Baby Poop Can Help Treat Disease

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Story at-a-glance -

  • Maintaining a healthy environment in your gut may be one of the most crucial steps toward maintaining your overall health, and baby poop has been tapped by scientists as a novel source for improving it
  • Baby poop may be a source of microbes that promote healthy digestion. Recent studies have shown that human-origin probiotics could be used to treat human diseases associated with gut microbiome imbalance
  • Newborn infants typically haven’t been exposed to things like antibiotics, pesticides and pollution to the extent that adults and even older children have, all of which compromise their immune systems and make their bacteria less beneficial
  • When moms breastfeed their babies, scientists have found distinct types of bacteria linking breast milk, breast tissue and infant stool, which can be a major contributor in the health of the newborn’s microbiome
  • You don’t need to “pop a poo pill” to create a healthier microbiome in your gut, as fermented foods, certain vegetables and other factors, including avoiding sugar, can either make or break your gut health

By Dr. Mercola

There’s been a lot of press lately regarding the advantages of tweaking your gut health, which involves your gut microbiome. You could call a healthy microbiome a normal or optimal gut environment. That you can improve your microbiome at all is almost as incredible as some of the means being used nowadays; that said, one of the more novel approaches involves baby poop.

You read that right. The term “fecal transplants” isn’t completely unfamiliar in the medical world, but the premise behind why baby poop specifically is useful in this capacity is brilliant.

Certain types of bacteria present in baby feces may produce short-chain fatty acids, or SCFA, which lead to a positive gut state associated with disease resistance. In fact, many people suffering from obesity, autoimmune disorders, diabetes and cancer often have fewer SCFA in their intestines.

Fecal transplanting, aka “poo in a pill,” can be explained this way: Feces donated from a healthy person are transplanted into a patient, a therapy that has shown remarkable inroads in treating such problems as Crohn’s disease and Clostridium difficile infection, a serious gut condition commonly known as C. diff.

Capsules containing fecal bacteria from healthy donors are a way to “transplant” healthy bacteria into your gut, and it’s not invasive like some other medical alternatives.

Poor gut health is a growing problem. In the U.S. alone, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, reports that more than $141 billion is spent every year on the direct and indirect costs of digestive health disorders.1 Finding a natural and cost-effective way to treat them has become a major priority in the medical community.

It’s not the first time poop has made the news, especially in a therapeutic application, but scientists recently discovered that a beneficial probiotic in baby poop may be useful in boosting the production of SCFA in compromised digestive systems. Their research was subsequently published in Scientific Reports.2

Previous studies have focused on individuals who were already struggling with compromised gut health, but researchers led by study author Hariom Yadav at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, wanted to see how such probiotic transplants might generate the production of SCFA in people whose guts were already flourishing. According to Yadav:

“This work provides evidence that these human-origin probiotics could be exploited as treatments for human diseases associated with gut microbiome imbalance and decreased SCFA production in the gut. Our data should be useful for future studies aimed at investigating the influence of probiotics on human microbiome, metabolism and associated diseases.”3

Improving Your Gut Health as a Means to Reclaiming Your Overall Health

One reason the scientists chose to investigate how baby poop would impact intestinal health is because newborn infants haven’t typically been exposed to the antibiotics, pesticides, age-related diseases and other health and/or environmental elements to the extent that adults or even older children have been subjected to.

Those and other factors compromise peoples’ immune systems and, over time, render their gut bacteria less beneficial for their systems. Baby poop also seemed like a good test product because it’s readily available, Yadav observed. According to Saving Advice, the study may have been relatively small, but still effective:

“(Researchers) took a look at 10 bacterial strains in samples from 34 babies. The researchers identified these strains as good candidates for creating a 10-bacterial probiotic cocktail that would stimulate SCFA production … (so) they tested different doses of the probiotic blend in mice.

They also tested it in human feces to mimic the human digestive system. Their findings showed that a single dose was enough to maintain a healthy microbial balance and the blend helped increase SCFA production in both mice and humans.”4

EurekAlert5 notes that the study on the babies’ feces followed a stringent “protocol of isolation” to verify the safety and validity of gut-origin Lactobacillus and Enterococcus strains before choosing the 10 best of all the 321 samples available.

The lab mice were given one dose of the 10-strain cocktail followed by five consecutive doses. In addition, the researchers injected the same probiotic mixture in the same doses into a human feces medium.

Breastfeeding babies were linked to even greater potential for creating beneficial gut bacteria. According to Reuters, researchers found distinct types of bacteria linking breast milk, breast tissue and infant stool. Additionally, when testing infants’ gut microbial communities, the inference was that when moms breastfeed their babies, they can be a “major contributor” in the health of their newborn’s microbiome.

Senior study author Dr. Grace Aldrovandi, chief of the infectious diseases division of Mattel Children’s Hospital at the University of California, Los Angeles, said, “We were able to show that there are bacteria in milk and that these bacteria could be traced to bacteria in infant stools. This supports the hypothesis that milk microbes are a mechanism by which breastfeeding provides benefit.”6

Pediatricians recommend that babies be breastfed for at least six months, but mothers doing so for longer can have a huge impact on the babies’ microbial diversity, which has a great impact on their future health, from lowering risks of depression to bone deterioration and even the risk of developing certain cancers.

Jose Clemente, a genetics and genomic sciences researcher at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York weighs in:

“The beneficial effects of breastfeeding are well known, and this study provides further evidence by demonstrating that probiotic bacteria found in breast milk can be transferred to the infant. Every little bit helps, so even some amount of breast milk can be a source of beneficial bacteria for babies.”7

First Steps for Improving Your Microbiota

Yadav’s baby poop-probiotics study wasn’t the first to identify all the ways your body can be negatively impacted by having an abnormal or compromised microbiome, a condition known as gut dysbiosis. Because your intestinal health is connected to the rest of your body, your gut is essentially the harbinger for multiple areas of disease.

That’s why other areas suffer when your gut begins to experience problems, many of which can be chronic. Adverse consequences of abnormal or altered gut microbiome can include metabolic, gastrointestinal and neurological diseases, the study explains.

Your body is home to around 100 trillion bacteria, outnumbering your cells 10 to 1, while also housing about 1 quadrillion viruses (bacteriophages), outnumbering bacteria 10 to 1. It influences your exposome, or lifetime accumulation of exposures, much more than most people realize.

This is where your health lies, which contradicts the belief that genetics determine your future health. As the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains, your exposome is the measure of everything you’ve been exposed to over your lifetime and how those exposures relate to health, and starts before birth.

“(It) includes your gut health and therefore other aspects of health, it could revolutionize our understanding of the underlying causes of disease and aid in the development of preventions and cures for more diseases. Unfortunately, genetics has been found to account for only about 10 percent of diseases.”8

These areas affect every area of your body in some way or other; but that’s where mediation by SCFAs come in; they’re “the most abundant product of bacterial fermentation of undigested dietary fibers.”9 In fact, people with reduced SCFAs are often found to experience things like inflammatory bowel disease,10 obesity, Type 2 diabetes11 and autoimmune diseases.12

Forbes compared the microbiome to a huge city of bacteria living in your intestinal tract, busily performing a number of functions, such as metabolizing the food you eat, the medications you take and everything your body is exposed to. But these factors can also change the type of bacteria living in your microbiome.13

Even with the success of the studies using baby poop, more studies are needed before people will be able to head to their local market to buy probiotic health products made from this novel source. However, that doesn’t detract from the scientists’ conviction that such products will more than likely find a respected place in therapeutic approaches that could help millions of people suffering from poor gut health. However, Forbes observes:

“Now, before you start licking your baby's diapers, keep in mind that this study had many limitations. It did not show that the bacteria from baby poop could necessarily prevent or alter disease.

Short-chain fatty acid production is just one potential measure of gut health. The researchers did not check what else may be occurring … What occurs in human poop may not be exactly the same as what is occurring inside the human.”14

Isn’t There Some Other Way to Balance Your Gut Biome?

For those who may not understand the roles of prebiotics and probiotics, registered dietitian Melissa Bradley says the two work in conjunction with each other, but also need each other. Probiotics are live microorganisms, while prebiotics are essentially food for probiotics, she says.

CBS Denver15 describes probiotics as substances that promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the body, and fortunately, prebiotics and probiotics don’t have to come from baby poop. They can be derived from fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut, as well as foods that aren’t, such as garlic, leeks and onions.

Fiber and fermented foods are very important for a healthy diet, and your diet is a crucial determination for feeding — or damaging — your intestinal flora. Good sources for fiber include organic psyllium seed husk, as well as flax and chia seeds. Other good foods to “bulk up” your fiber intake include berries, cauliflower and other crucifer veggies, almonds, green beans and root vegetables like sweet potatoes and jicama.

Additionally, cutting out sugar is an important and crucial place to start if you’re interested in improving your digestive health, as well as nearly every other aspect of your well-being, Bradley maintains. 

When you take your gut microbiome into account when you eat, many other aspects of your well-being follow suit. Not only will it improve your body’s ability to regularly dispose of waste and keep things moving smoothly through your system, it often results in weight loss. This process can begin quicker than you might think, and may even take days and even hours, one study16 suggests.

According to Scientific American,17 your body is highly sensitive to dietary change, which plays a significant role in your disease resistance. In fact, Dr. Eugene Chang, a gastroenterology expert at the University of Chicago, said that’s why “people should pay attention to what they eat.”

He says that diet can make or break bodily functions as important as the way inflammation influences your gut or immune system responses. The conundrum, he says, is how difficult it is to convince most people that their diet and balancing their gut bacteria has anything to do with their overall health.

Intestinal Bacteria and How They Affect Your Brain

Gut health can also improve your mood and other aspects of mental health. Because your gut is connected with your brain through your enteric nervous system (ENS), the 500 neurons in your brain provide you with “gut instincts” to alert you to environmental threats. In addition:

“The brain acts on gastrointestinal and immune functions that help to shape the gut's microbial makeup, and gut microbes make neuroactive compounds, including neurotransmitters and metabolites that also act on the brain.”18

Anxiety and mood disorders were found to be closely associated with beneficial gut bacteria, depending on its balance. In one study on the links between the brain and the gut, microbiologist Dr. Premysl Bercik and gastroenterologist Dr. Stephen Collins found that often, intestinal illnesses can cause psychiatric problems.

Their study revealed that when they took the intestinal bacteria from different mice and exchanged it, aspects of their social interactions changed. “The recipient animals would take on aspects of the donor's personality. Naturally timid mice would become more exploratory, whereas more daring mice would become apprehensive and shy.”19

Their research shows the human gut microbiome’s involvement in numerous ways, but one important way is how these microbes make vitamins and break dietary fiber into digestible short-chain fatty acids to regulate normal functions in your immune system.

At the end of the day, although Yadav’s study was said to be limited because it wasn’t tested on disease models, he says that as a result of his team’s clinical research, there’s a real possibility that “human-origin probiotics” could be used in future treatments to treat diseases associated with an imbalance in intestinal bacteria and decreased SCFA production.