Menus Subscribe Search

The Straight Poop (on Fecal Transplants)

• January 17, 2013 • 10:28 AM

One of the better bits of banter I drew from Valerie Brown’s piece on bacteria for us a little over two years ago was the idea that the bacteria in our gut had a vital job to do, and like other important workers they could parachute into other locales when disaster struck:

Some researchers are even exploring the idea of stool transplants — that is, introducing a healthy person’s gut bacteria into a sick person’s intestines via the donor’s feces. Although there are not many peer-reviewed studies of this rather disturbing concept, a review in the July 2004 Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology by Australian researcher Thomas Borody found that in a large majority of the cases reported in the medical literature, fecal transplants resulted in almost immediate and long-lasting relief for people suffering from inflammatory bowel conditions and for those with chronic antibiotic-induced diarrhea. (There’s definitely a market for fecal transplants. When one scientist mentioned the success of the procedure in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, he was inundated with calls from desperate patients begging for the treatment, even though he does not practice the therapy.)

Now new work in the field of fecal transplants finds the technique may even work better for one tummy problem (recurrent infections by the bacteria Clostridium difficile) than the antibiotic usually prescribed (vancomycin) to treat the condition. The experiment by a Dutch team of researchers worked so well that it was stopped in midstream after 81 percent of those receiving a stool transplant saw their diarrhea end after the first infusion, compared to 31 percent just receiving the antibiotic. The transplant also improved the diversity of beneficial gut fauna.

A nice piece by The Los Angeles Times’ Monte Morin describes the study, and also gives some poop history:

The medicinal use of stool to treat illness dates back to 4th century China, when the physician Ge Hong described fecal solutions for the treatment of food poisoning and severe diarrhea. The remedy was considered a “medical miracle that brought patients back from the brink of death,” Dr. Faming Zhang of Nanjing Medical University wrote in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Later, in the 16th century Ming Dynasty, herbal healers prescribed fermented fecal solutions for abdominal ailments, calling the concoction “yellow soup” to make it more palatable.

Doctors in the West were more reticent, although it was known that certain mammals, such as dogs and camels, consumed excrement when they were ill, and that veterinarians sometimes used a fecal solution to treat ill horses. It wasn’t until 1958 that the first scientific paper on the use of fecal transplants in humans appeared in the United States.

Michael Todd
Most of Michael Todd's career has been spent in newspaper journalism, ranging from papers in the Marshall Islands to tiny California farming communities. Before joining the publishing arm of the Miller-McCune Center, he was managing editor of the national magazine Hispanic Business.

More From Michael Todd

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 23 • 8:00 AM

The Surprising Appeal of Products That Require Effort to Use

New research finds they enable consumers to re-establish a feeling that they’re in control of their lives.



July 23 • 6:00 AM

How the Other Half Lifts: What Your Workout Says About Your Social Class

Why can’t triathletes and weightlifters get along?


July 23 • 5:02 AM

Battle of the Public Intellectuals: Edward Glaeser vs. Richard Florida

On gentrification and housing costs.


July 23 • 4:00 AM

Our Fear of Immigrants

Why did a group of fourth graders rally in support of an undocumented classmate while the citizens of Murrieta, California, tried to stop immigrant children from entering their town?


July 22 • 4:00 PM

Can Meditation Really Slow Aging?

Is there real science in the spiritualism of meditation? Jo Marchant meets a Nobel Prize-winner who thinks so.



July 22 • 2:00 PM

The Alabama Judge Who Refuses to Let Desegregation Orders Go Ignored

A federal judge in Alabama says a local school board has failed to meet legal mandate to integrate.


July 22 • 12:00 PM

On the Destinations of Species

It’s almost always easier to cross international borders if you’re something other than human.


July 22 • 10:51 AM

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.


July 22 • 10:47 AM

Irrational Choice Theory: The LeBron James Migration From Miami to Cleveland

Return migrants to Cleveland have been coming home in large numbers for quite some time. It makes perfect sense.


July 22 • 9:32 AM

This Time, Scalia Was Right

President Obama’s recess appointments were wrong and, worse, dangerous.


July 22 • 8:00 AM

On Vegas Strip, Blackjack Rule Change Is Sleight of Hand

Casino operators are changing blackjack payouts to give the house an even greater advantage. Is this a sign that Vegas is on its way back from the recession, or that the Strip’s biggest players are trying to squeeze some more cash out of visitors before the well runs dry?


July 22 • 6:00 AM

Label Me Confused

How the words on a bag of food create more questions than answers.


July 22 • 5:07 AM

Doubly Victimized: The Shocking Prevalence of Violence Against Homeless Women

An especially vulnerable population is surveyed by researchers.


July 22 • 4:00 AM

New Evidence That Blacks Are Aging Faster Than Whites

A large study finds American blacks are, biologically, three years older than their white chronological counterparts.



July 21 • 4:00 PM

Do You Have to Learn How to Get High?

All drugs are socially constructed.


July 21 • 2:14 PM

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.


July 21 • 2:00 PM

Why Are Obstetricians Among the Top Billers for Group Psychotherapy in Illinois?

Illinois leads the country in group psychotherapy sessions in Medicare, and some top billers aren’t mental health specialists. The state’s Medicaid program has cracked down, but federal officials have not.



July 21 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, MacArthur Genius?

Noah Davis talks to Yoky Matsuoka about youth tennis, wanting to be an airhead, and what it’s like to win a Genius Grant.


July 21 • 11:23 AM

People Are Clueless About Placebos

Doctors know that sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all. But how do patients feel about getting duped into recovery?


July 21 • 10:00 AM

How Small-D Democratic Should Our Political Parties Be?

We need to decide how primaries should work in this country before they get completely out of hand and the voters are left out entirely.


July 21 • 8:00 AM

No, Walking on All 4 Limbs Is Not a Sign of Human ‘Devolution’

New quantitative analysis reveals that people with Uner Tan Syndrome don’t actually walk like primates at all.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.

People Are Clueless About Placebos

Doctors know that sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all. But how do patients feel about getting duped into recovery?

No, Walking on All 4 Limbs Is Not a Sign of Human ‘Devolution’

New quantitative analysis reveals that people with Uner Tan Syndrome don't actually walk like primates at all.

Why Didn’t California’s Handheld Phone Ban Reduce Motor Accidents?

Are handheld cell phones as dangerous as they have been made out to be?

The Big One

Today, the United States produces less than two percent of the clothing purchased by Americans. In 1990, it produced nearly 50 percent. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.