Have you ever heard of a fecal transplant?
It’s exactly what it sounds like – the fecal matter from one individual gets transplanted into the intestinal tract of another. The question is, why?
There is mounting evidence that replacing the flora of your gut with a healthy and more diverse strain of microbes can have profound health benefits.
Perhaps the most effective way that researchers have found to do this is via fecal transplants, whereby the microbes from a healthy person are transplanted into the gut of someone with compromised intestinal micro-ecology.
Probiotics aim to re-populate the gut with new healthy microbes in the same way. The downside is that few have actually been shown to make it through the digestive process, adhere to the gut wall, and actually go on to grow and proliferate the growth of other good and more diverse microbes.
Let’s examine some of the research on fecal transplantation, take a detailed look at the benefits of reviving a healthy and diverse strain of good microbes, and how to go about doing that, with or without a fecal transplant.
Fecal Transplants – A Shot In The Dark?
The human microbiome – meaning the totality of microbes in a body – is fascinating. For example, a healthy individual can have a digestive tract occupied by almost 100% one bacterium, while in another healthy individual that bacterium is not present at all. Yet, they are both healthy.
With this in mind, it is difficult to grasp how taking the fecal matter out of a healthy person and transplanting it into a sick person would be of benefit when “healthy” fecal matter can vary completely from one healthy person to the next. What is the marker, then, for “healthy” fecal matter? It starts to sound like a shot in the dark.
While it is true that research in this field is in its infancy, researchers are not getting discouraged by slippery gut microbe logic – perhaps because the results are so amazing. Let’s take a look.
Of Mice, Men, and Fecal Transplants
It has been known for a long time that if you take the fecal matter (with the microbiota) from a skinny mouse and transplant it into a fat mouse, the fat mouse loses weight. By the same token, fecal microbiota from a fat mouse transplanted into a skinny mouse will result in the skinny mouse gaining weight (1).
More interestingly, if you take the fecal matter from a mouse that recently had a gastric bypass surgery for weight loss and transplant it into a fat mouse that had not had the surgery, the fat mouse will lose weight (2).
In a recent study on humans, a fecal transplant was performed by taking the fecal microbiota from a healthy, lean individual and transplanting it into an individual with weight, heart, circulatory and blood sugar issues, and the researchers found significant improvements in the health of the recipient (1). These findings are just the tip of the iceberg.
Microbes and the Mind
The microbiota (ecology of microbes in the gut) has been shown to alter the mood and emotional state of an individual. Beyond their involvement in the breakdown and digestion of proteins, fats, carbohydrates and starches, microbes in the gut have been shown to manufacture neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.
This should not come as a great shock, as I have been writing for years on the fact that 95% of the body’s serotonin is manufactured and stored in the gut, leaving only 5% of the serotonin in the brain at any given time. Ayurveda has always said that the gut is the primary seat of the nervous system – now we know that to be true.
One study took the fecal microbiota from a very aggressive, competitive mouse and transplanted it into the gut of a more fearful, shy mouse and the fearful, shy mouse became more aggressive and competitive (1).
Epigenetics and the Bugs in Your Gut
In a report I recently did on epigenetics, (epigenetics is the science of changing our genetic code without touching it – epi literally means “from above”), researchers found that the mental and emotional influences, perceptions of the environment and belief systems can literally change the DNA (3,4).
In other words, we do not need to change the DNA with a repetitive chemical or toxin – it can be changed by what we think!
An old Ayurvedic saying goes, “what you see you become”. What researchers are thinking now is that certain types of microbes will proliferate based on the stress and emotional state of the individual. Think happy thoughts, grow happy bugs. Think unhappy thoughts, grow a different set of bugs.
Sounds impossible right? But consider that there are 100 trillion microbes in the gut and 100 million neurons embedded in the gut wall. The gut – also called the second brain – will continue to function even when its neurons are severed from the brain, so we probably shouldn’t underestimate the power of our bugs.
- Of the trillions of cells in the human body – 90% of them are microbes.
- There are 8 million bug DNA, and only 22,000 human DNA in the human body.
Some Good News
Studies have shown that many of the same benefits offered by fecal transplants are being found from the use of probiotics. In a 2011 study published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a group of mice were fed lactobacillus (along with a placebo group) for 28 days. The group that received the probiotic orally were found to be less fearful, more calm and adventurous and less stressed in dangerous situations as measured by stress hormone production and neurotransmitter receptor activity (5).
The problem with most probiotics is that they do not adhere to the gut wall and therefore do not proliferate on their own unless the probiotic is continually ingested. Fecal transplants do not have this problem – they are a total transplant of the microbiota and they continue to proliferate.
Probiotics That Work!
The key here is to help restore an environment in the gut that allows the natural proliferation of a healthy and diverse strain of good microbes that will naturally take care of the bad ones.
I believe this is best accomplished with a comprehensive reset of digestive strength and intestinal restoration. Every piece of the digestive symphony must be in key for us to thrive and support a healthy microbiota that supports us.
As for probiotics, only a few have the ability to make it through the stomach acid, the liver’s bile secretions and the pancreatic enzymes without being destroyed. Even if they do make it through, they still have to literally adhere to the gut wall for them to proliferate and restore healthy flora.
One microbe that does reliably adhere to the gut wall was discovered in 1899 and is called Bifidobacterium lactis (HN019). In one study, the HN019 microbe was shown to adhere to the gut wall and be able to survive the transit through the human gastrointestinal tract (6).
My favorite study on the HN019 microbe involved elderly folks over 60, and resulted in a significant increase in populations of other good gut bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli (4).
Another probiotic that has also shown to be able to safely transit the gastrointestinal tract and adhere to the gut wall is Lactobacillus plantarum. It is found commonly in fermented foods like sauerkraut and fermented olives (7). Lactobacillus plantarum is missing in many westerners and has been shown to support immune function.
The Primary Goal
Resetting healthy digestion is a primary goal at LifeSpa.
What I have found with my patients, and what has been shown by researchers in the Human Microbiome project, is that the intestinal environment is often uninhabitable for many of the strains of bacteria we need to maintain optimal health and longevity. So in addition to an upper digestive reset, which I have discussed in detail in my “Digestive Health Issues” category of articles, a restore of the gut wall is needed as well.
A yeast called Saccharomyces boulardii has been shown to restore and maintain healthy gut ecology in both the small and large intestines. Basically this is a scrub for undesirable bugs in the intestinal wall that also supports the restoration of the healthy microbiota.
From the larch tree there is a pre-biotic substance called Arabinogalactan which is a soluble fiber that supports the growth of a healthy and diverse microbiota.
Look for these pre-and probiotics to support the restoration of the intestinal ecology. A healthy intestinal environment along with good upper digestive strength will support the natural growth and proliferation of your bugs – the 90% of you – for years to come.