She considers her fecal transplant experience embarrassing to talk about, but Tina Baker is willing to give it a go because it helped cure her from something horrible.
This “something horrible” was a recurrent Clostridium difficile infection—a type of colon infection that causes severe belly pain, diarrhea, and fever. Her doctors kept trying to treat the condition with anti biotic, but after a brief respite, the infection kept coming back.
“It came back thrice within two months and i had to be hospitalized because of it, i couldnt hold my food down and i was loosing weight. It was a terrible experience”
She was finally referred to Erik von , MD, a GI researcher and associate professor of medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
” I was told that a fecal transplant was recommended if i needed to feel better and it was the best suggestion anyone ever gave me. Within a few days i felt better and I have not had any issues since”
What is a fecal transplant? It is the process of taking stool from a healthy donor and placing it in the GI tract of the patient. This is not a conventional method yet and would have seemed completely crazy a few years ago, not to mention very disgusting. It still is pretty gross but has become a well accepted form of treatment.
Your stomach is home to a diverse eco system of micro organisms known as microbiome. These microbiome play a crucial role in functions such as digestion, metabolism, immune function etc.
When this eco system is disrupted, because of causes such as illnesses or exposure to antibiotics, it can affect your health in many ways. As the microbiota has metabolic effects it can play a role in obesity and diabetes, and there are more that we are yet to understand.
The logic behind a fecal transplant is, when your microbiome levels are unstable, introducing a healthy donors gut microorganisms via their faces will help restabilize the levels of beneficial bacteria that you are short of. Its like getting new troops when your army is completely flattened. And this is a theory that has been established after years of study.
Are You A Candidate?
Fecal transplants used to be a fringe procedure but now is standar care and an approved treatment for recurrent colitis, the infection Tina Barker was suffering with.
However, even for colitis, fecal transplants are only considered to be a second line treatment, to be done once the first line treatment, which is anti biotic don’t work well or does not prove effective, or if the condition keeps recurring.
In such situations, fecal transplants are 80% to 90% proven to be effective.
How Fecal Transplants Are Performed
A healthy family member will generally donate a stool sample, after undergoing testing for harmful or problematic gut bacteria.
Though this is the most common practice available, there are non-profit organizations such as openbiome that have taken on to suppy doctors with well screened and sequenced poop with its safety ensured and properly balanced gut microbes.
Regardless of where the poop comes from, its mixed with a saline solution and strained to remove what is called particulate matter. Then the diluted poop solution is introduced to the patients intestinal tract by colonoscopy or a procedure similar to that called sigmoidoscopy.
Most patients show an improvement in a few days but the procedures success is judged after the passage of a couple of months and the donors microbiota is fully integrated with the patients.
The Endless Possibilities
Although as of now the treatment is used only for the treatment of recurrent C. difficile , ongoing research suggests that the procedure can be used for the treatment of many conditions from autism to obesity.
The possibilities are immense, from treating allergies, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, metabolic syndrome to many other diseases.
However, as of now, the treatment options are still under validation and doctors are not authorized to perform this procedure.
These restrictions annoy many people who are desperate for treatment options for chronic conditions and believe that fecal transplants are the answer.
Many doctors share the frustration as, if performed right with a healthy stool sample, the disadvantages of the procedure are minimal.
Many seem to consider alternate options such as going to countries like mexico to have the procedures performed and taking on DIY fecal transplants for which tutorials can be found online. Neither of these are recommended.
The Risks Involved
The potential seen in fecal transplants as a treatment option is immense. However, it is not without risks. Certain studies have linked fecal transplants with rapid weight gain and new onset obesity.
Also the possibility of the donor passing on that can affect the receiver negatively or worsen the condition exists.
Since this is a new procedure, the knowledge about the long-term effects of this is virtually non existent. Imagine that the donor is currently healthy but has a high risk for cancer or such a disease, the same risk might be transmitted to the receiver even after proper screening.
It’s a classic situation of having a double-edged sword, where if you believe that microbiota alteration can cure you of everything and the science supports this, messing with microbiome can also make your health spiral downwards.
Researchers are trying to maintain a registry of people who received this treatment, so that long-term effects can be studied. However there are still many unknowns.
Research shows tremendous potential to treat a whole collection of diseases , and to do so via a capsule instead of the current complicated treatment. It will not be a panacea but it may increase the potential uses of the treatment.
Fecal Transplants : Answer to Weight Loss and Stomach Ailments?
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