Do you flush your poop without a second thought? Chances are, the answer is yes. I have another option for you. Why not consider saving it? Yes, I know that it sounds gross, but you must be just a little curious right? Human nature is always a bit curious about anything that has to do with poop. Surprisingly, it’s not a topic reserved for little boys…We are all somewhat interested. If you aren’t, then you should be. So, you might ask, why would I want to save my poop? The quick answer, which we will unravel shortly, is because it is good for you.
You are more bacteria than human
Microbes include bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other microscopic living things. There are trillions of microbes that live mostly in the intestines and on the skin. Bacteria are by far the most studied of microbes. Interestingly enough, the human body contains more bacterial cells than human cells. There are 30 trillion human cells and 40 trillion bacterial cells in your body. You are actually comprised more of bacteria than human.
Over 1000 species of bacteria take up residence in the gut, and each of them plays a different role. Some of these bacteria promote good health and protect us from sickness and disease while others can actually cause disease. All these bacteria add up to between 2-5 pounds (the weight of your brain). This collection of microbes function like an extra organ in your body. This is one significant reason that we need to take bacteria seriously, very seriously.
Humans have always lived with bacteria
Since the beginning of time, humans have lived with microbes. The gut microbiome impacts us from the moment we are born. It has always been thought that the first contact with microbes happens in the birth canal, but research suggests that we might actually come in contact with microbes in the womb.
Just a few of the ways the gut microbiome impacts health
As we mature so does our microbiome, becoming more diverse and influential on our health. Here are just a few ways that our gut bacteria influence our health.
- Bacteria affect gut health – Healthy bacteria impact overall gut health which can keep conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) at bay. Certain bacteria can prevent leaky gut syndrome and also keep bacteria that cause diseases from adhering to the intestinal wall.
- Bacteria help control the immune system – In many respects, the gut is the cornerstone of the immune system. Between 70% and 80% of the immune system resides in the digestive tract. Good bacteria play a major role in preventing pathogens from being absorbed. A strong immune system can only be achieved if there is an adequate number of diverse microbes residing in the gut.
- Bacteria impact brain health – Certain species of bacteria can help produce neurotransmitters such as serotonin which regulate mood. The gut has a tight connection to the brain via millions of nerves. Because of this, the gut microbiome impacts brain health by controlling messages that are sent to the brain via the extensive nerve highway.
- Bacteria promote heart health – As illustrated in a recent study, the gut microbiome plays a significant role in regulating good cholesterol and triglycerides. Good bacteria, specifically Lactobacilli, help to control cholesterol. Conversely, bad bacteria can produce a chemical (trimethylamine N-oxide) that contributes to clogged arteries.
Keeping the gut healthy
Eating a clean and diverse diet can help to keep the numbers of good bacteria high. Foods that are especially instrumental in contributing to a healthy gut ecosystem include fruits, beans, legumes, and vegetables. Fermented foods such as kefir, miso, and tempeh are also vital to replenish healthy bacteria. Foods and drinks high in polyphenols such as red wine, green tea, olive oil, and dark chocolate stimulate healthy growth of bacteria. Prebiotic foods including bananas, asparagus, oats, and apples contain a type of fiber that encourages healthy bacterial growth. Exclude processed and fast food from your diet and limit added sugar.
What about probiotics?
Oh, the wide world of probiotics, there is so much to say. First, what are probiotics? They are live bacteria that are good for you and can come from food or supplements. The probiotic industry is on fire. According to a 2012 study, 3.9 million Americans take probiotics on a regular basis. Additionally, 61% of doctors prescribe probiotics on a regular basis. Grand View Research predicts that the probiotic industry will grow to $52 billion by 2020.
There is plenty of anecdotal and research-backed evidence to support probiotic supplementation, including mental, heart, digestive, health, improved immune functioning, weight loss, and diarrhea, especially diarrhea accompanying the use of antibiotics. The industry is unregulated which makes it a bit of crap shoot when it comes to finding just the correct and safest probiotic strain and dose.
Recent research questions the probiotic use and shines the light on fecal transplants
Recently, the medical world and the Internet was buzzing with new research published in the journal Cell. This research conducted by an Israeli team corroborated some things already known about probiotics while revealing intriguing evidence supporting the use of fecal transplants. Here is a snapshot of key findings:
- Bacteria found in stool samples are not representative of the bacteria in the gut.
- Supplemental probiotics don’t always colonize in the gut, but they do have a positive influence on the immune system as they pass through.
- Not all probiotics are created equal – consumers must do their homework. Deaths due to probiotics have been reported in some clinical studies.
- Taking probiotics along with antibiotics does not result in re-colonization of bacteria wiped out by the antibiotics and can even hinder long-term recolonization of bacteria.
- A personal fecal transplant is the quickest way to bring balance back to the gut ecosystem.
What is a fecal matter transplant?
Clearly, the shining star in this research is the personal fecal matter transplant (FMT) which they found to be most effective for recolonization of gut bacteria after antibiotic use. This is not surprising, fecal transplants have proven to be highly effective in the treatment of C. diff, an infection that can flourish within the intestines when antibiotics are repeatedly prescribed.
Unfortunately, although antibiotics can effectively kill many infectious agents, they also kill beneficial bacteria that are needed for optimal health in the gut. When out of control, C. diff can throw the entire intestinal and immune system out of whack resulting in persistent symptoms and even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 29,000 people die each year from this illness.
Doctors have found that reintroducing filtered stool into patients’ intestinal systems is the best approach to dealing with extreme C. diff infections. Generally, donor stool is taken from a close relative or partner and ground up. The solid material is filtered, and the remaining material is placed in a sterile suspension solution. It is then injected via a colonoscopic procedure into the patient’s body. Transplants are also being done now with donor stool in capsule form. Fecal transplant therapy is seen to be effective in 90% to 95% of C.diff infections.
Additionally, a fecal transplant is an effective treatment for inflammatory bowel disease, which is also associated with poor gut health and imbalances in intestinal bacteria.
Should you be freezing your poop for later use?
The positive results seen in clinical trials and hospital settings using fecal transplants begs the question, should we all be saving our poop for a time of personal need? How useful it would be to have the poop if you ever acquired a harmful pathogen or had to take antibiotics! Additionally, as I mentioned earlier, we know how important a strong and diverse gut microbiome is for overall health and wellbeing… perhaps this could be best achieved through fecal transplants.
Research shows that stool samples taken from young animals have been shown to successfully reduce age-associated inflammation and increase the lifespan of mice and fish. Imagine harvesting stools to reduce inflammation and live longer. Chronic inflammation is linked to virtually every disease in one way or another. The good news is that poop will save for a long time in the freezer without impacting the microbial composition.
Personal fecal transplants are on the rise
According to Catherine Duff, executive director of The Fecal Transplant Foundation, there are over 10,000 home fecal transplants happening each year in the U.S. Duff herself did a personal fecal transplant years ago when her doctors told her she was dying from an intestinal infection.
Michael Silverman, MD, chair of infectious diseases division at the Schulich School of Medicine at Western University of Toronto says this about doing an at home poop transplant, “if you’ve ever made a milkshake, you can do it.” After the stool sample is obtained, it is mixed with a saline solution (a blender works well). From here, the solution is generally squirted into the rectum using an enema bottle or bag.
It is best, however, to always consult someone who is knowledgeable regarding personal fecal transplants before trying this on your own. Remember, the Internet is full of crazy stuff, best to be safe and do your homework.
For research, testimonials and to see some of the fantastic advances that are happening with fecal transplants visit The Power of Poop.
Bonus: Your stool can save lives and provide a nice second income
If you can’t quite get your mind around a personal fecal transplant, you might consider being a poop donor. Open Biome is a non-profit stool bank company that pays for stool samples to make fecal transplants available to others who are sick. The going rate for donations is $40 per donation. If you can donate five days a week you get $50 each time. Do the math; this equals about $13,000 a year. There are even prizes for the biggest donations and most frequent donors. If you live in Boston, Cambridge, Somerville or Massachusetts, you can get on the registry to donate.