You should save your poop when you’re young. You might want it when you’re older.
In a new opinion article, scientists suggest that freezing your stool at a young age and using it as transplant fecal matter could help to restore your microbial community. This process could help treat some diseases like asthma, colorectal cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes and Clostridioides difficile infection. C. difficile, or C. diff, kills 29,000 people in the U.S. each year.
With the advent of antibiotics, processed foods and highly sanitized environments, our gut has undergone massive changes since the industrial age. Researchers are suggesting to “rewild” our microbiome, meaning to restore it to its pre-industrial state. To send your microbiome back in time, physicians can transplant stool collected from nonindustrial hunter-gatherer societies either using a colonoscope, a nasal tube or a “poop pill.”
However, the pool of potential donors for rewilding is limited, and it’s not clear whether a preindustrial microbiome will even help humans living in the industrial world. What’s more — compatibility issues between the host and donor limits the success rate.
Instead of rewilding our microbiomes, scientists suggest we rejuvenate them. This gets around donor-host compatibility issues and widens the population of potential stool donors.
The idea is to store your microbiome in a stool bank when you are young and healthy, and if you need a transplant in the future, you take one from your younger self. It’s like a fountain of youth for your gut.
People already do similar tissue banking with cord blood, which are stem cell rich tissues found in the umbilical cord. Experts can store cord blood for over 20 years and resurrect it to treat immune or metabolism disorders.
“We anticipate that the chance of using stool samples is much higher than for cord blood,” says Yang-Yu Liu, an associate professor at Harvard and co-author on the paper, in a press release.
But microbiome rejuvenation isn’t without its challenges. For one, it’s not clear how long rejuvenation lasts. This could just be a short-term fix. Researchers also need to figure out how much of the stool to store, if they can use cryopreservation and whether it’s a cost-effective treatment for patients.
The authors conclude in the article that “it’s promising, but not a panacea.” More basic research still needs to be done, and microbiome rejuvenation won’t fix everything. Patients will probably still have to make lifestyle and diet changes to fully restore their gut.
Despite the open questions, Yang says in a press release that it’s imperative for scientists to pursue the potentially life-saving medical intervention. “As scientists, our job is to provide a scientific solution that may eventually benefit human well-being.”