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I grew up in a family dogged by stomach problems. We knew the inside of every gas station and rest stop between Michigan and our aunt’s beach house in Delaware. Miraculously, I avoided that genetic gift, but as a health writer, I’ve always been on the lookout for an answer for those who suffer from raging gut issues. Then, in 2011, I heard about fecal transplants. The process is as disgusting as a 10-year-old would want it to be, but the success rate is intriguing.
Australian gastroenterologist Thomas Borody at the Centre for Digestive Diseases has been working to tackle the increasing cases of Clostridium difficile (C.difficile), a bacterium usually picked up in a hospital or nursing home that infects the intestinal lining, which can cause severe nausea and diarrhea. And this bacterium has become increasingly resistant to antibiotics. Borody’s tactic? Fecal transplant. It’s a way to jumpstart your gut by using someone else’s healthy intestinal flora to rebalance the natural level of bacteria in the intestines. The method involves a blender, some straining, a salt water solution and, in some cases, an enema. The result: A 90 percent cure rate, a number unheard of when it comes to drug treatments.
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The only problem was that no lab or university had conducted a randomized, controlled trial, a necessary step in the science world. That is, until Netherlands researchers took up the cause. (The researchers debuted their findings yesterday in The New England Journal of Medicine.)
The 90 percent cure rate was legit. What’s more is that antibiotics only succeeded 60 percent of the time. In fact, many of the study participants told researchers they would not participate “unless the researchers promised that those assigned to antibiotics alone would get transplants later if the drugs failed,” according to The New York Times. In some cases, patients claimed to feel better within two hours of the transplant.
The next step for scientists may be to determine which types of bacteria in stool have these curative effects. And for people who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease, the next question is just how curative this process can be.
—Image courtesy of Shutterstock