There is much buzz in the news about the potential health benefits of fecal transplants, and some of that benefit may extend to people with food allergies.
A fecal transplant, or fecal bacteriotherapy, involves transferring stool material from a healthy individual to a sick person’s colon. The transplant’s purpose is to restore bacterial balance.
Gut microbes may become unbalanced through a variety of modern inventions such as antibiotics, bottle feeding, vaccinations, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and a diet of primarily fast, or highly processed foods.
Research indicates a restoration of the gut’s bacterial community can alleviate infections, colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and some neurological conditions. The procedure is also being studied for the treatment of obesity, and allergy disease.
Gut Bacteria and Food Allergy
Scientists have associated changes in our gut’s bacterial colonies with the development of asthma and allergies, including food reactions. Without a balanced population of gut microbes, our immune system may not learn self-tolerance, opening the door for autoimmune* reactions.
Further, our intestines depend on gut microbes to produce nutrients that keep the intestine’s protective lining intact. If this lining weakens and develops holes, substances that shouldn’t be roaming our body can leak through, and may trigger autoimmune responses.
Researchers found when mice without gut microbes were exposed to allergens they had a much greater immune response, and severer allergic disease, than mice with normal bacteria populations. To treat allergic disease “the use of [fecal transplants] seems promising in restoring immune homeostasis by transferring a complex community of bacteria which is more stable and harbors a greater ability to colonize,” said researcher Meng-Que Xu.
Old Procedure, New Science
Although fecal transplants may sound unappealing, people desiring relief from chronic conditions are usually willing to accept the procedure. Plus, the post-procedure effects, such as fever, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and cramping are generally mild and temporary—less distressing than the side effects of current standard treatments for autoimmune disorders.
Though fecal transplants were first done nearly 2,000 years ago by Ge Hong, a Chinese medical scientist, research into the procedure is still in early stages. However, fecal bacteriotherapy might eventually relieve food allergies, so it will be interesting to watch how the studies progress.
* Autoimmune reactions occur when a someone’s immune system attacks substances naturally present in their body.