Thursday, May 26, 2011

My Intestinal Saga, Part 8: A Fecal Transplant Story

I've done a lot of crazy things in my life.  I dropped a college scholarship to go live on an isolated homestead with a mountain man named Peter Bigfoot.  I lived in my car in frigid cold temperatures in the foothills of the Chiricahua Mountains, waking up in the middle of the night to high speed winds rocking my vehicle and groups of 50 illegal immigrants passing by; border patrol agents would flash their lights in my windows hours later.  I did several survival trips into the wilderness with little or no gear, sleeping on the cold hard ground and eating cactus, lily bulbs, any creature I could get my hands on -- lizards, rodents, grasshoppers, scorpions.  I went for years as a low-calorie, highly-active vegetarian, working as a wilderness guide for troubled youth for weeks at a time and hiking many miles on nothing but lentils and ash cakes.  I jumped into dumpsters to retrieve ripe avocados and flour tortillas to avoid buying food from our country's faulty factory-farm system.  I ate rotten meat because I thought it would improve my health based on the recommendations of a guy who calls himself Aajonus.  Oh, and I worked in a retail store at the mall once.

My friend and yours ... Fleet Eneman!
But all of that pales in comparison to the gastrointestinal exploration I was about to embark on.  Bathroom door closed behind me, a sealed yogurt container in front of me.  I popped the lid.  Smelled like sh*t.  Looked like sh*t.  It was definitely sh*t.  My friend had left it for me that morning, a gift -- "the good sh*t," we had earlier joked.  It was helpful to have a sense of humor around such an odd and awkward circumstance.  But with the backing of an MD and an ND, hours and hours of research, and the home infusion protocol in hand, I was confident in this circumstance.  I decided to skip the antibiotics in the protocol because I wanted to avoid them if I could, and I wondered if things would work without this step.  I also didn't do a colon lavage or bother to get any saline solution for mixing.  I wanted to see what would happen if I just did the damn thing with no preparation.

So this was it.  Now or never.  My friend's turd was my medicine.  I scooped out some poo with a spoon and mixed it in a separate container with a little water until I had a brown slurry.  I then poured the slurry through a strainer into another container.  This watery sh*t shake was then streamed into a small fleet enema bottle, after which the I screwed on the probe-like lid.  The concoction was prepared.  The mad scientist in me became excited for the unknown results of what I was about to do.  I got in enema position.  Then in it went, where the sun don't shine.  Squirt.  I held it, got up, cleaned up, and left the bathroom that cold winter morning with somebody else's crap in my colon.

I went about my day as usual, preparing some breakfast and sitting down to eat.  "Hmm.  No difference so far."  About two hours later, I felt the urge to "drop the kids off at the pool."  To my surprise, what came out wasn't my usual brew -- it smelled and looked exactly like my friend's sh*t.  And it came out much easier than was usual for me.  Okay, so obviously my donor's bacteria had multiplied and formed stool in my colon.  But would that last?  To my disappointment, I had my usual hard stools that evening.  The next morning I did the protocol again with the same result.  Again the following morning.  Damn.  Something isn't right.  I realized I might not be getting the bacteria far enough up the colon to make a difference.  In Borody's clinic they often implant the feces deep in the colon through a colonoscopy instrument -- all I had was a little squirt bottle.  Add in the fact that my bowel problems appeared to be more in my small intestine near my ileocecal valve, and I decided I needed to treat more than just the first few bends of my colon.  Knowing it wasn't possible at home to replicate the clinical procedure, I began pondering another route to get deeper into the GI tract.  Borody had employed another method of fecal transplant which involved a "nasojejunal tube."  This instrument was basically a complicated way of getting the feces into the small bowel through the nasal passage and stomach.  Well I wasn't about to snort some sh*t.  But crazy as it sounds, I was strongly considering drinking a sh*t shake.

Part 9 of "My Intestinal Saga" coming soon ... 

Monday, May 23, 2011

My Intestinal Saga, Part 7: The Holy Grail of Probiotics

At the end of my rope after years of irritating intestinal symptoms, I decided there had to be something out there that was a silver bullet -- something that would end my problems for good and allow me to live my life free of abdominal discomfort and 3 A.M. insomnia.  Manipulating my pattern of eating only helped mildly and did not work as a long term fix.  I was on a maintenance plan of suboptimal health, and I was tired of it -- ready to try anything.

Me and my dog.  Note the sh*t-eating grins.
One sunny winter day, on a hike with my dog in the mountains of southern Utah, I was pondering what else I could try that I hadn't already.  My thoughts were abruptly interrupted by a grotesque munching sound: Chomp, squish, blurg!  It was my little black lab enjoying some fresh cow dung.  I'd seen her do this countless times in her puppy years, and I always figured she was getting a healthy dose of beneficial bacteria with every squishy bite -- perhaps to stimulate her immune system or to settle her stomach.  In a sense, my pup was happily choking down natural probiotics in that slurry of cow excrement.  As I witnessed this phenomenon for the umpteenth time, a light bulb went off in my head: "That bovine poo must be absolutely teeming with hundreds of species of millions of bacteria -- probably in greater diversity than could ever be produced in a laboratory.  I wonder if there are any accounts of humans eating feces for health as some animals appear to.  And, if so, could this be something that would help me?"  Not the weirdest thought I've ever had, but certainly up there on the list.  

I voraciously researched the internet for anything relating to humans and feces consumption that wasn't connected to some odd fetish or mental disease.  My first lead came from a humorous website, called "The Straight Dope."  This website answers questions people have about random, often shocking subjects.  A woman had written in to ask whether or not coprophagia -- sh*t eating -- was dangerous for humans.  The website authors, who actually appeared to be quite intelligent despite the mocking and sarcastic nature of the site, dug into some research to answer her question the best they could.  What they found, in a scientific journal, Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, was this:

... consumption of fresh, warm camel feces has been recommended by Bedouins as a remedy for bacterial dysentery; its efficacy (probably attributable to the antibiotic subtilisin from Bacillus subtilis) was confirmed by German soldiers in Africa during World War II.

Fascinating!  A bacterial remedy for a bacterial illness.  So, did I go out and eat cow dung after reading this?  As tempting as it was to a crazy, fringe health dude like myself, I decided to do some more research first.  After coming across other counterintuitive silver bullets in reversing disease, such as helminthic (worm) therapy, and coming full circle reading about Aajonus Vonderplanitz (God, I love that name) and his recommendations to eat animal crap, I finally stumbled upon what appeared to be a scientifically-validated therapy for gut issues, called "fecal bacteriotherapy" or "fecal transplant."  In a paper, called "Bacteriotherapy Using Fecal Flora: Toying With Human Motions," Austrailian gastroenterologist, Thomas Borody, outlined the historical and scientific precedence for a procedure he developed to treat severe digestive diseases.  What was this procedure?  Basically, he was implanting the feces of healthy people into sick people -- orally or rectally -- and achieving amazing results, not the least of which was a long term remission of crohn's disease.  Holy sh*t.

I found out that Borody offered this procedure in his clinic in Australia.  Well, I wasn't about to fly to Australia and pay thousands of dollars to eat feces when I could probably do it just as well at home.  (Wow.  That would be a funny sentence to quote out of context.)  Sure enough, I found a "human probiotic home infusion protocol" (nice euphemism) that I could use in collaboration with a doctor and a donor.  This protocol described how to go about doing an enema with a poo mixture.  To my surprise, my doctor had already heard of the therapy, and I quickly found a donor in a friend of mine who was healthy and free of bowel problems (or so I thought after interviewing him -- more on that later).  After having my friend, who I was about to become incredibly intimate with, tested for all the bad bugs and viruses that could be transferred in human feces -- and once more consulting with my M.D. -- I was ready to take the leap.

Part 8 of "My Intestinal Saga" -- it gets even better -- up next ...