What is fecal transplant (FT)?
It's when feces from a healthy donor is given to an unhealthy person. FT is non-invasive. No cuts are made, sometimes it is given through a tube in the nose, a capsule form containing freeze-dried bacteria, enema, or other non-invasive ways. Side effects are few.
What are microbiota?
Microbiota are all the bacteria and microscopic organisms that live in your gut. They help you turn food into vitamins that can be absorbed into the blood stream. There are good bacteria (which help you digest food), and bad bacteria. Under certain conditions, like a chronic lack of fiber, or eating too much sugar or processed foods, the bad bacteria out compete the good bacteria and this syndrome might be linked to diabetes and other illnesses.
Some bullet points:
- Fecal transplants have been used for at least 1700 years. Source.
- 99% of the DNA inside us comes from bacteria. Source.
- Limited cases show the treatment is effective in Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome.
- FT can be given by nasogastric or nasoduodenal tube, colonoscope, enema, or capsule.
- Thinner people have a wider variety of Bacteroidetes, a large tribe of microbes that specialize in breaking down bulky plant starches and fibers into shorter molecules that the body can use as a source of energy. (Source)
- One bacterium associated with obesity might be a stomach bacterium called Helicobacter pylori. Research by Martin Blaser of New York University suggests that it helps to regulate appetite by modulating levels of ghrelin—a hunger-stimulating hormone, but the use of antibiotics has all but made H. pylori extinct in human stomachs.
- Since FT is so new, it's probably not covered by any medical insurance in the US.
What are the bad diets like? What problems might bad diets cause?
At this point scientists have very reasonable theories on how this works, but the truth is they cannot claim they know everything about this issue.
But a bad diet is a diet consistently high in sugar, processed foods and low in fiber. The good bacteria need the fiber to survive. It's their food. So grab those prunes and munch with pride!
When would a person need a fecal transplant?
Fecal transplants are not yet legal for humans in the US except under limited circumstances, like a persistent C difficile infection, Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis. But this link says the cure rate is "nearly" 100% out of 200 patients. More studies must be done on how to package, ship and ingest the bacteria so they live and can benefit the person.
A study: "The Impact of Diet and Lifestyle on Gut Microbiota and Human Health".
From NIH. (Lots of good info here!)
- Both short- and long-term dietary change can influence the microbial profiles. I.e. a little "cheating" in the diet can still be bad.
- Most of the microbes are bacteria, the gut can also harbor yeasts, single-cell eukaryotes, viruses and small parasitic worms. Not all of these organisms are harmful by themselves, but they can make the populations of good bacteria decrease, which IS harmful.
- The most common bacteria in adults are Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus, Bacteroides, Clostridium, Escherichia, Streptococcus and Ruminococcus. Approximately 60% of the bacteria belong to the Bacteroidetes or Firmicutes phyla.
- The Human Microbiome Project (Wikipedia page) shows that bacteria populations vary a lot among individuals.
- Gut microbes produce a large number of bioactive compounds that can influence health; some like vitamins are beneficial, but some products are toxic.
- The use of a range of fibers, may be the best way of maintaining a healthy gut microbiota population. (Other studies say avoid sugar, and processed foods.)
- Bacteria such as Bifidobacterium can generate vitamins (e.g., K, B12, Biotin, Folate, Thiamine). B12 is very important for neurological function, and a lack of B12 can cause some symptoms of depression.
- The Bacteroidetes phylum bacteria tend to dominate numerically during youth but numbers decline significantly by old age, whereas the reverse trend occurs for bacteria of the Firmicutes phylum.
- High fat diets induce increased circulating levels of bacteria-derived LPS in humans, possibly as a consequence of increased intestinal permeability (related to leaky gut syndrome?). LPS is an immune system modulator and potent inflammatory agent linked to the development of common metabolic diseases.
- "How gut bacteria make us fat and thin." Scientific American. June 1, 2014. READ THIS if nothing else.
- List of clinics that do FT here.
- Wikipedia link to "fecal microbiota transplant".