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What is a Gut Bacteria Transplant?

Updated on November 29, 2021
Written by
Kelly Jamrozy
3 sources cited
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A gut bacteria transplant, more commonly called a fecal transplant, is a process that takes healthy gut bacteria from the stool of one person and transfers it to someone with an unhealthy gut. 

This process might also be called fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) or bacteriotherapy.

The goal is to help people dealing with severe gastrointestinal issues. It might also help people with autism and other health issues.

One of the most common reasons people undergo a gut bacteria transplant is to treat a clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection. 

These infections are difficult to treat. 

Often, antibiotics alone are not enough to resolve the problem. Transplants boost gut health, making it easier for the gut to achieve a balance of bacteria and avoid digestion issues.

Gut bacteria transplants are also used to treat:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Ulcerative colitis (UC)
  • Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Weight loss

There is a lot of promising research on the procedure, but gut bacteria transplants are not yet FDA approved. Doctors must apply for approval to use the procedure if they are using it to treat anything other than clostridium difficile infection.

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Fecal transplants might seem off-putting to many people. However, it’s increasing in popularity due to the benefits of improving the gut microbiome. 

Introducing healthy gut microbes into the gastrointestinal tract improves a wide variety of health conditions and for many people, makes everyday life more enjoyable.

How Do Doctors Perform Gut Bacteria Transplants?

There are several methods for performing gut bacteria transplants. For example:

Colonoscopy

Doctors use colonoscopies to view the condition of the colon, but they can also be used to introduce healthy gut bacteria into someone’s colon.

Doctors use this method for fecal transplantation directly into the colon. They insert the colonoscopy tube deep into the large intestine and then slowly remove it. As it’s removed, it deposits the healthy bacteria along the way.

This method is beneficial because it uses the colonoscopy camera to allow doctors to view the large intestine while performing the procedure.

Enema

This is similar to the colonoscopy procedure but does not involve the use of a camera.

Nasogastric Tube

This method uses a tube inserted through the nose and into the stomach to deposit the liquid stool preparation. From there, the sample travels to your colon.

Capsules

This is the newest method of introducing healthy bacteria into the intestines. 

Many consider it the most “user-friendly” method. 

It involves taking several pills involving liquid stool preparation. It’s less invasive, but some people aren’t comfortable swallowing pills that contain stool samples.

Side Effects of Gut Bacteria Transplants

Improving the human gut microbiome is relatively safe. However, like all medical procedures, gut bacteria transplants have unpleasant side effects. 

Common side effects include:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Flatulence
  • Serious side effects include:
  • Blood in stool
  • Severe abdominal swelling
  • Vomiting

Gathering the Healthy Gut Bacteria

The healthy gut bacteria used in gut bacteria transplants comes from the stool of people with healthy gut bacteria. Healthy human donors must undergo:

  • Blood tests to check for HIV, hepatitis, and other conditions
  • Stool tests to check for parasites or any underlying conditions
  • Donors must also verify that they:
  • Haven’t used antibiotics within the last six months
  • Don’t have a compromised immune system
  • Don’t have a history of high-risk sexual behavior
  • Don’t use drugs
  • Haven’t received a tattoo or had any piercings in the last six months
  • Haven’t recently traveled to countries with a high risk of parasitic infections
  • Don’t have inflammatory bowel disease or any other chronic GI conditions

Healthy gut bacteria are good for everyone, but gut bacteria transplants aren’t safe for some people. Avoid the procedure if you:

  • Have HIV
  • Use drugs that suppress your immunity
  • Have cirrhosis or another advanced liver disease
  • Recently underwent a bone marrow transplant

Can You Do a Gut Bacteria Transplant at Home?

Some services offer fecal samples through the mail, claiming the samples are useful and offering tips for how to insert the samples at home.

While at-home gut bacteria transplants might sound like an inexpensive way to introduce healthy gut bacteria into your system, it’s rarely considered safe. 

Risks include:

  • Introducing unhealthy gut bacteria into your system. There’s no way to know what’s in a stool sample when performing the procedure at home.
  • Lack of training can lead to injury or illness.
  • Transplants might not be safe and/or effective for everyone.

Will a Gut Bacteria Transplant Help Me Lose Weight?

Some people consider undergoing a gut bacteria transplant to lose weight.

There is limited research on the effectiveness of using a transplant to support weight loss. However, a healthy gut improves overall health. 

Many people believe that improved overall health is an essential part of embarking on a diet and weight loss plan.

The best thing to do if you are considering a gut bacteria transplant for weight loss is to speak to your doctor. Obesity is a significant health issue and can lead to a wide variety of secondary health complications, including death.

More research is needed to prove that gut bacteria improvements help support weight loss, but many medical professionals are hopeful. Researchers intend to explore the issue further in the coming years.

Unfortunately, the introduction of healthy gut bacteria into some patients with diabetes might have made them more sensitive to insulin after the procedure but did not help them lose weight. 

Nobody considers the procedure an easy cure for obesity, but there is hope.

Despite no solid proof that gut bacteria transplants will result in weight loss, there are proven benefits of the procedure. This, in part, is why using donor fecal samples is becoming increasingly more mainstream.

This is especially true when stubborn C. Diff infections do not respond to antibiotic treatment. 

Gut bacteria transplants restore the gut’s natural health, supports healthy gut bacteria growth, fights infection, and improves someone’s overall health.

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Resources

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Jo Ann Day. “Fecal Transplantation (Bacteriotherapy) | Johns Hopkins Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.” Hopkinsmedicine.org, 26 Apr. 2017.

Harvard Health Publishing. “Can Gut Bacteria Improve Your Health? - Harvard Health.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health, 14 Oct. 2016, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/can-gut-bacteria-improve-your-health.

National Geographic Society. “What’s up with the Bacteria in Your Gut?” National Geographic Society, 18 June 2020, www.nationalgeographic.org/media/whats-bacteria-your-gut/.

Kelly Jamrozy
Content Contributor
Kelly has experience working with clients in a variety of industries, including legal, medical, marketing, and travel. Her goal is to share important information that people can use to make decisions about their health and the health of their loved ones. From choosing the best treatment programs to improving dental and vision health to finding the best method for helping anyone who is struggling with health issues, she hopes to share what she learns through informative content.
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