Our body is covered by microorganisms. In fact, the most recent research suggests that there are as many bacteria in our body as there are human cells! Microorganisms are found on our skin, throughout our gastrointestinal tract (our mouth, throat, small intestine, and colon). Our colon is a major hub for microorganisms, which form a community known as microbiota. For a healthy individual, the microorganisms exist in balance and harmony with our body and are predominately comprised of a great diversity of symbiotic and commensal bacteria/fungi which contribute to the health of our gut and body. However, when our gut environment is dominated by harmful pathogenic bacteria, this can cause significant detrimental effects on our body. Dysbiosis is a term used to describe a microbial imbalance in our colon and can lead to halitosis (bad breath), nausea, constipation, diarrhea, as well as digestive disturbances such as upset stomach and bloating. Furthermore, studies have found that gut dysbiosis can negatively affect our energy balance (weight gain/loss), mood, cognitive function, and much more.
What is a fecal microbiota transplant?
Fecal microbiota transplant is the process of empirically transferring the bacteria and microorganisms of healthy individuals in order to help treat the health conditions of the individual receiving the transplant. Healthy fecal donors are tested for a specific list of viruses, parasites, and pathogenic bacteria. The donor receives the fecal transplant through colonoscopy which delivers the fecal material into the colon. By transplanting fecal samples from a healthy individual to a patient, healthcare practitioners are effectively transferring beneficial human gut microorganisms directly into the colon of affected patients.
What is fecal microbiota therapy used to treat?
Historically, the first record of fecal microbiota transplantation was in Traditional Chinese Medicine around the 4th Century. Furthermore, fecal microbiota transplantation was done in 1958 to treat fulminant colitis, and since then it has been a common veterinarian practice. In humans, it has more recently been used for treating C. Difficile infections. Following antibiotic treatment, some patients experience adverse symptoms termed such as diarrhea, constipation. This is because antibiotics effectively “carpet bombs” our gut, killing all microorganisms and giving harmful bacteria the opportunity to grow and dominate our gut terrain. Clostridium difficile is an aggressive and pathogenic strain of bacteria that typically occurs after antibiotic treatment and can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening colon inflammation. The conventional treatment for C. difficile infections is antibiotic treatment and electrolyte rehydration therapy; however, in some cases, the patients don’t respond to the treatment or relapses. When conventional therapy fails and the patients’ health continues to deteriorate, the fecal transplant has been shown to be highly effective in treating these patients, boasting an astonishingly high success rate of 91-98%. Several studies in mice have found that fecal transplantation from lean mice to obese mice led to improvements in metabolic parameters and led to weight loss in the obese mice. Conversely, the transfer of feces of obese mice to lean mice lead to weight gain and the transfer of the obesity phenotype (weight gain, dysregulation in blood sugar metabolism, increased pro-inflammatory biomarkers, dyslipidemia, etc,.) Some studies have found that compared to the control group, fecal microbiota transplantation leads to improvements in peripheral insulin sensitivity of obese patients with metabolic syndrome 6 weeks after treatment.
The Challenges and Therapeutic Potential of Fecal Microbiota Therapy
Despite the success of fecal microbiota therapy in treating C. Difficile infections, its use has typically been limited to “last resort” options. This is because it involves the transfer of biological material between humans, which entails risks such as the possibility of infections, undesirable outcomes (i.e,. microbiota-related diseases, weight gain) as well as a negative perception by both patients and healthcare practitioners. Given the high therapeutic potential of fecal transplant therapy for treating gut dysbiosis, many researchers are looking into its application in treating other conditions related to gut health, such as energy balance, gastrointestinal inflammatory conditions, mood, and cognitive function. Clinical studies are still underway around the world to elucidate mechanistic pathways between the microbiota and the body, as well as to assess the therapeutic potential of the fecal transfer. R’s KOSO, Japanese gut cleanse company, will keep research about it and update it.