Most people suffering from environmental illnesses experience gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms of some kind, or show other signs that something is not quite right in the gut. Perhaps tests such as a comprehensive digestive stool analysis (CDSA), or equivalent, reveal an imbalance in the normal balance of bacteria, yeast, and other microbes that is essential for overall health.
Research has revealed pathological changes in the composition of the gut flora (gut dysbiosis) in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), fibromyalgia, and autism...and this is a relatively new area of study so this may only be the tip of the iceberg. The most common (and most widely accepted) finding has been the presence of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) in IBS, ME/CFS and fibromyalgia. Healthy individuals have very little bacterial growth in their small intestines (most gut microbes reside in the colon) - SIBO is the presence of large numbers of bacteria in the small intestine. These bacteria are often normally gut residents that have grown out of control. Since the small intestine is where we digest and absorb the food we eat if we have SIBO a lot of this food is essentially "stolen" by the bacteria. The bacteria produce waste products as they digest the food including gases which can cause bloating and flatulence, as well as alcohols and various other organic compounds which our bodies absorb and which can cause any number of symptoms.
Treating SIBO, other forms of gut dysbiosis, and gut infections can often be difficult with efforts to eradicate problem bacterial growth with antibiotic drugs and re-establish a healthy balance of microbes using probiotic supplements often not producing lasting results. Now, a growing number of gastroenterologists are utilising a therapy commonly known as a faecal transplant, or human probiotic infusion (HPI), when these other treatments have failed.
You probably have an idea of what this therapy entails from the names - and yes, it is what it sounds like. A faecal transplant involves preparing a sample of faecal matter from a healthy donor and passing it down a feeding tube into the GI tract of the patient. The idea being that the health-promoting microbes in the donor's stool will fight off the less desirable ones contributing to the patient's illness and establish themselves so that the undesirables cannot regain the upper hand.
There are currently only a small number of doctors peforming this procedure but the results have been very promising indeed with the vast majority of people treated improvingly significantly.
As a result, awareness of this exciting (if unpleasant sounding!) therapy is growing and earlier this month BBC Radio 4 in the UK aired a 30 minute show on this very subject. The show's host Dr. Mark Porter talked to experts including Prof. Thomas Borody of the Centre for Digestive Diseases, Sydney, Australia, who has treated patients with IBS and ME/CFS using faecal transplants in recent years and began using the procedure in GI disorders 20 years ago.
The show is a great introduction to the important role that the gut flora play in health and disease and especially to what looks like being an important therapy for many illnesses (GI and none-GI) - faecal transplants.
The BBC Radio 4 show - Case Notes. Gut Bacteria - is currently available to listen to online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00z6dvv
(Please note: I am unsure if visitors outside the UK will be able to listen, sorry. Maybe some of you could let me know using the comments form below.)
About: Matthew Hogg ("Maff")
Diagnosed with M.E./chronic fatigue syndrome aged only 11 years old and subsequently associated illnesses including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Despite his own struggles he has constantly sought to educate and support others suffering from such "invisible illnesses" through his website, The Environmental Illness Resource. He fully recovered from MCS using his own approach and holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutritional Health.