Although I am writing this on a Sunday morning, I trust that you will not actually read it until after you have enjoyed your Sunday lunch… But although your initial reaction may be – ‘ugh, gross…’ – I do suggest that you read on!
It was, of course, John Scott, the parasite expert and ultimate authority on all things digestive, who sent me the report – so I paid some attention.
For centuries farmer and vets have understood that animals whose digestions are out of kilter (as a result of changing feed, for example) can be cured by feeding them the rumen fluid, filled with healthy bugs, from a healthy cow’s stomach – but as with so much veterinary medicine, the knowledge has rarely been applied to human medicine.
However, back in the 1980s, faced with a patient with intractable colitis developed as a result of ingesting an unknown pathogen, Australian gastroenterologist, Thomas Borody, came across research from the 1950s where similar conditions had been cured by infusing the guts of the sufferers with faecal samples from healthy donors. Taking a sample from his patient’s healthy brother, he checked it for other pathogens, filtered it to get rid of any undigested material and administered it to his patient. Within days her colitis had gone, never to return. He has subsequently performed over 1500 faecal transplants.
This experience has been translated into human medicine over the last few years in an attempt to combat Clostridium difficile, the toxic and all-too-often fatal bacterium which has become so widespread in hospitals in both the US and UK. But increasingly, gastroenterologists are looking at faecal transplants as a possible treatment for other inflammatory bowel diseases and possibly even as a stratagem for controlling metabolic syndrome, which has a very high risk of developing into diabetes.