We all know that regularly, uh, ejecting our feces is part of being healthy. But did you know that receiving a fecal transplant could save your life? Well, it can, according to a new study conducted in the Netherlands and published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine. Before going further, let's address the huge elephant in the bathroom. What the hell is fecal transplantation? Plainly speaking, it's putting one person's shit into the body of another person. In modern medicine, according to the New York Times,
It involves diluting stool with a liquid, like salt water, and then pumping it into the intestinal tract via an enema, a colonoscope or a tube run through the nose into the stomach or small intestine.
I know what you're thinking. It sounds divine! But it can also save your life if you are suffering from an infection caused by a bacteria called Clostridium difficile, or C. difficile, for short. C. difficile infections are caused by antibiotics which kill off healthy gut bacteria, and leave people susceptible to the dangerous bacteria, which is extremely prevalent in hospitals. The treatment is usually more antibiotics, but sometimes those don't work and patients relapse. The symptoms include severe diarrhea, vomiting and fever. The infection can be lethal and kills 14,000 people a year in the United States. Each year, over 300.000 hospital patients contract the bacteria and the number of cases in and out of hospitals could be as high as three million. More than $1 billion a year is spent on treatment costs.
Some sort of "fecal therapy" has been around for years. It's often used on horses and cows and books on traditional Chinese medicine describe fecal transplants through the mouth to treat diarrhea, with one book calling the treatment yellow soup. In the 1950's, a doctor at the University of Colorado used fecal enemas on patients with life-threatening intestinal infections. And around the world, researchers say, 500 people with the C. difficile infection have been treated with fecal transplantation.
But the trick was getting people to take the treatment seriously. Dr. Josbert Keller, the senior author of the study and a gastroenterologist at the Hagaziekenhuis hospital in The Hague, had performed 10 fecal transplants before starting the study:
"After the first four or five patients, we started thinking, ‘We can't go on doing this kind of obscure treatment without evidence....Everybody is laughing about it."
The study divided patients into three groups: the first group, 16 people, took an antibiotic for four days, had their intestines rinsed and then had the fecal transplantation through a nose tube into their small intestine. The second group, 13 people, had their intestines rinsed as well and took the antibiotics for 4 days. A third group, 13 people just took the antibiotic.
Among the 26 patients who were didn't get the transplants, only 7 were cured, with 19 shit out of luck. (Sorry. Couldn't help it.) Among the 16 patients "lucky" enough to be treated fecally, 13 were cured after the first transplant! Two more were then cured after repeat transplants. That means 15 out of 16 of the transplanted patients were cured! Shit for the win!