As medical science looks for new ways to conquer tough-to-treat health problems like Clostridium difficile (C. diff), fecal transplants — the transferal of gut flora from healthy donors to sick patients via tubes or pills — are attracting more attention than ever.
A recent case study published in Open Forum Infectious Diseases illustrates the conundrum the FDA and patients face when deciding if the “cure” is really worth the true price.
This study could be defined as a case of unintended consequences, a term coined by American sociologist Robert K. Merton. Unintended consequences defines unexpected outcomes — benefits, drawbacks or perverse results — that occur from a purposeful action.
One such case was a 32-year-old woman who was successfully treated for a recurring C. diff infection with a fecal transplant from an overweight donor (her teenage daughter) in 2011. She then gained 20 percent of her body weight (34 pounds) over the following 16 months, jumping to 170 pounds.
Unfortunately, despite a medically supervised exercise program and liquid protein diet, the woman, who had never been overweight before the fecal transplant, has gained 7 more pounds since then and remains obese today.
“We’re questioning whether there was something in the fecal transplant, and whether some of those ‘good’ bacteria we transferred may have had an impact on her metabolism in a negative way,” said Dr. Colleen R. Kelly of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University via a press release. The case report was a joint effort with Dr. Neha Alang, of Newport Hospital in Rhode Island.
The unintended consequences of sharing bad traits thanks to fecal transplants is supported in other published studies, in which fecal samples transferred from obese mice to those of a normal weight may lead to a marked increase in fat. This explains why scientists urge patients to find fecal transplant donors who aren’t obese.
What’s more, scientists speculate the fecal transplant may not be the sole reason why the woman became obese, citing several antibiotics prescribed to treat H. pylori, illness-related stress, aging, genetic factors and the resolution of her C. diff infection as other contributing factors.
One way to have counteracted those side effects: Her doctor should have prescribed a probiotic, such as EndoMune Advanced Probiotic, that would have helped her treat the H. Pylori to protect her overall gut health.