Yes, you read that right. For long stretches of human history, we have done what we can to remove ourselves from our waste. In each stool lives many many bacteria that can infect you if they get close to you. The twist is that since the bacteria come from healthy human bodies they are likely to only have minimal effects if reintroduced. In spite of the Doo Doo Taboo, fecal medical transplants are rising as a treatment option for some of the worst bacterial infections. Known perhaps more palatably as bacteriotherapy (and less so as a shit shot), it involves changing the bacterial community in your body to combat disease.
If you remember our video “Bacterial Friends Within You,” you’ll remember that our bodies are covered and filled with lots and lots of bacteria. Bacteria, like all of us, need some space and some food to survive. If our bodies are filled with good bacteria (like probiotics), bad bacteria (the ones that want to get you sick) have a tough time getting enough space and food. If you do something harmful to your good bacteria, bad bacteria (like Clostridium difficile (C. diff) can get in and set up shop. If left untreated, a C. diff infection can form holes in your intestines leading to frequent bloody diarrhea. C. diff is also difficult to treat because it is resistant to many forms of antibiotic treatments and successful treatments only suppress it for a few days before the bacteria come back. Instead of using antibiotics, fecal transplants use the good bacteria from other people’s bodies to fight the bad bacteria in yours. So far, it seems that the little bacterial warriors kill the C. diff with minimal chance of side effects.
Now I know you all want more details on how the procedure is done. First, a donor gives a sample of their poop to a doctor. That doctor (or a lucky technician) will break it up in a blender and add water until it’s about as thin as paint. This is put in an enema bag and stored until the donor is ready to put it in their butt.
Now if you’re just a tad bit unsure about swapping poop, you can cut out the other person. “Autologous Fecal Transplant” is the name for freezing and saving your poop while you are healthy to use for another day when your body’s bacteria get out of whack. If you need to go on antibiotics that kill all your good bacteria, an autologous fecal transplant can give them all back to you. This technique requires you to think ahead and store your feces in a clinic for a rainy day, but it reduces risk of foreign bacteria causing an infection.
While this procedure is mainly used for treating C. diff, some researchers and doctors are looking into how the bacteria in your intestines and colon can affect other things like obesity and even autism spectrum disorder. Medical trials have been done (outlined here) showing that fecal transplants prove useful in alleviating some of the symptoms of people with diabetes and people with Parkinson’s Disease. It seems that many aspects of our health are tied to the bacteria inside of us. If some condition or disease throws that out of whack, it might be useful to restore the balance.
Bryan Visser Bryan is a 2nd year graduate student studying DNA replication. He plans on making a career for science advocacy working at a museum or in Washington, DC. In his free time, Bryan enjoys board games and ballroom dancing.