Having a poo transplant may sound bizarre, but it can actually have some incredible health benefits.
Poo transplants, which are also known as fecal microbiota transplants (FMT), are used to restore a person’s gut bacteria back to optimum health.
It involves extracting the beneficial intestinal bacteria and yeasts from a healthy stranger’s stool and implanting it into the colon of a patient who is lacking the essential gut microflora their digestive system relies on.
Lauren Peterson from The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, Connecticut, is one of an elite group of scientists looking at the gut microbiology of athletes. Petersen, who founded the Athlete Microbiome Project, is specifically researching cyclists.
“All those microbes in your gut are performing amazing metabolic functions that your own body actually can’t do – so, breaking down a lot of the different fibres and resistant starches and things like that – and they’re providing all sorts of very important metabolites for us, certain vitamins, short chain fatty acids. Without your microbes, you’d be very, very unhealthy”, she explains.
Petersen contracted Lyme Disease when she was 11 and after suffering for more than a decade, she had her gut sequenced by the American Gut Project. “I had no microbes to help me break down food, and I had picked up bugs in the lab where I was working because my system was so weak and susceptible.”
Petersen then underwent a faecal transplant from a competitive cyclist – a procedure she carried out herself. A few months after her transplant, she started enduro racing, and was soon placing and even winning in the pro field. “I wondered if I had gotten my microbiome from a couch potato, not a racer, if I would I be doing so well. Then it made me wonder what the best possible microbiome for a racer would be.”
Petersen is now collecting stool and saliva samples from professional cyclists in an attempt to understand how their microbiomes may differ from those of the general population.
“The more a person trains, the more likely they are to have Prevotella,” says Petersen. “In my sampling, only half of cyclists have Prevotella, but top racers always have it… it’s not even in 10% of non-athletes.”
“What we’re learning is going to change a lot for cyclists as well as the rest of the population,” says Petersen. “If you get tested and you’re missing something, maybe in three years you’ll be able to get it through a pill instead of a fecal transplant. We’ve got data that no one has ever seen before, and we’re learning a lot. And I think I can say with confidence that bacterial doping—call it poop doping if you must—is coming soon.”