Sunday, July 18, 2010


When I casually mentioned "fecal transplants" in my post on probiotics, I was being slightly facetious. But a recent NY Times article on How microbes Defend and Define Us indicates that the concept has been tried in this country and that our body's microbial community is one of the hot topics of the day. According to Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, "there are ten times more microbial cells in or on our bodies than human cells... and more microbes in our gut than other parts of our bodies." We are all unique, but did you know that our resident bacteria is also unique? People with asthma have a different collection of microbes than healthy people and obese people also have a different set of species in their guts than people of normal weight. Bacteriotherapy, or fecal transplants, takes bacteria from a healthy person and injects them into a sick person's intestines with the intent of curing their disease.

I was introduced to the idea by Dr. Art Ayres at Cooling Inflammation and the Times article relates many of the things I have already learned on his blog. I found it fascinating that our guts are sterile until birth and that we get many of the bacteria that will be with us for life from our mothers, from our journey through the birth canal and later from her milk.

And it has been found that bacteria can communicate with each other. Here is a fascinating TED Talk by Bonnie Bassler, the molecular biologist whose team discovered this fact. Her talk is a good introduction to bacteria in general and she also presents an ingenious new approach to antibiotics that gets around the problem of resistance. Using this same technology, scientists eventually hope to promote the good bacteria that make us healthy.

Everybody wants to find a "cure" for obesity and here is a Nature streaming video by Jeffrey Gordon on Human Gut Microbes that explores the idea of injecting the intestines of an obese person with bacteria from a slim person, a fecal transplant, to see if that will cause the obese person to lose weight. I don't think the results have been published yet, but it looks promising.

But fecal transplants are not new science and they are not just for curing obesity. As Konstantin Monastyrsky (I call him the "King of Poop") states on his Gut Sense website, eastern European countries have been doing this for years.

The proper way of inoculating the large intestine with fecal flora is called fecal bacteriotherapy. It’s been employed for ages by natural practitioners of Eastern medicine to ward off diarrhea and constipation. Even some allopathic (mainstream) doctors, although not in the United States, aren’t too squeamish about it, because it effectively cures otherwise incurable ulcerative colitis.

Monastyrsky, while not a doctor, has put together an enormous amount of material on matters relating to our digestive system, especially the lower half. I have recommended his book, The Fiber Menace, previously.

So what about probiotics? Can they do any good? After all, they only provide a small amount of the gut flora our bodies need and apparently are short-lived. Ayres says that the probiotics we take settle in the region of the appendix while femented foods foods focus just on bacteria that may act as probiotics for the upper part of the digestive tract. To feed the rest of the gut flora that also influence the immune system (even though that resides in lining of the small intestines) other plant polysaccharides are needed. So Ayres suggests eating a variety of veggies.

I think that probiotics inhabit the GALT (gut associated lymphatic tissue) region of the intestines, which is a low oxygen region near the appendix. The probiotics are temporary residents that can contribute to shift in the gut flora toward normalcy, but are only a handful of the hundreds of species that are needed for health.

He also recommends not being excessively clean and to insure that you come into contact with healthy people and animals. You will benefit from their healthy flora.

—you must be optimistic that the bacteria that rub off on you will bring more good than harm. If you are healthy, then pathogens don't matter. If you are immunocompromised, then isolation is needed for survival.

If you can't get a fecal transplant then be prepared to take months to alter your gut flora for the better using probiotics, prebiotics, and other methods. "Gut flora development takes time and persistence."

1 comment:

  1. Great blog Ann, I work with mostly pathogenic bacteria, the kind that you don't want to get in contact with, but also with bacteriophages (virus that prey on bacteria) and it turn out we also have tonnes of these viruses living in our gut and controlling the bacteria population there, is a very delicate balance and a constant arms race going on in our gut. For this microorganisms there are also therapies to restore them to the gut to reduce the number of problematic E. coli to normal population levels. I was fascinated by a review paper (I'll look it up for you) giving some crazy numbers...i.e. about a pound of the daily poop is composed of dead bacteria and viruses...speaking of turn-over!!