The Scoop on Poop

August 1, 2013

By Anna Varriano

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I’m taking a bit of a different approach with this month’s tip. Rather than writing it all myself, I’m going to cut-and-paste, and comment on (my comments will be in italics), parts of a newsletter I read recently that perfectly resonated with me for several reasons:

  1. It was entitled ‘Good Health Starts in the Gut’, and I am a strong believer of this statement. That is why I take a probiotic supplement, and do my best to eat naturally fermented foods on a regular basis.
  2. It discussed various scenarios that put our gut health – and therefore our overall health – at risk. Two of these scenarios are extended hospital stays, and living in nursing homes and/or long-term care facilities. This struck a chord with me, as I had numerous close friends experience one or the other of these two scenarios over the past month or so.
  3.  It offered practical advice on how to promote gut health.
  4.  It was able to sprinkle some humour throughout the topic of ‘Fecal Transplants’, including making this statement: “Leave it to the FDA to classify sh*t as a drug.”

Here’s why good health start in the gut. Our gut contains 100 trillion microorganisms, which is 10 times more cells than the total number of cells in our entire body. Put another way, we are 10 percent human and 90 percent microorganism. If you count the number of microorganisms that live on our skin, then we’re even less than 10 percent human.

Given their vast numbers, it’s no surprise that these little ‘creatures’ can have a huge impact on our health! We need to create an environment in, and on (there are lots on our skin too!), our bodies that will nurture them, and keep them happily working with us, and not against us.

There are more ‘visitors’ in your hospital room than you can see! A fascinating study has shown that when people check into a hospital, the microbial communities that inhabit their skin quickly begin to colonize their rooms and treatment areas. Long-term patients who had more time to settle into their rooms left their personalized microbial ‘fingerprint’ long after leaving, and even after the rooms were cleaned…After years of harboring sick patients, it’s a strong possibility that harmful pathogens can gain a dominant position in a hospital, nursing home, or other care facility. This explains why 1 in every 20 hospital patients develops an infection related to hospital care.

This is why there is a saying that goes something like this: “A hospital is no place to be sick!” If you don’t have an infection when you arrive, there seems to be a chance that you’ll have one when you leave.

Keep good company. It’s probably not a surprise at this point, but researchers discovered that those in the same residence could be identified simply by the composition of their microbiota. Those living together in long-term care facilities had far less diverse types of microorganisms than community dwellers. As the variety of microorganisms decreases, you begin to see a long and ever-growing list of problems associated with accelerated aging, including increased inflammation, metabolic disorders, IBS, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, frailty, a weakened immune system, and high blood pressure.

While I don’t have any research to back this up, my experience is that many people who go into long-term care facilities experience decreasing, rather than increasing,  health and vitality. Sounds like it’s possible that an imbalance in their microbiota could have something to do with this.

You (and your microorganisms) are what you eat. …the researchers also found that as the diet became more ‘institutionalized’, the diversity in microorganisms decreased and health deteriorated. All of the signs and symptoms we associate with aging were accelerated. On the flip side, with a better diet, the numbers and variety of microorganisms increased and health improved. … The microbiota of sick or weakened individuals become more and more similar.

Can you guess what Dr. Williams’ advice was to those who have a loved one in a nursing home or long-term care facility? It was that at the very least, you should get them started on a good probiotic and try to include some fermented foods in their diet. I would also do my best to ensure they are eating (and being offered) a wide variety of foods.

‘Poop smoothie’ anyone? One of the most interesting parts of the newsletter, for me anyway, was a section on fecal transplants and how they are performed. Other than the part that described making what I’ll call a ‘poop smoothie’ in a kitchen blender (that I trust you’ll never want to use again), I feel it would be best to consult with a qualified healthcare professional to do this procedure properly and safely.

You may be asking why anyone would want to have a fecal transplant! According to the newsletter it’s because…fecal transplants have been shown to almost instantly and universally cure Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and life-threatening C.difficileinfections, without the use of antibiotics, steroids, and immune suppressant drugs. Fecal transplants have been shown to have up to a 93 percent success rate in C. difficile infections, which kill an estimated 14,000 individuals each year in this country [USA] alone. C. difficile infections affect over 3 million people in the US each year, and treatment costs exceed $1 billion. (N Engl J Med 13;368:407–415)

Now there’s a great reason to use the exclamation “No sh*t!”  Fecal transplants are not a cure-all; however they do seem to offer incredible benefits for many individuals. I bet that’s why the FDA is getting involved in an attempt to regulate poop as a drug. Gotta make it profitable!

Those are all the highlights I wanted to share with you, and rest assured that while the part of the newsletter I found most interesting was the part about fecal transplants, for now, the closest I’ll come to making anything resembling a poop smoothie are the smoothies I make that turn out  brown as a result of mixing red berries and green powders together!  Seriously though, after reading this article, I am so grateful that I take a great probiotic supplement. If you’re not doing so, I hope reading this Tip has motivated and inspired you to do so.

Take control of what you can!

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