A fecal transplant may sound like the work of fiction, but it is in fact very real and can even have a life-saving effect for people with certain medical conditions. Also referred to as a stool transfer or fecal microbial transplantation (FMT), the treatment involves the transfer of fecal matter from a healthy donor to a patient in need.
Why Would Anyone Need It?
To function properly, the digestive system requires a very specific equilibrium. When the intestinal tract’s microbiota, or its population of living microorganisms, becomes altered, serious health issues can occur, one of which is clostridium difficile infection (CDI).
CDI can be contracted in healthcare environments, and it can also occur as a result of taking strong antibiotics. While antibiotics are prescribed to fight serious infections, they also pose inherent risks. For one, they can also kill off the good gut bacteria, leading to CDI and its host of unpleasant symptoms, including severe abdominal pain, fever, and diarrhea. Transferring healthy stool into a patient’s gastrointestinal tract, either via enema, colonoscope, or nasogastric tubes, can help patients who have not responded to medications overcome CDI. In fact, it has a worked among 90% of patients who have received the treatment.
Could FMT Also Treat Other Conditions?
Beyond treating CDI, FMT has been used experimentally to treat other gastrointestinal conditions. Ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome, for instance, have been treated via FMT, because it changes the patient’s entire microbiome. Individuals with GI conditions tend to have a lower diversity of microbes in their guts. Because a more diverse microbiota is linked to better health, receiving a transplant from the right donor could be an effective therapy for patients with ulcerative colitis and similar conditions.
Recently, the interest in FMT has increased rapidly as scientists have begun to explore whether it can treat metabolic, autoimmune diseases, and neuropsychiatric diseases, as well as conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Because a balanced gut microbiota plays an integral role in so many aspects of health (including immune system functionality), the healing potential of this innovative treatment could be tremendous. For patients afflicted with certain gastrointestinal conditions, treatment is already available. While other practical applications are limited, evolving research may soon make FMT available to address a broad range of health issues.