Would you take ‘poo pills’ to improve your gut health?

By Monica Athnasious

Published Jan 6, 2022 at 09:30 AM

Reading time: 4 minutes

If you’re a fellow hot girl like me, then you probably have gut issues. In fact, one of the resolutions I made to myself for the blossoming year that is 2022, alongside practising decolonised yoga, was to prioritise my gut health. More and more, we are discovering how truly important gut health is to our overall well-being—from immune disorders to mental health, gut health seems to rule it all. Now, there’s an interesting new solution to the problem…

The Guardian has unveiled an exclusive report on research from BiomeBank, which is located in the heart of Adelaide, Australia’s suburbs and describes itself as a “clinical stage biotechnology company developing a ‘Pipeline’ of live biotherapeutic products to treat disease.” It aims to achieve this mission through the restoration of the gut microbiome. Though there are infinite health issues that can occur from an unhealthy gut, BiomeBanks’s main target is ‘Clostridioides difficile’a bacteria that infects the digestive tract causing symptoms from diarrhoea to life-threatening conditions like sepsis.

But guess what? If you are already lucky enough to have a good gut, then you’re what has been described as a “unicorn” and there are scientists who want your poo. Yes, you read that right.

The ‘super poo’ transplant

“The transfer of healthy stool into the gastrointestinal tract of an unhealthy recipient has [previously] been proven to treat people with intestinal conditions,” The Guardian wrote. Now, as research continues and more is known—the possibilities for medicinal treatment continue to expand. Scientists at BiomeBank are developing a “super stool” (derived from the faecal donations from those “unicorns” we mentioned) which will be turned into a ‘poo pellet’ you can eat. Consuming such a treatment would seek to replicate the unicorns’ intestinal abilities.

That is the researchers’ star ingredient and they are currently on the hunt for more healthy gut unicorns. Their facility hosts a “special donor room”—let’s not mince words here, it’s a toilet—where elite faecal donations are given. These are then deposited into the company’s stool bank, ready to be used to develop poo transplants. Donations are placed into a “secret sauce”—it all sounds delightful, doesn’t it?—which enables their growth as well as the isolation of bacterial strains. BiomeBank then collects all found strains and categorises them for future endeavours.

Not just anyone can be a donor though. You have to fit the bill, unicorn. According to Doctor Emily Tucker, BiomeBank’s head of donor screening, there’s a wealthy list of demands needed to become a donor. “They have to be healthy, obviously. They have to be screened for infections. A detailed history of their medical, travel and antibiotic history is taken,” The Guardian disclosed.

Molecular biology expert at the University of Auckland, Doctor Justin O’Sullivan, told the BBC in 2019 about his investigations into super poo donors, “We see transplants from super donors achieve clinical remission rates of perhaps double the remaining average… Our hope is that if we can discover how this happens, then we can improve the success of faecal transplantation and even trial it for new microbiome-associated conditions like Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and asthma.”

And it looks like BiomeBank is well on its way. Thomas Mitchell, the company’s chief executive, detailed that its first successful solution involved a microbial therapy that extracted the necessary bacteria and then developed it into a capsule to be taken orally. The biotechnology company’s treatment has already been trialled and rolled out in certain hospitals in the country.

“Then there’s the second generation—a replication. Think of the unicorns as Adam and Eve types, but their genomic sequences can be reproduced. You can grow them. Isolate them. Identify them, name them, put them in a library, and gradually build up knowledge about what each strand can do,” The Guardian explained. Basically, if a bacteria strain is a solution to a person’s specific issue, it can be isolated and scaled into a bespoke pill for that patient.

Chief medical officer and director Sam Costello warned that research is vital to tackle the “microbial extinction event” taking place across the globe—particularly in the West. Though historically human’s had a diverse range of microbiomes, things changed as the consumption of highly processed foods and lack of exposure to certain bacteria rose.

Don’t worry just yet though, you don’t need to be rushing to take poo pills any time soon. There are far simpler ways to heal a gut if you’re only having minor issues. Of course, if you are experiencing seriously worrying symptoms, it is best to confer with a medical professional.

How can you improve your gut health?

“To have what we understand to be a healthy microbiota, where the microbes present are associated with healthy conditions and those that aren’t present are associated with unhealthy conditions, we already know what you should do,” Professor Felice Jacka, director of Deakin University’s Food and Mood Centre, told The Guardian.

Though an avid supporter of the ‘super stool’ drive, she advised diversifying your diet is what you need, “Eat lots of plants, different types of plants, different-coloured plants and throw in some fermented foods.” In countries across the world, gut microbiome health outshines the West. To name but a few fermented food options, try adding kimchi, sauerkraut, or miso to your diet and of course, the star of the show—fibre.

Jacka mentioned however, that often when those with a predominantly Western diet begin this journey, their existing gut bacteria is so weak and deficient that reintroducing fibre will cause some issues like stomach pains, bloating and gas. This is because the existing Western diet is rooted in a lack of diversity and saturated with endless processed fats and sugars—in actual fact, an estimated 75 per cent of global food production consists of only 12 plant groups and five animal species.

When individuals experience such symptoms like the ones mentioned above, they are often scared off of fibrous foods under the, perhaps, mistaken assumption that they have irritable bowel syndrome or an intolerance to gluten, said Jacka. In fact, what these problems might be showing you is that you don’t have a good gut microbiome. The reintroduction should be a slow one (especially if you rarely consume fibre), ease your way into it and increase the fibre in your diet gradually, she advised.

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