Patients Say Poop Pills Are Both Effective and Preferable

By Nathaniel Scharping | November 28, 2017 3:32 pm
What fecal transplant pills could look like in the future. (Credit: Marc Bruxelle/Shutterstock)

What fecal transplant pills could look like in the future. (Credit: Marc Bruxelle/Shutterstock)

Swallowing poop is ok.

That’s the conclusion of a recent study assessing the effectiveness of fecal microbiota transplants (FMT) delivered in pill form, versus given by colonoscopy. It sounds a bit off-putting, but validating the safety and efficacy of fecal capsules could give patients with gut diseases a cheaper and less invasive option for treatment.

The study, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, took place in patients suffering from recurring Clostridium difficile infections, a bacterial infection that often takes hold in the gut after courses of antibiotics. Those drugs can wipe out normal gut bacteria, allowing harmful species like C. difficile to flourish. Symptoms include inflammation of the colon, cramping and severe ongoing diarrhea, and FMT aims to undo the damage by restoring the proper species of bacteria to the digestive system.

Bottom-to-Top Solution

A fecal transplant is pretty much what it sounds like. Recipients take poop donated from someone else — containing a dose of healthy gut bacteria — and implant it into their own digestive systems. The goal is to reboot or replenish the colonies of microorganisms essential to digestive processes, kicking out harmful ones like C. difficile.

The usefulness of fecal transplants in treating C. difficile infections has been demonstrated in multiple previous studies, but most of those involved the use of colonoscopies or enemas to get the bacteria where they needed to go. That works, but it also involves swimming upstream, so to speak. Doses of bacteria inside a pill make their way to our digestive systems in a much more natural fashion.

There’s been evidence that pills would accomplish the same thing as a colonoscopy, but reason for caution as well. Preliminary studies from OpenBiome, a non-profit organization that maintains a stool bank and which hopes to market fecal transplant pills, indicated that the pills worked. On the other hand, a study from Massachusetts-based Seres Therapeutics based on a version of the pill containing just bacterial spores failed to show any real benefit.

Helpful Little Pill

Here, researchers from the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary again tested patients suffering from recurrent C difficile infections. Of 116 subject, roughly half got FMT via colonoscopy and the rest took pills containing the same fecal mixture. After 12 weeks of observation, about 96 percent of patients in both groups had recovered from their infections. The pills didn’t affect the quality of the treatment at all, it seems. More patients receiving pills, however, rated their treatment as “not at all unpleasant,” a result that agrees with a 2012 study finding that most patients would choose a pill over other methods of FMT.

The only downside, as one patient noted, was the sheer number of pills. Participants had to down 40 within an hour, or one dose every minute and a half. Even if they tasted like Flintstone multivitamins, that’s a tall order. In reality, the pills actually don’t have any taste or flavor, which is probably best, all things considered. In addition, other studies of FMT pills have used fewer doses, so future treatments may not necessarily require quite so many pills.

As fecal transplants continue to show promise for treating harmful gut diseases, the concept of a poop-filled pill may begin to seem less icky and more routine. After all, we take probiotics to keep our guts happy and healthy. Why not go directly to the source?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
  • OWilson

    You complain.

    There;s always someone to come along with a “solution”.

    At a price,!

  • TLongmire

    The worse the idea the more it justifies.

    • Uncle Al

      and the more it costs.

      • TLongmire

        My mother works in a nursing home and once told me how some of the “patients” with dementia would eat their own poop when they got cdif (and get better) but I digress.

        • Erik Bosma

          Funny how people have been telling me to Eat S**t for a long time now. Now I know they were just trying to help.

        • modmans2ndcoming

          They ate c. Diff infested poop to get rid of c. Diff? You realize, contact with c. Diff excrement is a major vector in transmission and is why care givers have to get in full contact isolation gear to work with the patient.

  • Uncle Al

    FMT via colonoscopy” “Participants had to down 40 within an hour, or one dose every minute and a half” What kind of therapeutic crap is that?

    Drink about 6 oz of kefir with every meal after the last antiibiotic capsule, for a week. Kefir contains a broad spectrum of living good colonizers. It is available in a variety of flavors. Skip strawberry-banana.

    Studies” ~600 years of history, DOI:10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2013.06.016

    • Erik Bosma

      Hey, my kid just started drinking that and old dad has a bitch of a case of IBS (which is just another group of letters made up to spell the words “We Don’t Know”) which began shortly after taking a day and a half’s worth of Clindamycin and is in its 6th year now. If it’s good enough for you, and my son, Uncle Al I’ll try some. But I noticed it ain’t cheap.

    • Seariously

      But you were already full of 𝐬hit and didn’t need it.

    • I’m me

      Kefir or any fermented product (I like kim-chi and homemade papaya salsa, myself) is good for keeping your system conditioned, if you already have a robust micro-biome. They don’t provide the specific strains in sufficient amounts that fecal matter contains. Only FMT’s, so far, have been successful in ridding the body of c-dif.

    • modmans2ndcoming

      folk remedies and the reports of them are not “studies”

  • Xebico Merran

    You deserve big kudos for “In reality, the pills actually don’t have any taste or flavor, which is probably best, all things considered.” Thank you for a morning laugh! (Mary Roach would approve, I’m sure.)

  • Kathleene Parker

    Sure a colonscopy which can be dangerous–I lost a friend who died from one–plus it requires a ‘clean out’ first which is devastating to gut flora. I too am in the kefir crowd plus get off the darned proton pump inhibitors, like Prylosac, that create a perfect environment for things like c diffi. And ever notice how much effort medicine puts into trying to fix problems caused by medicine? But true kefir alone may not cut it. Research specific probiotics for your needs.

  • Atlanta_Girl

    I wonder what the fecal component has to do with this versus ingesting simply the bacterial spores itself – article mentions that those tests failed.

    It is neat to see conventional medicine catching up on the concept of “gut health” – studies are now looking at connection with gut health & mental illnesses and a host of disorders. This SHOULD be reinforcement to consider what you eat…but I’m guessing most people will prefer to take a poop pill than eating more soundly

  • Daryl Czerniewicz

    Instead of poop just eat McDonald’s instead, it still tastes like crap, , but at least you get a free Star Wars toy and some crayons

    • Trevor Saniga

      You win the internet today, my friend!


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