Stock up on the Metamucil, folks. Scientists say you should start saving your poop.
A team of researchers from Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital published an opinion article in the journal Trends in molecular medicine today sounded the alarm about a trend in how human gut microbiome (microorganisms in your digestive tract like bacteria) have changed over the decades. These changes have been linked to an increase in digestive system diseases, allergies and even type 2 diabetes.
So, to combat these ills, the authors suggest that people should start personal poop banks. That’s right: poop banks.
The idea is to have you keep a stool sample from when you were young. Later in life, if your gut flora has changed and you encounter a disease caused by those changes, you may have an utterly cursed treatment known as an autologous fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) — or a poo transplant.
“Conceptually, the idea of stool banking for autologous FMT is similar to when parents save their baby’s cord blood for possible future use,” Yang-Yu Liu, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard and co-author of the paper, said in a press release. “However, there is greater potential for stool banking, and we expect the likelihood of using stool samples to be much higher than for cord blood.”
While so gross, FMTs have previously been used to effectively treat diseases of the digestive tract, such as those caused by: Clostridioides difficile (C. diff), a deadly bacteria that can take over your colon when the microbiomes in your gut are destroyed — often by antibiotics. While a regiment could treat antibiotics C. difference, there is a chance that it will become resistant. In that case, doctors can use alternative treatments such as FMT.
The way it works is pretty disgusting. A donor provides a healthy stool sample that is mixed with saline, which is then flushed through your digestive tract through a colonoscopy. However, once it’s in your system, it replaces the C. difference with the healthy bacteria from the donor stool. Although icky, it has been shown to have a 90 percent effectiveness in treating the disease, according to Johns Hopkins.
However, even FMT has its limits, especially when it comes to using a stool sample from a donor. As with an organ transplant, there is a chance that the foreign poo will be rejected. The team believes that if the healthy stool sample comes from the same patient who needs it, the likelihood of rejection decreases and the likelihood of successful treatment increases. To accomplish this, the subject’s stool sample should be taken when they are young and cryogenically frozen for if and when the situation arises where they need an FMT.
“Autologous transplants would, of course, avoid or at least reduce donor-recipient compatibility issues,” Shanlin Ke, a research associate who studies gut microbiomes at Harvard and co-authored the paper, said in the release.
However, he admits that cryopreservation is “a major drawback” due to the requirement of liquid nitrogen storage, adding that “further research is needed to systematically test extended storage times and preservation, resuscitation and culture procedures.”
Cryopreservation needs can also fuel an inequality where only wealthy individuals can afford to make a deposit at the poo bank. After all, storage in liquid nitrogen is not cheap. This can lead to diseases such as: C. difference disproportionate impact on low-income patients. Yang said solving this problem requires the “joint strength of entrepreneurs, scientists and perhaps governments.”
So while the paper offers a new and innovative solution to solving the problems of a depleted gut microbiome, it means the new theater of class struggle could be in our toilets — and that’s a problem we can’t just wash away.