That Doo-doo That You Do So Well
PETA claims vegans have super-poop that has healing powers
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.”