrent C. diff infections. This will likely expand to other health conditions as more and more research emerges regarding the importance of gut health and integrity.
At-home methods are available as well but are not recommended unless supervised by a physician. Comprehensive stool testing is necessary to ensure safety before accepting a donor’s stool and attempting this at home.
Could someone else’s poop be the answer to your chronic health concerns? Research is showing it just might be.
Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital was the First in the Country to Complete an FMT Clinical Trial
A phase I clinical trial of the FMT procedure was conducted by members of the Pediatric Specialty Department of the Spectrum Health Medical Group at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, the first in the country to study FMT in children.
“FMT has been proposed as a promising new treatment option for recurrent C. difficle infection and possibly for ulcerative colitis as well,” said Sachin Kunde, MD, MPH, pediatric gastroenterologist, Spectrum Health Medical Group, and lead investigator. “We believe that the procedure may restore ‘abnormal’ bacteria to ‘normal’ in patients with ulcerative colitis. Our short-term study looked at the safety and tolerability of FMT for these patients.”
Christine Schoenek is a naturopathic doctor at Grand Rapids Natural Health. Her focus is determining the root cause of illness and reestablishing health through safe and natural remedies.