A fecal transplant is the transplant of feces from a healthy donor into another person. The transplant aims at restoring the balance of bacteria in the gut. It also helps to treat gastrointestinal infections and other conditions.
A healthy digestive system is characterized by its beneficial bacteria and their potential to absorb nutrients and digest food efficiently. There are some medical conditions and antibiotics that destroy these good bacteria and a fecal transplant is one of the ways to reintroduce them.
History of fecal transplants
Fecal transplants originated in ancient Chinese medicine more than 1,700 years ago. In the past, this procedure involved drinking a liquid suspension of another person’s feces. It was a highly risky technique however; today’s fecal transplants are sterile and safe.
On the other hand, a growing body of research supports their use as well. Fecal transplant is also termed as “bacteriotherapy” and “fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT).”
This respective article discusses how fecal transplants work. What are the conditions, they can help people with? Also, discusses the possible risks factor for the procedure.
Why fecal transplants?
A fecal transplant encourages the body of the recipient to grow healthful bacteria. These bacteria potentially cure infections and reduce the severity of certain health problems associated with gut or digestive system. The gut houses a delicate balance of millions of bacteria. When these bacterial populations go imbalanced, a person can develop diarrhea and other intestinal problems.
In addition, many antibiotics used to treat infections pose a threat to these helpful bacteria. They can kill off the helpful bacteria, disturbing their natural balance within the gut. For example, Clostridium difficile is a common bacterial stomach infection that causes diarrhea. About 20% of people who take antibiotics for the condition develop it again. This recurrence may be due to the disruption of the gut microbiome by antibiotics. In such a case, reintroducing good bacteria using a fecal transplant may help.
For a safe and effective transplant, the donors are first screened carefully to ensure that their gut and feces are healthy. The doctors test them for various diseases, such as hepatitis. In most of the cases, a colonoscopy is used to deliver the donor feces to the recipient.
A colonoscopy is a small, flexible tube, inserted into the colon through the rectum. Before the procedure begins, people usually take sedative drugs to avoid feeling any pain or discomfort. In addition, injecting liquid feces via an enema can be another approach rather than using a colonoscopy.
Research backed evidence for the uses of fecal transplants
Fecal transplants are primarily used to treat C. difficile-associated disease (CDAD). Every year, in the United States, CDAD kills about 15,000 people due to severe colon inflammation. Research consistently supports the effectiveness of fecal transplants in treating this dangerous condition.
A small-scale trial, during 2014, reveals that 70% of the participants showed no symptoms after one fecal transplant treatment. The overall cure rate was 90% among those who underwent numerous treatments and had fewer bowel movements. They ranked their overall health more highly following treatment. Many other studies also report similar success rates as well.
Doctors also recommend fecal transplants for other gastrointestinal conditions. For instance, problems with gut bacteria worsen inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and researchers have found that fecal transplants may help treat this condition too. Note that the effectiveness of the treatment varies among studies. A 2016 review reports success rates in trials ranging from 36.2% to 77.8%. Moreover, it points to a need for further research.
Furthermore, fecal transplants may also help with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It is a poorly understood condition, causing a wide range of digestive problems. A study involving 13 people with IBS, reports that a fecal transplant resolved symptoms in 70% of the participants.
There are various developing research studies aiming to enumerate the wider effects of gut bacteria.
If gut health does affect the overall health of an individual, fecal transplants could eventually treat a variety of conditions. Some research studies linked gut health to other conditions, such as dementia. This link may exist because gut health affects the body’s ability to absorb and use nutrients.
What are the conditions treated by fecal transplants?
Fecal transplants may eventually treat the following conditions,
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Mood disorders, such as depression
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- Hay fever
Risks and considerations regarding the treatment
Fecal transplants are considered safe when the sample comes from a healthy, thoroughly vetted donor. However, doctors know less about the long-term safety of fecal transplants.
A clinical trial, carried out in 2019, is still assessing the long-term safety of fecal transplants via enema. Feces can transmit diseases definitely. However, there are no known cases of infection transmission via feces from a healthy, vetted donor.
Antibiotics after a fecal transplant may raise complications. Thus, it is important to inform the doctor about any current medications and antibiotics before undergoing a transplant. Similarly, a person should also mention a recent fecal transplant if they are receiving antibiotics for an infection.
Research studies have shown fecal transplants to be safe. Yet there are many people who feel anxious about the procedure. Some worry that it is unsafe or dirty to transplant someone else’s feces into their body. However, this yuck factor can be overlooked in people with chronic or life-threatening medical conditions.
A 2016 study identified several risk factors for fecal transplant failure. These may include
- Being female
- Previous hospitalization
- Recent surgery before the transplant
It can be generally difficult to access fecal transplants, especially for conditions other than CDAD. Some people and a handful of natural health advocates suggest performing a fecal transplant at home. This can be done by taking a pill or enema of feces from a healthy donor. However, no research study supports doing fecal transplants at home. Thus, there is no scientific evidence that it is a safe procedure to be carried out at home.
The possible reason behind this may be that without proper screening, a donor can potentially transmit serious and lethal diseases.
It is of no doubt that the idea of accepting feces from a healthy donor seems peculiar. But the research studies and the science supporting fecal transplants are becoming increasingly mainstream. When other treatments fail, this innovative procedure may naturally restore the gut’s health. Also, it allows the beneficial bacteria to grow healthfully, fight infection, and improve the overall health of an individual.
Note, all doctors the doctors are not knowledgeable about fecal transplants. Thus, it is important to consult an expert with sufficient experience in performing this procedure. In this way, one can avoid possible complications and enjoy healthy results.