Want to lose weight? Get a poop transplant.

Picture of Dr. Jen Kerns

Dr. Jen Kerns

OK, so maybe the title of this week’s post is a bit sensationalistic, but the future of medicine may truly lie in the transfer of beneficial bacteria from a healthy person’s colon into the colon of a person afflicted with a disease or illness — one of which is obesity. This general idea isn’t exactly new, as doctors have been performing fecal transplants for a particular type of infectious diarrhea that we call “C. diff colitis” (because the infection is caused by the overgrowth of a bacterium called Clostridium difficile) for decades with dramatic success.

In a 2006 landmark paper in Nature, Turnbaugh et al. described the differences in gut bacteria (or the “microbiome”) of obese vs. healthy mice as well as obese vs. healthy humans, and found that the obese mice and people had an abundance of bacteria that were found to have an increased ability to absorb energy from the diet (meaning, they help the person absorb all the calories eaten rather than lose some of the calories that would’ve otherwise been indigestible). http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v444/n7122/full/nature05414.html

What was striking, though, was that the investigators took the bacteria from the obese or thin mice and transplanted them into the colons of bacteria-free mice, and found that the recipients of the bacteria from obese mice soon gained significantly more fat than the bacteria-free mice who received a stool transplant from the thin mice. This showed that the bacteria could actually CAUSE weight gain rather than just happened to be associated with weight gain.

There have since been scores of fascinating studies that are being done to evaluate the human microbiome, how it affects our health, and how we might be able to manipulate it to help treat medical conditions and diseases — including obesity. If you’ve been struggling to lose weight with little success, is a poop transplant in your future?




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