September 13, 2022 – Many things can upset your gut health over the years. A top-sugar diet, stress, antibiotics – all are linked to bad changes in the gut microbiotathe germs that live in your intestinal tract. And it can increase the risk of diseases.
But what if you could undo all that damage, restoring your gut to a time when you were younger and healthier?
Scientists say this could be possible by asking people to take a sample of their own stool when they’re young and put it back in their colon when they’re older.
Although the science to back this up isn’t quite there yet, some researchers say we shouldn’t wait. They are asking existing stool banks to allow people to start storing their stools now, so they can use them if the science becomes available.
But how would that work?
First, you would go to a saddle bank and provide a fresh sample of your poowhich would be screened for disease, washed, treated and deposited in a long-term storage facility.
Then down the road if you get a condition like inflammatory bowel diseaseheart disease or type 2 diabetes – or if you have a procedure that wipes out your microbiome, such as a course of antibiotics or chemotherapy – doctors could use your stored stool to “recolonize” your gut, restoring it to its previous, healthier state, says Scott Weiss, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and co-author of a recent article on the subject. They would do this using a medical procedure called fecal microbiota transplantation, or FMT.
Timing is everything. You would like a sample of when you are healthy – say, between the 18 years old and 35, or before chronic illness is likely, Weiss says. But if you’re still healthy in your late 30s, 40s, or even 50s, providing a sample could still benefit you later in life.
If we could set up a banking system like this, it could have the potential to treat autoimmune diseases, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, obesity and heart disease – or even reverse the effects of aging. How can we get there?
Stool banks today
Whereas saddle banks exist today, the samples inside are not intended for the original donors but rather for sick patients hoping to cure an illness. Using FMT, doctors transfer feces into the patient’s colon, thereby restoring helpful gut microbiota.
Some to research shows that FMT can help treat inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Animal studies suggest it may help treat obesitylengthen the lifespan and reverse some effects of agingas age related decline in brain function. Other clinical tests explore its potential as cancer treatmentWeiss said.
But outside of the lab, FMT is primarily used for one purpose: to treat Clostridioides difficile (C difference.)an infection caused by an overgrowth of C difference. bacteria. It works even better than antibiotics, to research shows.
But first you have to find a healthy donor, and it’s harder than you think.
Find samples of healthy stool
There is some sickness at the idea of FMT, but hoarding our bodily substances is nothing new. Blood banks, for example, are common in the United States, and cord blood banks – the storage of blood from a babyThe child’s umbilical cord to meet the child’s possible future medical needs is increasingly popular. Sperm donors are in high demand and doctors regularly perform transplants kidneys and bone marrow to patients in need.
So why are we so particular about poo?
Part of the reason may be that feces (like blood, for that matter) can harbor disease – which is why finding healthy fecal donors is so important. The problem is that this can be surprisingly difficult to do.
To donate feces, people must go through a rigorous screening process, says Majdi Osman, MD, chief medical officer of OpenBiome, a nonprofit microbiome research organization.
Until recently, OpenBiome operated a stool donation program, although it has since focused on research. Potential donors were screened for diseases and Mental Health conditions, pathogens and antibiotic resistance. The success rate was less than 3%.
“We are taking a very cautious approach because the association between disease and the microbiome is still understood,” Osman says.
FMT also comes with risks – although so far they seem slight. Side effects include mild diarrheanausea, abdominal pain and fatigue. (The reason? Even the healthiest donor stool may not mix perfectly with yours.)
This is where the idea of using your own stool comes in, says Yang-Yu Liu, PhD, a Harvard researcher who studies the microbiome and the main author of the article mentioned above. It’s not only more attractive, but it can also be a better “match” for your body.
Should you put away your stool?
While the researchers say we have reason to be optimistic about the future, it’s important to remember that many challenges remain. FMT is early in its development and there is a lot about the microbiome that we still don’t know.
There’s no guarantee, for example, that restoring a person’s microbiome to its once-disease-free state will keep disease at bay forever, Weiss says. If your genes increase your chances of having Crohn’s disease, for example, it is possible that the disease will return.
We also don’t know how long stool samples can be stored, Liu says. Stool banks currently store feces for 1 or 2 years, not decades. To protect the protein and DNA structures for as long as samples would probably need to be stored in liquid nitrogen storage Temperature -196 C. (Currently, samples are stored at around -80 C.) Even then, testing would be needed to confirm whether the fragile microorganisms in the stool can survive.
This raises another question: who is going to regulate all this?
The FDA regulates the use of FMT as a drug for the treatment of C difference., but as Liu points out, many gastroenterologists consider the gut microbiota to be an organ. In this case, human feces could be regulated in the same way as blood, bones or even eggs.
The cord blood bank can be a useful model, Liu says.
“We don’t have to start from scratch.”
Then there is the issue of cost. Cord blood banks could also be a point of reference for this, according to the researchers. They charge approx. $1,500 to $2,820 for the first collection and treatment, plus an annual storage fee of $185 to $370.
Despite the unknowns, one thing is certain: interest in fecal matter banking is real – and growing. At least a microbiome company, Cordlife Group Limitedbased in Singapore, announced that it has started allowing people to store their saddles for future use.
“More people should talk about it and think about it,” says Liu.