A couple of days ago an article popped up on the New Scientist website called Taboo Transplant. Not for the squeamish or those who have just eaten, the article describes how Dr Alex Khrouts carries out a particular life-saving transplant. He is one of the few doctors in the world that does faecal transplants; poo transplants to you and me!!!
These transplants have saved many lives over the years, originating at the Colorado Medical School in 1958. Patients, who have not responded to conventional treatments for C. Difficile and other bowel infections, have made seemingly miraculous recoveries within 48 hours of a faecal transplant. But when you speak about these transplants many recoil in disgust… because it’s poo!
But why does this transplant, seen as revolting by many, actually work? It all comes down to the fact that the human body is one big ecosystem for bacteria and microbes. Our body is a zoo of these miniscule critters, providing a host of unique and exciting environments for them to live in. And the gut is no exception; “A menagerie of possibly 25,000 subspecies of bacteria feeds off the matter that passes through our digestive systems.” These microbes interact with each other in the intricate and complex manner which we see in the ecosystems around us.
When, due to factors such as antibiotic overuse, the balance between the microbes is put off-kilter then harmful bacteria can dominate and life-threatening infections can emerge. The aim of the faecal transplant is to re-balance the gut’s flora and stop these infections in their tracks. Apparently our siblings make the best donors as “we share 80 per cent of our bacterial flora with our mothers” but really any poo will do!
The amount of bacteria living in and on your body can make you feel a little uneasy. The commonly quoted figure is that, “in total, there are more than 10 times as many microbes in our bodies as there are human cells” and “the total number of different species is thought to be in the thousands.” We evolved this phenomenal coexistence and these microbes are sometimes described as our additional organs.
The link between our microbe zoo and our health is not just limited to our gut. The Human Microbiome Project, a National Institute of Health funded project in the United States founded in 2008, is currently in the process of examining and genetically assessing the extensive microbial flora in order to analyze its role in human health.
It really is remarkable, and you will look at your body in a whole new way! Look after your microbe zoo, because they are looking after you!