The practise of faecal transplanting is on the rise – and yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Let’s dive into what it entrails, sorry, entails, and why you might even consider getting one yourself.
What is a faecal transplant?
A faecal transplant, also known as bacteriotherapy, involves the transplantation of a healthy person’s faeces – they’re known as the donor – into someone else to help them balance their gut microbiome. They’re often used to treat infections in the gut and gastrointestinal region as they help those who are overwhelmed by bad bacteria. We need an adequate number of good bacteria to ensure we absorb our food’s nutrients properly, along with ensuring our digestion works efficiently so we don’t end up with constipation and bloating. There are a number of reasons why a person’s gut bacteria could be out of whack, stemming from poor dietary choices – think high-sugar, ultra-processed and low-fibre foods – to infections and antibiotic treatments.
Faecal transplants are a promising solution to help us restore and reintroduce beneficial bacteria. Our gut microbiome is made up of around a hundred trillion bacteria – both good and bad – and the balance of the two can make or break our gut health. Irritable bowel syndrome, chronic inflammation, and chronic digestive issues are all consequences of an unbalanced microbiome, and for the many people living with these conditions, a faecal transplant could be a much quicker answer than painstaking medical tests and treatments. Many people end up with gut issues after a round of antibiotics, with research showing a whopping 20% of those who take this medication for C. diff end up developing the condition again, which is characterised by diarrhoea and colitis; this is the inflammation of the colon. This recurring infection is believed to be a result of the disrupted gut microbiome that leaves people vulnerable to bad bacteria, and it’s why faecal transplants are so promising – they skip the long step of bringing back good bacteria with lifestyle changes, which is still an important step for maintaining gut health, but this procedure may prevent bad bacteria from getting a foothold. But this practise isn’t exactly new – faecal transplants date back to ancient China, though it involved drinking liquid faeces, making it a more dangerous procedure. The transplants of today undergo rigorous safety protocols, ensuring they’re safe for use, as the faeces will be tested for diseases like hepatitis.
The donor is also screened cautiously to ensure they have a healthy gut, and the faeces will be transferred through a colonoscope. This is a small tube which is inserted into the recipient’s colon. Another method includes the injection of faeces through an enema.
Benefits of a faecal transplant
As we mentioned above, one of the major reasons for getting a faecal transplant it to treat and prevent the reinfection of C. diff. CDAD (C. diff-associated disease) kills a whopping 15, 000 people in the USA every year, with the colon inflammation to blame, and the research shows that faecal transplants are highly effective in treating and preventing these alarming consequences of the C. diff bacterium. One study found that 70% of participants were cleared of all symptoms after just 1 faecal transplant treatment. That rate jumped up to 90% following multiple rounds of transplant treatments.
But that’s not the only benefit of a faecal transplant – it’s also showing promising signs for treating inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. For the former, research found varying rates of improvement in different trials, between approximately 36% and 78%, while a small study around the latter found 70% of participant’s symptoms were resolved after the treatment. While this is a promising space of treatment for those with chronic inflammatory diseases, in both cases more research is needed. In fact, researchers predict that these transplants may be able to treat a range of conditions in the future, including the following:
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Hay fever
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
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