That Doo-doo That You Do So Well

PETA claims ve­g­ans have su­per-poop that has heal­ing pow­ers

Newsweek International - - NEWSWEEK - BY JES­SICA FIRGER @jess­firger

Reel off the rea­sons a plantbased diet is su­pe­rior to that of a car­ni­vore. Go­ing strictly animal-free can re­duce one’s car­bon foot­print, cut the risk for cancer and chronic dis­eases, pre­vent animal cru­elty and pro­vide an ex­cuse to make a re­ally great dessert.

But one thing that’s prob­a­bly not on your aver­age ve­gan’s list is that this re­stric­tive diet im­proves the qual­ity of one’s poop—at least ac­cord­ing to Peo­ple for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment

of An­i­mals (PETA). Last month, the animal rights or­ga­ni­za­tion is­sued a call for more healthy ve­g­ans to con­sider be­com­ing stool su­per-donors (i.e., pro­vid­ing spec­i­mens on a reg­u­lar ba­sis) to serve a grow­ing de­mand, since a fe­cal mi­cro­biota trans­plant is now con­sid­ered the best way to treat re­cur­rent Clostrid­ium dif­fi­cile in­fec­tions and other po­ten­tially life-threat­en­ing gas­troin­testi­nal ill­nesses. In this ex­per­i­men­tal med­i­cal pro­ce­dure, stool from a healthy per­son is trans­planted to the gut of an ail­ing pa­tient ei­ther in pill form or through a colonoscopy.

A study pub­lished in The New Eng­land Jour­nal of Medicine found that 81 per­cent of pa­tients with C.

dif­fi­cile who un­der­went trans­plan­ta­tion made a full re­cov­ery from their ill­ness. Sub­se­quent re­search has shown the cure rate af­ter fol­low-up trans­plants may be even higher, as much as 90 per­cent.

The prob­lem, how­ever, is that good poop is ac­tu­ally pretty hard to find, and stool banks such as Open­biome and Ad­vanc­ing Bio might be pick­ier than your aver­age blood bank. PETA sug­gests that re­ly­ing on fruits and veg­eta­bles as a main source of sus­te­nance leads to a more di­verse mi­cro­biome, the com­plex ecosys­tem of bac­te­ria freeload­ing in­side your gut and nearly ev­ery part of your body. Many—or, if one is lucky, most—are ben­e­fi­cial to health. Some of these mi­crobes are even nec­es­sary for nor­mal func­tion­ing of the body, such as the im­mune sys­tem.

More and more re­search sug­gests peo­ple with greater mi­cro­biome di­ver­sity tend to be health­ier. Sci­en­tists have iden­ti­fied a link be­tween cer­tain gut bac­te­ria pro­files and just about ev­ery chronic med­i­cal con­di­tion, from

ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis and autism to com­mon al­ler­gies, de­pres­sion and cer­tain can­cers. More re­search needs to be con­ducted, which is an­other rea­son why peo­ple with healthy mi­cro­biomes are in high de­mand.

Be­fore launch­ing this stool-so­lic­it­ing cam­paign, PETA con­sulted with a gas­troen­terol­o­gist, who claimed that “high-fiber, plant-based foods such as those con­sumed by ve­g­ans can in­crease the growth of healthy gut flora—creat­ing healthy fe­cal mi­cro­biota for trans­plants, which can help hu­mans suf­fer­ing with stom­ach ail­ments,” PETA spokesper­son Moira Col­ley tells Newsweek.

PETA also hopes anoint­ing ve­g­ans with su­per-donor sta­tus will en­cour­age car­ni­vores to put aside the pork and pick up the por­to­bel­los. “PETA will be re­lieved if all-too-com­monly con­sti­pated meat-eaters get off the pot and give ve­gan eat­ing a whirl,” Col­ley says. “All those who make the switch will save more than 100 an­i­mals a year— and maybe their own life too.”

Fe­cal trans­plan­ta­tion isn’t yet ap­proved by the U.S. Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion. How­ever, be­cause it has been shown to be so ef­fec­tive for

C. dif­fi­cile, the FDA al­lows physi­cians to use it un­der their “en­force­ment dis­cre­tion guide­lines” for pa­tients with C. dif­fi­cile in­fec­tions who do not re­spond to stan­dard ther­a­pies. This es­sen­tially means the FDA won’t go af­ter doc­tors who per­form fe­cal trans­plants if they have their pa­tients’ con­sent. Last year, the FDA moved to tighten reg­u­la­tions by lim­it­ing the pro­ce­dure only to large hos­pi­tals.

Zain Kas­sam, chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer of Open­biome, is a lit­tle skep­ti­cal of PETA’S rec­om­men­da­tion. Diet cer­tainly has some­thing to do with the qual­ity of one’s stool, but it’s not the pri­mary de­cid­ing fac­tor when he’s de­ter­min­ing if their poop war­rants su­per-donor sta­tus. “Whether you’re a 34-year-old ve­gan lawyer who loves lentils or a 22-year-old col­lege stu­dent who craves a good ham­burger, Open­biome wel­comes all healthy donors in the fight against C. dif­fi­cile,” he tells Newsweek. Open­biome, some­times called the “Red Cross of poop,” re­cruits and screens stool donors, then fil­ters and freezes the raw ma­te­rial for clin­i­cians to use. A large list of fac­tors go into de­cid­ing who is qual­i­fied to be a su­per-donor, and Kas­sam says there is on­go­ing re­search to gain more in­sight about the medic­i­nal magic of hu­man waste. “For the treat­ment of C. dif­fi­cile, our stud­ies and oth­ers sug­gest that all healthy donors are su­per-donors,” he says. “For other dis­eases, such as ul­cer­a­tive col­i­tis, a type of in­flam­ma­tory bowel dis­ease, pre­lim­i­nary re­search sug­gests there may be cer­tain donors that seem to work best. But the jury is still out on what makes one donor work and an­other not.”

In 2015, he con­ducted a study that proved just how hard it is to find suit­able donors. Out of a pool of 459 peo­ple, only 27 passed clin­i­cal as­sess­ments and were per­mit­ted to sub­mit stool sam­ples for more ex­ten­sive anal­y­sis. A study Kas­sam con­ducted the fol­low­ing year ex­am­ined the di­ets of Open­biome donors and com­pared them with the aver­age diet of al­most 5,000 Amer­i­cans. The peo­ple at PETA will prob­a­bly be dis­ap­pointed to learn their find­ings: “Be­yond a small in­crease in fiber, the diet of Open­biome stool donors is largely the same as the aver­age Amer­i­can.”

Sci­en­tists have iden­ti­fied a link be­tween cer­tain gut bac­te­ria pro­files and just about ev­ery chronic med­i­cal con­di­tion, from autism to com­mon al­ler­gies.

DUMP­ING GROUND The grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity of fe­cal mi­cro­biota trans­plants has cre­ated a seller’s market for those pos­sess­ing what some call “su­per-poop.”

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