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The Wonders of Poop

Poop is ubiquitous on earth and forms an essential cog in the wheel of life, acting as a fertilizer for some organisms and food for others.

Before we get started, it’s worth refreshing our understanding of precisely what poop is. Feces are the remains of food that bacteria have fermented in the gut and that the small intestine could not digest or absorb.

Poop is mostly water; and, as we all know from experience, the amount of water in each stool can vary, depending on several factors, including spicy food intake. Even so, on average, poop is around 75 percent water.

Despite poop’s intrinsic intrigue, it disgusts us; this, of course, is for a good reason. It is vital that we keep poop at arm’s length (at the very least). It carries the possibility of bacterial, fungal, and parasitic infection.

Humans display disgust similarly across most cultures.

Over evolutionary time, the human brain has come to detest the odor of feces.

We avoid it at all cost. The evolution of disgust is an interesting topic.

Diverse cultures across the planet respond in a similar way to disgusting stimuli, such as poop; for instance, we all recoil, pull the familiar, disgusted expression, and shudder.

Over the years, interest in gut bacteria has rushed to the foreground. These microbes are vital for digestion, of course, but they also play roles in the immune system and much further afield in the human body.

Indeed, the microbiome is so important that some scientists now refer to it as a microbial human organ.

When we lose these microscopic hitchhikers, our health can suffer. People who have taken long courses of antibiotics, for instance, can develop Clostridium difficile colitis — a severe gastrointestinal condition.

Doctors may offer a fecal transfer to those who have experienced recurrence and are over 65 years of age or have chronic conditions. In this procedure, a doctor will transplant stool from a healthy donor into the colon of the patient.

The transplant is done during a colonoscopy when a doctor advances a long tube through the colon. Then, as they pull the tube back, the donor’s stool sample remains.

Once in place, the beneficial bacteria in the donor feces can start to colonize their new home.

Currently, fecal transplants are only used to treat C. difficile-associated diarrhea; however, researchers are investigating their use in a range of conditions, including colitis, constipation, irritable bowel syndromemultiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.

A study from January 2019 describes successful treatment of ulcerative colitis, a typically difficult-to-treat type of bowel disease. The scientists believe that their approach was successful because they processed the stool anaerobically — without oxygen.

It seems that there might be a bright future for fecal transplants.

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Posted on: February 14 2019

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