I have an important medical breakthrough to share but I’m going to have to use a word that has a tendency to elicit giggles and/or make people say, “ewww.” So, whatever your reaction, let’s get it out of the way. Ready? POOP! Okay, now read on because regardless of the subject matter, this is a story many will benefit from. A Canadian research team has discovered an effective way to treat serious stomach infections, with a pill made from poop, healthy people’s poop.
The bacterial infection, Clostridium difficile (C-diff), is a serious illness affecting 250,000 people in the United States each year and killing an alarming 14,000. Symptoms include nausea, cramping, crippling diarrhea and severe headaches. The infection typically occurs after taking an antibiotic to treat another condition. Healthy microbes are killed off in the process, allowing C-diff to flourish and eventually wreak havoc on the intestines.
Before the poop pill, treatment of C-diff occurred in the form of pricey antibiotics that continued to kill off good bacteria, not a great alternative. Fecal transplants (donated from healthy stool) are not a new treatment but the delivery method is. In the past, transplants were given via enemas, throat tubes and invasive colonoscopies but none of the methods delivered the goods and made them stick, as well as the pill.
Dr. Thomas Louie, an infectious disease expert, leads the team from the University of Calgary. He discovered that packaging donated stool into vitamin-sized capsules used to repopulate the intestines of C. diff sufferers with beneficial bacteria seemed to offer the best results. During his study, 27 patients who took strong antibiotics for their C-diff but saw no change in symptoms, were cured by swallowing the capsules.
During treatment, patients are required to swallow up to 25 capsules at a time, which make their way into the intestines where they dissolve, releasing the healthy donated material. Dr. Louie is aware that even though his findings are positive, consumers may not be able to get past the “ick” factor. To assuage patient’s fears, he wants to make a few things very clear. Before the capsules are created, the donated fecal matter is processed in the lab where the bacteria is extracted. “There is no stool left — just stool bugs. These people are not eating poop,” Louie said. He also wants people to know that the gel capsules are triple coated and the contents are not released until they are well past the stomach so, unlike fish oil or that order of onion rings, there is no chance of burping it up later.
Doctors and researchers are hopeful this unique treatment option is just the beginning. Patients who struggle with antibiotic-resistant conditions may also benefit. If the public can look past the source of the cure, the possibilities are endless.