Posted on 11/06/2013 at 10:32:43 AM by Student BloggerBy Corrie Whisner, PhD
Poop, feces, kaka, and dung… what do these words have in common? For most people they bring on feelings of disgust but if you are like me, you might feel inclined to admit that human excrement is utterly fascinating. Now, before you start wondering whether I have lost my mind, let me explain.
I first learned of the novel uses of feces as an undergraduate when I applied to work on a summer research study called Camp Calcium. For six weeks of the summer break before my senior year, I processed fecal matter (and urine) from 30 teens so that we could measure how much dietary calcium was lost in their excreta, an important step in calculating how much calcium is absorbed in the intestine and sent to the skeleton. Long story short, I continued similar work in graduate school looking at how prebiotics altered the fecal microbial communities, a.k.a intestinal microbiota, to increase intestinal calcium absorption in teens who consumed less than recommended calcium intakes. Little did I know that poop would soon take the stage as the next cure-all for everything ranging from bacterial infections to metabolic diseases. Needless to say, I was hooked and hopefully you will be too after plunging through the rest of this post!
In a recent Science Magazine article titled The Promise of Poop author Jop de Vrieze outlines the unique influence that fecal transplants have on health. With all of the recent hype regarding the microbiome it is hard to believe that fecal transplants have actually been used since the 4th century to treat ailments like food poisoning and severe diarrhea. I guess our ancestors were on to something! Now positive effects of transplanting “good” fecal bacteria from health donors has been documented for a number of disorders and diseases (see infographic) but most notable is the evidence for treating Clostridium difficile, an infection that claims nearly 14,000 lives each year!
The article starts by introducing a unique C. difficile case that Dr. Max Nieuwdorp was treating during his residency. His patient was an 81-year-old woman who after antibiotic treatment for a urinary tract infection developed a horrible intestinal infection rendering her unable to eat and unlikely to survive. Not giving up, the doctor turned to the literature for alternative options and he found quite a doozy when he ran across Ben Eiseman's 1958 paper published in Surgery. The paper discussed the successful treatment of four cases of pseudomembranous enterocolitis which presents symptoms very similar to C. difficile. Dr. Nieuwdorp tried the procedure on the woman and after only three days she was well enough to leave the hospital.
Over recent years, support for fecal transplants has gained momentum. Now medical and scientific communities openly agree that this treatment cures C. difficile but many questions still remain. While clinicians do not yet know what qualities make up the perfect fecal donation, studies are pooping…I mean, popping up all over the world to identify the perfect fecal bacteria concoctions for different diseases. A recent research endeavor by Nieudorp has aimed to study the effects of fecal transplants on patients with metabolic syndrome because his team previously noticed that feces from lean donors led to improved insulin sensitivity in overweight individuals. Heck, if that isn't enough to make you a poop-lover, you may someday see Poop Pills next to your coveted probiotics at the pharmacy. A recent USA Today article highlighted the promise of a new bacteria concoction administered orally in a gelatin capsule in treating C. difficile. So, will fecal-derived bacterial treatments be at the forefront of functional food research in coming years? Only time will tell. But I will be there flushing through all of the exciting data to come!