September 21, 2013
A Poop Transplant to Help Your Gut? WHHHAAAAT?
We know that when we take antibiotics for illnesses and viruses the antibiotics often have a lasting effect. This is mostly due to the fact that antibiotics affect our gut flora by killing off the healthy microbes as well as the infection. The gut has a microbiome, which is the set of microbial communities as one redOrbit article identifies. When we take antibiotics, our microbiome goes all wonky. For some people, this leads to an infection called Clostridium difficile (also known as C. diff), which according to a different redOrbit report causes extreme diarrhea. C. diff causes such extreme diarrhea that over 14,000 Americans die from it each year. And it all starts with the antibiotic.
National Public Radio (NPR) reported about one woman’s brush with death from C. diff. Her name is Billie Iverson, and she is 86 years old. However, she is active and in control. She does her own shopping, drives herself to the doctor, and does just about everything for herself. That is, until she got a C. diff infection. Like most C. diff infections, it started when she had to take antibiotics for another illness. The antibiotics jacked with her gut flora stability and lead her microbiome to be susceptible to infection.
Eventually, Iverson went to see a specialist at Brown University who suggested a new procedure known as microbiome transplant or fecal transplant. As both NPR and redOrbit explain, this is a transplant of the microbiome from one individual to another using fecal material. That’s right, poop. Yes, it is gross on paper, but in practice it has saved lives, including Billie Iverson’s. In fact, Iverson reported an immediate recovery once her gut flora was back on track. The fecal transplant is useful, according to redOrbit, because fecal material “contains a highly complex and dense community of microbes that include bacteria, fungi and viruses, many of which have not been fully characterized.” This community helps those with C. diff build up their own microbes to fight off the infection.
In addition to microbiome transplants, much research is continuing on the role probiotics plays in restoring gut health. NPR explains, “’The evidence is really mounting to the point where I think it’s undeniable that the ingestion of live bacteria — safe bacteria in high numbers — has an overall beneficial effect on human health,’ says Colin Hill of the University College Cork in Ireland.”
In both areas, but most especially that of microbiome transplant, more research and intense study needs to take place in order to really understand the effects and benefits. For Iverson, though, the microbiome transplant saved her life. Sure, she was at first repulsed by the thought, but when it came to healing and living a happy, healthy life, she pushed aside her yuck and did what she needed to.
As of now the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved microbiome transplants completely because it has concerns about whether or not the transplants could spread infections or cause more health problems. Right now, “the FDA requires that doctors who want to do microbiome transplants for anything other than C. diff treatment get FDA approval first. And physicians must warn patients that, even for C. diff, the treatment is still experimental.”
I understand the concern, but if a microbiome transplant can help, and there is proof like with Billie Iverson, then let’s look into it deeper. And let’s learn more about the benefits of probiotics in this whole discussion. If antibiotics can lead to an infection like C. diff, then let’s learn how to fix it, heal it. Gut flora health is so important for so many reasons. It is worth learning how to cure C. diff.
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