The Taboo Treatment: How Faecal Transplants Save Lives

Some medical treatments often don't get talked about because they're icky. But here's one you should know of: faecal transplants. Because while having someone else's excrement put inside your body does sound gross, it's a process that's saving lives.

But how on Earth can another person's poop be good for you? It turns out that it's the most effective treatment of Clostridium difficile -- C. diff to its friends. If you've never heard of C. diff, be glad; it's a bacteria that rears its head when gut flora has been wiped out by antibiotics -- which is why it's oddly common in hospitals -- and results in severe diarrhoea at best or complex intestinal disease at worst. The bottom line, if you'll excuse the pun, is that it can kill.

But a new study, published in Gastroenterology, the official journal of the American Gastroenterological Association, suggests that faecal transplants are the most effective way to treat C. diff. The process, you see, restores the missing, good bacteria with those from a donor's stool, allowing C. diff to be fought off. Eero Mattila, one of the researchers, explains to Science Daily:

"Our results suggest that faecal transplantation is clearly better than any other treatment for recurrent Clostridium difficile infection. Although faecal transplantation is not simple to perform and it has potential risks, it is an effective option."

In fact, the study is one of the largest to date, involving 70 patients across five hospitals, and shows that 89 per cent of patients had a favourable response, and not a single adverse reaction was observed in the entire year following the procedures. It works a dream, and is more effective than other C.diff treatments.

But I'm guessing the bit you've been dying to read about is how the hell such a transplant is carried out. Really? Really? Oh, go on then... Basically, physicians take donor faeces, then "manually homogenise" it -- effectively working it by hand to form an even mixture. It's then transplanted via colonoscopy -- the less said about that the better -- into the caecum, which is the start of your large intestine.

Over recent years, C.diff has become more widespread, more severe and more resistant to standard treatment -- all of which means that faecal transplants are going to become far more common. But don't think about the taboo aspects, think of it as a life-saving treatment. That way, it's a whole lot easier to stomach. [ published in Gastroenterology via Science Daily]

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