Stomach issues can be seriously debilitating. So when they’re chronic, it can be a huge damper on someone’s quality of life. Enter fecal microbiota transplants, or FMT, an experimental new way to treat gut problems. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a transplant of someone else’s poop into your body. Sure, it may sound disgusting, but FMT is quickly gaining credibility as a highly-effective treatment within the medical community. Here’s what you need to know about it.
What It Is
FMT is done via a medical procedure that takes the stool from a healthy person and inserts that stool via colonoscopy, enema, or nasojejunal (yep, through the nose) tube into the gut of an unhealthy patient, according to Openbiome, a non-profit stool bank funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention .
Like blood donation, stool donation is highly-regulated procedure. In the U.S., stool donors are most commonly found through Openbiome, which is the world’s largest stool bank. Interested donors must sign up for the Stool Donor Registry via a survey and, if selected for the next step, will be required to be tested three times a week over the course of two months to ensure stool is healthy and properly screened.
Donors must be between 18 and 50 years old with a body mass index of less than 30. According to Thomas Borody, M.D., Ph.D., and director for the Centre for Digestive Diseases, a “healthy” donor is someone who is “generally a normal, well person” who tests negative for any abnormal blood and stool tests. (Kick-start your new, healthy routine with Women’s Health’s 12-Week Total-Body Transformation!)
Who Needs It
FMT is intended to help those with certain bacterial infections or chronic intestinal diseases. However, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved FMT as a mainstream procedure in the U.S., because fecal microbiota is considered a “biologic”, or biological drug. (Yep, the poo is considered a drug.) Because of that, FMTs are considered experimental and approved right now only for the treatment of Clostridium difficile (C. diff) infections.
C.diff is one of many bacteria that occurs naturally in your stool, but can cause fatal infections if it’s over-abundant in your body. What causes the over-abundance? Taking too many antibiotics. According to the CDC, 30 to 50 percent of antibiotics prescribed in hospitals aren’t necessary or adequate and when overused or used in the wrong circumstance can kill the good bacteria that keeps C. diff bacteria in check.
According to the CDC, half a million people were diagnosed with C.diff in 2011, and 29,000 of those people died within 30 days of diagnosis. C.diff causes an inflammation of the colon that often causes diarrhea, fever, loss of appetite, and nausea.
According to Borody, FMT has a 90 percent success rate treating C.diff, and the side effects from the procedure tend to be minimal discomfort, since it’s the method of transplant that causes issues, not the transplant itself.
The Future Of FMT
The theory behind FMT is that because our stool is so rich in bacteria it can “re-poop-ulate” our bodies with good bacteria, says Ari Grinspan, M.D. “The potential is everywhere in medicine,” Grinspan says, as there is currently research surrounding the use of FMT for diseases like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, autism, psychiatric conditions, skin conditions, and immune system disorders. Niket Sonpal, M.D., agrees, saying that “certain gut bacteria release chemical neurotransmitters that affect our mood, appetite, and even cause other ailments.” There’s some power to your poop. In fact, as Sonpal puts it: “I believe that the gut microbiome and, in turn, fecal transplants, are the last frontier of gastro health.”