Fecal Microbiota Transplants
Yep, we’re going there, so brace yourself! A fecal microbiota transplant is exactly what it sounds like. Stool, aka poop, is physically transplanted from a healthy donor into a recipient, similar to an enema…kind of.
The purpose of a fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) is to replenish beneficial gut bacteria that has been destroyed by a harmful infection or long-term use of antibiotics. Both reduce the amount helpful bacteria, while simultaneously causing harmful bacteria overgrowth. Think of this like a garden. Spraying weeds also kills the good stuff. But, weeds grow back much faster than the flowers or veggies. Killing harmful gut bacteria also kills protective bacteria. Just like in the garden, the harmful bacteria/yeast grows back first.
The FMT technique is not new, but it’s gaining mainstream attention due to increased awareness relating gut health to mental, physical, and emotional health. It began as treatment for “Relapsing Clostridium Difficile Infection,” or, (R-CDI). Clostridium Difficile is commonly referred to as “C. Diff,” which is a bacterial infection that causes diarrhea, inflammation of the colon, and in severe cases, death. C. Diff infection spreads easily and fast. It’s typically found in hospitals and long-term care facilities in patients who have had one or more rounds of antibiotics.
Although C. Diff is typically treated with strong antibiotics, the recurrence rate is common. Treatment of R-CDI involves another round of antibiotics, creating a vicious cycle of infection and antibiotics. FMT halts the cycle by boosting the beneficial bacteria in the gut that helps keep C. Diff and other harmful bacteria in check (1- 2). So, if the implantation of healthy poop can treat C. Diff without the use of antibiotics, what other health conditions can FMTs positively impact?
Due to the success of FMT in patients with C. Diff, researchers have since focused on studies reporting the positive impacts FMT has on other gastrointestinal disorders, including: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Studies are also underway on the effects of FMT on patients with neurological diseases, autism spectrum disorders, major depression, rheumatoid arthritis, obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes (3-4). This is exciting stuff, especially since we know how important the gut is for our overall health! Researchers have discovered so much about the gut biome in the last decade, and there is still so much to learn!
Current Research Topics Include:
- What constitutes a healthy donor
- Single donors vs. multiple donors
- Which is better: fresh vs. frozen donor samples
- Best means of administration and safety
- Long-term effects of Fecal Microbiota Transplants
- Number of FMTs for effectiveness
- Unanticipated or unforeseen health consequences