Clostridium difficile is the culprit in this book, but it is an antihero. It is blamed for causing misery to many people recently because it reestablishes itself more quickly in the human intestinal tract than other microbes. That causes deadly problems because it takes a community of many different microbes to digest our food and make the breakdown products of these microbes available to us as nourishment. Its popular short name is C diff, and I personally know three people who have had horrible experiences with it. The cause is taking heavy-duty antibiotic treatments for some disease which kills their intestinal flora while killing the disease bacteria. The ultimate effect of a C. diff infection can be as bad as the traditional deadly diarrhea diseases like cholera, that is, a high percentage of the victims die.
I published the obvious solution to this problem in C. difficile shit and spit treatment is what works, and How your appendix may be helping you live longer. Many people have a problem with talking about fecal microbiota transplant (FMT), but it clearly saves lives.
Chapter 9, “Microbes A La Carte” of I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong discusses at length the science and recent progress with FMT. The problem is that this idea seems so new that most of the successful results have been based on trial and error, and this type of result is called anecdotal, and it isn’t until double-blind tests are performed that the results can be called scientific and thus widely applied. However, even in the small tests, the results are remarkably effective in curing C. diff. On page 231 an experiment was reported where they experimented on forty-two patients with that deadly disease. 94 percent of FMT treated patients quickly recovered, and of the standard treatment with vancomycin only 27 percent were cured. They stopped the experiment early because it was considered unethical not to give the sick people a treatment that was curing the other subjects of the disease. Another factor was the frequent recurrence of the disease with the antibiotic treatments.
With the remarkably high success rates using FMT with C. diff, other diseases are being explored with FMT treatments. This method of treating disease is very new, at least as a science-based method. It has been apocryphally reported for centuries, but there is a problem with giving FMT derived from people infected with other diseases. Therefore, there is a great effort to find for fecal donors people who have never had antibiotic treatments, and who haven’t had a serious disease. The many species of bacteria from these healthy people are cultured in sterile laboratory settings and then mixed back together to form a complete community of living bacteria. These communities are then introduced into the intestines, either orally or anally where they are then fed with food that will help them establish themselves as colonies.
I had a complaint with this book, but it wasn’t with the author, it was with the research community. It appeared the scientific FMT experiments were too narrowly defined. It was as if they were assuming that everyone’s intestinal biota was the same. It is obvious that every one of the seven billion human beings has a personal biota, and it varies a little constantly. There will be a great deal of overlap of biota between people, but there will be a great deal of uniqueness too. We all have a functioning balance of our biota, but we will need to do vast numbers of experiments before the perfect balance for each individual can be found. Probably there will be discovered methods for coping with specific disease problems and after the disease is in remission a different biome will be used to reach an even healthier physical and mental condition too. A person needs a happy stomach to be a happy person.
Research science will probably discover amazing intestinal biota treatments in the next few years leading to better public health and greater life expectancy.