A few months ago, a very frustrated patient came to me for a gastrointestinal consultation. He had been having abnormal bowel movements and cramping for a few years. He attributed it to a bad shrimp dinner he had eaten a some years prior. He had been worked up and down by doctors from mouth to anus: colonoscopies, stool cultures, X-rays. You name it, he had it done. This man had done his own research and came to me with the most peculiar of requests. He wanted a stool transplant. I almost fell off my stool (no pun intended) as I reached for the phone to call the loony bin. Little did I know at the time that he was on the cutting edge of science!
Fecal transplantation has proven to be a very effective treatment for C. Dificil Colitis. This type of colitis happens when one has taken too many antibiotics over an extended period. The antibiotics kill the good intestinal bacteria, leaving the bad intestinal bacteria a chance to take over. With the over-prescription and high-demand for of antibiotics, C. Dif. Colitis is becoming alarmingly common. There were over 500,000 cases last year in the U.S and over 20,000 deaths (attributed to this type of colitis).
An article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in January of 2013 showed that stool transplantation in people with C. Dif. Colitis (that was resistant to conventional treatments) was successful in over 80% of the cases it was attempted. So convincing was the data that the study was stopped early before conclusion, (so that the patients on the placebo arm could receive the life saving fecal transplants).
Now, don’t go trying this at home! The donated stool must be from a healthy donor who has been tested for many dangerous, communicable diseases. Once safe, healthy stool has been found, it must then be inserted into the recipient via a colonoscope or other intestinal instruments. The jury is still out as to whether fecal transplantation works for irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease, but initial studies look very promising!
So, just cause a patient comes to you with a shitty idea, doesn’t mean it won’t work! I know it sounds gross and may be difficult to talk about, but remember, we live in harmony with thousands of bacteria on our skin and in our guts. It appears that re-colonizing our bacteria once they have gone out of whack may the the cure to many diseases!
Let me hear what you have to say about this “outrageous” yet life saving procedure. Email me or better yet, shoot me a tweet!
For more on the topic, read an article Scientific America posted not too long ago!
Be well and stay healthy — Dr. Jorge