Fecal Transplants: A Gut Cure-All?

Woman's stomachFecal transplant (or “fecal microbiota therapy” (FMT) as it is medically known)…  Yes, it is what it sound likes.  Human feces, typically mixed with saline, is transferred from one person to another via an enema or through nasal tubes leading to the stomach.  As unsavory as it might seem, the procedure is improving the lives of thousands of people who have suffered from a debilitating infection called Clostridium difficile (C. diff).

C. diff is a bacteria present in the gut of roughly 3% of adults.  In healthy individuals with the bacteria , C. diff does not adversely affect the human body.  However, pre-existing conditions and/or taking antibiotics can cause C. diff to proliferate in the gut.  As a result, C. diff releases a toxin that attacks the lining of the intestines causing serious symptoms like diarrhea, abdominal pain, and weight loss.  Up until recently, the first course of treatment for C. diff has been antibiotics, but their success rate has been mixed.

Enter the fecal transplant.  A study done by Dutch and Finnish researchers in the past year found a 94% cure rate of C. diff with FMTs.  Since then, the procedure has exploded in popularity, so much so that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) at first clamped down on the procedure given that there were no government regulations in place concerning the conditions that should be treated by FMTs and how the procedure should be performed.  The FDA has since eased those restrictions to the delight of C. diff sufferers lining up to be treated.

While FMTs are being used primarily to treat C. diff, there is hope that sufferers of other gut-related illnesses, such as Crohn’s disease, Celiac disease, irritable bowel disease, and irritable bowel syndrome, may also be cured of their illness through the procedure.  Studies of FMT treatment for these and other health conditions can be expected in the years to come.

For more information about FMTs, check out the Mayo Clinic and this informative PLOS blog.

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