Fecal Transplants: The Life-Saving Power of Poop

fecal transplant

Poop gets a bad rap for being smelly and messy, but it’s time to put some respect on poop’s name, because it might save someone’s life.

You read that right. If you’re a healthy dude, the aftermath of your lunchtime burrito contains trillions of special bacteria that can fight deadly diseases. The idea of transferring your feces to another person might seem barbaric. But it’s actually a sophisticated medical procedure known as a fecal transplant.

In this article we’ll tell you how fecal transplants work, what health conditions they can treat, and how to donate your doo-doo if you’re feeling generous.

What Is a Fecal Transplant?

A fecal transplant is a procedure where healthy poop is collected from a donor, then placed inside a patient’s colon. Introducing healthy fecal bacteria into the patient’s body can re-balance their gut microbiome and treat gastrointestinal diseases like C. diff.

Fecal transplants are also called fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) or bacteriotherapy.

Fecal transplants are mainly used to treat Clostridium difficile infections (C. diff) by introducing healthy bacterial flora into the gut. However, new research shows that fecal transplants could be a promising treatment of other health conditions like obesity, ulcerative colitis, and cancer—more on that later.

The first human fecal transplant was done in 1958 by a team of Colorado surgeons. But it wasn’t until 2013 when human poop was regulated as an experimental drug in the United States. Gross as they may seem, fecal transplants are making waves in the world of gastroenterology because they’re cheaper and often more effective than drugs.

How Do Fecal Transplants Work?

Fecal transplants infuse healthy bacteria into a patient’s colon to fight diseases. Your gut contains trillions of microbes that make up your gut microbiome. However, if bad bacteria take over, you need to balance things out—and one effective method is adding healthy poop into the mix.

Here’s how a fecal transplant is done via colonoscopy:

  1. Before the FMT procedure, you’ll go on a liquid diet and use laxatives or an enema to flush out your system
  2. A healthy donor’s healthy stool sample is mixed with a saline solution, then strained into a brown liquid full of good bacteria.
  3. After being sedated, a doctor inserts a colonoscope into your anus and sprays the inside of your colon with the liquid poop.
  4. You’ll take loperamide (imodium) to help you hold in your new poop.

Less commonly, fecal transplants are done through an enema or an orogastric tube. They can even be done orally using capsules full of freeze-dried feces. That’s right: swallowing poop pills is the new frontier of medicine.

What Health Conditions Can Fecal Transplants Treat?

The most common condition fecal transplants treat is Clostridium difficile infections, or C. diff: a potentially fatal infection that causes diarrhea, fever, nausea, cramps, stomach pain. 

The 85-90% success rate is impressive, which has encouraged gastroenterologists to experiment with fecal transplants to treat other conditions, such as:

  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Chronic constipation
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Liver disease
  • Neurocognitive conditions
  • Cancer

How Effective are Fecal Transplants?

Fecal transplants are 85-95% effective in treating recurrent C. diff infections for patients that didn’t respond to antibiotic treatments, according to a 2015 review in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Best of all, it only requires one round of poop infusion to get rid of C. diff.

More research is necessary to know whether fecal transplants can effectively treat other gastrointestinal health issues. One study found that treating ulcerative colitis requires multiple fecal transplants to achieve progress.

There are several clinical trials underway to see how fecal transplants might boost the immune system to treat everything from cancer to infectious disease. Shout out to the doctor DUDES studying poop to save lives.

What are the Side Effects of a Fecal Transplant?

There’s always a risk of things going wrong when you deal with poop. Since 2016, healthcare providers have documented several potential risks of fecal transplants, including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Farting
  • Irregular pooping patterns
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fever

In rare cases, fecal transplants have caused blood infections and pneumonia. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stresses the importance of screening poop donors to prevent these potential side effects.

How to Donate Your Stool for Fecal Transplants

Has all this talk about the life-saving power of poop inspired you to donate your next dump? That’s very noble of you, but here’s the kicker: fewer than 0.1% of people qualify to be safe and effective stool donors.

“A major problem is that the vast majority of the population is in poor health,” explains the team at Human Microbes, a stool donor network.

Most stool banks screen for basic safety factors, like hepatitis and other infectious diseases. But unlike donating blood, it’s not just the absence of bad stuff that qualifies you to donate stool. You also have to have ultra-healthy, unperturbed, disease-resistant microbiota.

If you fall into this “super-donor” category, you’ll be asked to pack your crap into a plastic bag and ship it on dry ice—in return for a pretty penny. This woman earned $500 per dump and racked up a whopping $180,000 from her smelly side hustle.

How to Get a Fecal Transplant

Whether you’re battling C. diff, IBD, or chronic constipation, it might be worth swapping someone’s healthy poo into your gut. Before you start Googling, talk to your healthcare provider about your options. Since FMT is still “experimental,” insurance may not cover it.

Here at DUDE HQ, we’re pumped to hear that poop can change people’s lives for the better. Poop has been the butt (pun totally intended) of jokes forever, but now it’s time for poop to shine.

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