Here’s the latest from the Annual Meeting of the American College of Gastroenterology:
Fecal matter (aka: poop) from a healthy person is rich in health-promoting bacteria.
Clostridium difficile is a nasty bug that colonizes human intestines and, if it gets the upper hand there, crowds out friendly bacteria and causes untold grief in the form of intestinal distress and diarrhea. Imagine having the runs for months without end, and you get the picture.
Transplanting a healthy person’s fecal matter – even into elderly, debilitated patients whose C.difficile infections had resisted multiple other courses of treatment -- appears to be much more effective than antibiotics in turning the tables on C.difficile.
A multi-center study presented Nov 2nd at this year’s American College of Gastroenterology meeting showed a 91% success rate (defined as no recurrence within 3 months) using this novel approach.
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The 77 patients in this study had failed an average of 5 different medication courses prior to receiving the fecal transplant. Medications tried before transplant were vancomycin, metronidazole, rifaximin, and probiotics.
Patients' average age was 65, and the majority 56 (73%) were women. On average, C.difficile had been making life extremely "crappy" for these folks for 11 months. Not surprisingly, 31 of the patients were hospitalized, homebound, or in a skilled nursing facility by the time the fecal transplant was performed.
Most of the transplant material donors lived in the same household as the patient; only one patient had no relationship with the donor.
Average time for getting C.difficile under control and diarrhea greatly lessened or stopped was six days. Improvement in tiredness and fatigue took a bit longer, four weeks. Not bad, considering these people had been literally wiped out by the intestinal upset for 11 months.
The study’s presenter at ACG, aptly named, Mark Mellow, MD., noted in an interview with MedPage Today on the fecal transplant response:
"Patients with recurrent C. difficile infection had a totally different population in their stool than normal people, characterized by a marked decrease in the diversity of species present. Therefore, it would make sense that if you performed a massive bacterial replacement, that might very well reverse that condition and allow for a cure in people who were otherwise not curable."
Study co-author Lawrence Brandt, MD., an emeritus chief of gastroenterology and liver diseases at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y., also told MedPage: “The positive results from this study are very likely to be practice changing. I think you're going to be seeing a change in the way gastroenterology is being practiced, not only for C. difficile colitis, but also for many other entities not only in the GI [gastrointestinal] tract, but also outside the GI tract, as a result of fecal transplantation.”
To quote Mellow, “We have to stop thinking of stool as a smelly inert substance; it's an incredibly biologically active substance." Or to put it in the vernacular, “A healthy poop, no sh.., it’s good for you.”
At this point, you may be wondering what you can do to put yourself among those giving rather than receiving a fecal transplant. So, what keeps our GI tract healthy and in able-to-give mode?
1) Include healthy whole (preferably organic) foods in your diet with lots of vitamins and minerals, fiber and fructo-oligosaccharides. Give your GI tract fiber that contains resistant starch, the kind found in oat bran and apple pectin. Resistant starch is transformed by health-promoting colonic bacteria into short-chain fatty acids (like butyrate) that keep the intestinal lining healthy and inhibit colonic tumor cells. Fructo-oligosaccharides, a sweet-tasting compound produced in a laboratory and made with plant sugars found in bananas, Jerusalem artichoke, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, and whole wheat, is the absolute favorite food of health-promoting bacteria in the intestines – their version of a healthy “Happy Meal.”
2) Include probiotics in your diet. Many fermented foods, like yogurt and kefir contain these GI-protective organisms. Happily, you can also take these in the form of an oral supplement rather than a fecal transplant.
3) Support your adrenal function. Well-functioning adrenal glands capable of protecting the body from being overwhelmed by stress and developing food allergies. Just think about what happens in your stomach and intestines when you cram in a quick (and typically fast-food) “meal” while rushing to deal with the next 15 tasks on your “To Do Yesterday” list. If your adrenals cannot cope for you, stress will wreak havoc on your GI tract. These days, our adrenals are in serious need of support. To get a good idea of whether the state of your adrenals may be increasing your likelihood of needing a fecal transplant, take our Adrenal Fatigue Questionnaire. If your test results are questionable, you can find out more about adrenal problems and your health in our book: Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome.