September 13, 2022 – Many things can upset your gut health over the years. A high-sugar diet, stress, antibiotics—all are linked to bad changes in the gut microbiome, the microbes that live in your intestinal tract. And that can increase your risk of disease.
But what if you could undo all that damage and take your gut back to a time when you were younger and healthier?
Scientists say it may be possible to take a sample of people’s own stool when they are young to put back in their colon when they are old.
While the science to back this up isn’t quite there yet, some researchers say we shouldn’t wait. They urge existing chair banks to let people start storing their chair now so they can use it when the science becomes available.
But how would that work?
First, you would go to a bench and submit a fresh sample of your feces, which would be examined for disease, washed, processed, and placed in long-term storage.
If you later develop a condition like inflammatory bowel disease, heart disease, or type 2 diabetes — or if you have a procedure that wipes out your microbiome, like antibiotic or chemotherapy — doctors could use your canned stool to clean your gut.” to recolonize” and restore it to its earlier, healthier state, says Scott Weiss, MD, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a co-author of a recent paper on the subject. They would do this using a medical procedure called a fecal microbiota transplant, or FMT.
timing is everything. You want a sample when you’re healthy – let’s say between the Ages 18 and 35 or before chronic disease is likely, Weiss says. But if you’re still healthy into your late 30s, 40s, or even 50s, providing a sample could still benefit you later in life.
If we could pull off 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 achieve this?
Stool benches of today
While there are benches today, the samples inside are not intended for the original donors, but for sick patients hoping to treat an illness. Using FMT, doctors transfer the fecal material into the patient’s colon, restoring helpful gut microbiota.
Some research shows that FMT may help treat inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Animal studies suggest it could help treat obesity, increase lifespan and address some effects of aging, such as longevity. B. age-related to reverse decrease in brain function. Other clinical trials are exploring its potential as a cancer treatment, Weiss says.
But outside of the lab, FMT is mainly used for one purpose: treatment Clostridioides difficile (C. diff), an infection caused by an overgrowth of C. diff Bacteria. It works even better than antibiotics, research shows.
But first you need to find a healthy donor, and that’s harder than you might think.
Find healthy stool samples
The idea of FMT is a bit gross, but banking our bodily substances is nothing new. Blood banks, for example, are widespread in the United States, and cord blood banks — the storage of blood from a baby’s umbilical cord to support any future medical needs the child may have — are growing in popularity. Sperm donors are in high demand, and doctors routinely transplant kidneys and bone marrow to patients in need.
So why do we put so much emphasis on poop?
One reason may be that feces (like blood) can harbor disease—which is why finding healthy stool donors is so important. The problem is that this can be surprisingly difficult.
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 chair donation program, but has since shifted its focus to research. Potential donors were screened for medical and mental illness, pathogens, and antibiotic resistance. The success rate was less than 3%.
“We’re very cautious because the connection between diseases and the microbiome is still understood,” says Osman.
FMT also comes with risks — though they seem mild so far. Side effects include mild diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain, and fatigue. (The reason? Even the healthiest donor chair may not blend perfectly with your own.)
This is where the idea of using your own stool comes in, says Yang-Yu Liu, PhD, a Harvard researcher studying the microbiome and the lead author of the article mentioned above. Not only is it more appealing, but it may also suit your body better.
Should You Tilt Your Stool?
While researchers say we have reason to be optimistic about the future, it’s important to remember that many challenges remain. FMT is still in the early stages of development, and there is still a lot we don’t know about the microbiome.
For example, there’s no guarantee that restoring a person’s microbiome to its formerly disease-free state will keep disease at bay forever, says Weiss. For example, if your genes make you more likely to get Crohn’s disease, the disease could come back.
We also don’t know how long stool samples can be kept, Liu says. Benches currently store feces for 1 or 2 years, not decades. To protect the proteins and DNA structures for so long, samples would likely need to be stored in liquid nitrogen storage temperature of -196 C. (Currently, samples are stored at around -80 C.) Even then, tests would be needed to confirm whether the fragile microorganisms in the stool could survive.
That raises another question: Who is going to do all this?
The FDA regulates the use of FMT as a drug to treat C. diff, but as Liu points out, many gastroenterologists consider the gut microbiota to be one organ. In this case, human feces could be regulated in the same way as blood, bone, or even egg cells.
Cord blood banks could be a helpful model, Liu says.
“We don’t have to start from scratch.”
Then there is the question of cost. Cord blood banks could also be a clue for this, say the researchers. They charge around $1,500 to $2,820 for initial collection and processing, plus an annual storage fee of $185 to $370.
Despite the unknowns, one thing is certain: interest in fecal banking is real – and growing. At least one microbiome company, Singapore-based Cordlife Group Limited, announced that it has begun allowing people to store their stool for future use.
“More people should talk about it and think about it,” he says liu