Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Can faeces be used as treatment?

Published:Saturday | January 31, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Dr. Douglas Street, Contributor

It is said that one man's garbage is another man's gold. What one person might consider as waste to be disposed of may be of use to another. But most of us never would imagine that the same applies to faeces.

We are encouraged to recycle our waste as, oftentimes, it contains valuable components. This is good for our environment, of course. The idea of using stool for productive use isn't far fetched either as animal and even human stool, properly processed, is often used as fertiliser. After all, stool is packed with important nutrients for plants.

Now, we have taken another leap forward. Stool is now being used as treatment for disease! This is quite a turnaround from the usual reputation. After all, stool is laden with potentially harmful bacteria which can harm us and others. This is why we wash hands after using the toilet, as stools can cause disease. But it does contain mostly good bacteria.

A study published in a top medical journal indicated that a faecal transplant was almost twice as effective in treating recurrent Clostridium difficile (C. difficile) infection as antibiotics! This uncommon infection is usually caused by the use of broad-spectrum antibiotic and kills tens of thousands of persons in the US. This is because antibiotics kill good, bad and indifferent bacteria, including the ones that usually control that bacteria, such as C. difficile, which is usually present in small numbers. When this control is lost, then C. difficile takes advantage of the situation by multiplying out of control. Some persons have a long-standing infection which can cause diarrhoea, disabling abdominal pain and blood in the stool.

Inflammatory bowel disease, which includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, can cause similar symptoms, and is also thought to be related to an abnormal population of bacteria in the colon. These conditions have also been shown to respond very well to faecal transplant as well.

This transplant is done by collecting stool from a healthy individual (after being screened for infectious and other diseases), the stool is processed and then implanted into the recipient colon during a colonoscopy. Recovery may take anywhere from hours to weeks and usually takes place in more than 90 per cent of recipients. This seems to occur due to the transplanted stool bringing the bacterial population back to normal or near normal.

Other possible uses are contemplated, including obesity treatment.