We’ve covered what Mosaic calls “Medicine’s dirty secret” before, but the idea of using someone else’s feces to cure an ailment is apparently growing fast, including instructions for trying it at home:
This is how far a mother will go.
Your daughter has been sick for more than four years with a severe autoimmune disease that has left her colon raw with bloody ulcers. After multiple doctors and drugs have failed, you are frantic for her to get better. Then you send her disease into remission, virtually overnight, with a single act of love. “Who wouldn’t do that for their daughter?” you say. It’s like a miracle, you say. “An overnight magic wand.”
You’ve agreed to do it again – twice – for strangers. You’ve seen first-hand how effective it can be and you felt so badly for the patients and their families. Had you donated blood or plasma, no one would blink. But this? You can’t tell anyone else about this because of how they might react.
There are more like you, men and women who have given their loved ones a remarkable reprieve from a group of chronic conditions known as inflammatory bowel disease. There are many more who have cured patients of a potentially fatal bacterium known as Clostridium difficile. This microbe can persist in a cocoon-like spore for up to five months, impervious to nearly everything except bleach. It is fast becoming resistant to every antibiotic thrown at it.
You insist on “Marion” as a pseudonym. You say of your daughter’s therapy: “I don’t talk with anybody about it. I’ve told people that we replaced her…” and you pause, “unhealthy bacteria with healthy bacteria. I didn’t go into specifics.”
Here are the specifics: you were the donor in a faecal microbiota transplant. You gave your daughter your poo.
Poo is a decidedly imperfect delivery vehicle for a medical therapy. It’s messy. It stinks. It’s inconsistent, not to mention a regulatory nightmare. But it can be incredibly potent. A classic study of nine healthy British volunteers found that bacteria accounted for more than half of the mass of their faecal solids. That astonishing concentration of microorganisms, both living and dead, makes sense when you consider that the microbial colonists inhabiting our gastrointestinal tract outnumber our own cells roughly three to one, on recent estimates…
[continues at Mosaic. For those of you seriously interested, below is a video purporting to show how to prepare a fecal transplant enema at home, but you're on your own if you decide to try it - don't blame us!]