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Health

At the heart of the black market in human droppings

In late 2023, Alexandra, a 66-year-old retiree from Washington, DC, was thawing a piece of human feces she had purchased online. His goal was to reduce the stool into a liquid, biologically rich mixture, which could then be easily transferred beyond his rectum and into his colon. HumanMicrobes, the mysterious and legally dubious website from which Alexandra purchased the poop, recommended a turkey baster for the job. Alexandra opted for an enema bottle. “I first gave myself an enema with plain water,” she told me. “Just to clean everything up.”

Then she tried it with the poop. For a moment, she lay there, letting her homemade liquid and fecal elixir seep into her insides, where she hoped it would breathe new life into her troubled guts.

Alexandra suffers from cystitis, candidiasis and irritable bowel syndrome. She frequently suffers from urinary tract infections and suffers from terrible acid reflux, and her palms sometimes become swollen. She can’t eat sugar without exacerbating these symptoms, and she also struggles with carbs. His conventional doctors never focused on one cause. “They can very easily write me off as just being stressed and overreacting to everything,” she said. “This is the description of a very anxious old woman.”

After exhausting all her options in the traditional American medical system, Alexandra decides to take matters into her own hands. She abandoned her conventional doctors and looked elsewhere for answers. She began seeing two experts in functional medicine, a holistic, alternative and sometimes less scientific form of treatment. When she described her symptoms to them, they gave their blessing to undergo “fecal microbiota transplantation” or FMT. In other words, they wanted her to implant someone else’s poop in the hopes that it would soothe whatever was ravaging her body.

FMTs have been around for a while. The first recorded case of a fecal-based remedy occurred in ancient China, and today it is a method used to treat Clostridioides difficile (C. diff), a bacterial infection that causes fever, nausea, and diarrhea, which can occur after antibiotics inadvertently sweep healthy microbes into a patient’s intestines. Sahil Khanna, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic, uses a gardening metaphor to describe the process.

“If you want to kill the dandelions growing in your yard with a weedkiller, the roots are going to be left behind and you’re going to kill a lot of grass as well. You’ll wake up a week later and see double the dandelions,” Khanna told me. Dandelions, in his analogy, are the bacteria C. diff, while weedkiller is an antibiotic.. “To solve the problem, you have to kill the dandelions, then steal some good grass from your neighbor’s garden and plant it there.” Your neighbor’s weed is crap. This approach, fighting against C. diff with healthy stools, is currently the only government-certified use of FMT. Last year, the Food and Drug Administration approved Vowst, the first orally administered FMT treatment for C. diff. It contains live bacteria made from, you guessed it, human feces. (Naturally, patients are asked to take a laxative before reducing their doses.)

Scientists believe the transplanted droppings could also be helpful to patients suffering from other chronic intestinal diseases. Some early research suggests that FMT could be a treatment for Crohn’s disease. Or maybe irritable bowel syndrome: A review of trials totaling just under 500 patients found that this treatment appeared to relieve some symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, although the results were not statistically significant, and the Rather, the authors concluded that other interventions merit further study. .

“We always look at things at a very high level,” said Majdi Osman, chief medical officer of OpenBiome, a nonprofit research company that studies and distributes stools for experimental FMT. He believes in the therapeutic potential of higher bacteria, but maintains that scientists are “far” from saying that FMT is effective for diseases other than C. diff. “We just don’t have the data yet,” he said.

This posed a problem for Alexandra. She did not have C. diffthis had been ruled out early in his diagnostic journey. She also didn’t have time to wait for additional data: she was sick and she wanted to get better. Maybe, just maybeall of his gastrointestinal anxieties could be resolved with a stool transfer.

Without a C. diff diagnosis, Alexandra had no way to access FMT through normal channels. Her doctors informed her that the treatment could not be prescribed off-label either. All he had to do was go underground. That’s when she discovered HumanMicrobes, the black market for poop.

Michael Harrop, the sole owner and operator of HumanMicrobes, likes to describe his practice as something akin to Dallas Buyers Club of human waste. Harrop has no medical training, nor did he offer me a detailed personal biography when I contacted him by phone. (When asked his age, Harrop said, “I try not to keep track of it. I’m almost thirty.”) But he told me that, like Alexandra, he had interested in FMT after suffering an onslaught of ill health.

Harrop said he developed various debilitating chronic illnesses as a child – chronic fatigue, difficulty breathing, irritable bowel syndrome, “low brain function” – which significantly spoiled his quality of life and that these conditions worsened after taking an antibiotic, which he says was life-disrupting. ecosystem in its intestine. Harrop said these frailties ultimately forced him to drop out of high school and that before his foray into FMT brokerage, he spent most of his adult life as a “handicapped man” playing games. video games.Counter Strike And StarCraft II, specifically. It was during these sedentary days that he discovered the majesty of the gut biome, through the scattered selection of forums that made up the nascent online FMT community. After reading everything he could about the treatment, Harrop thought he finally had the chance to get his health back in order.

“It’s the only near-complete treatment that restores the microbiome,” he told me. “It’s the end of the game.”

Harrop launched HumanMicrobes in 2020 to connect fecal “super-donors” with buyers willing to spend a premium price to ingest it. Harrop refers to the website as a business and its primary business activity. The poop he sells costs about $1,000 per “dose” and is dispensed as capsules (for the “top track”) or divided into pieces packed in dry ice (for the “bottom track”). The resulting income is divided equally between Harrop and whoever previously owned the stool. Unlike the FMT treatments you might receive at the Mayo Clinic, no specialist prepares the stool for you. Harrop never handles feces directly. It’s a one-off, online-only, peer-to-peer operation in which Harrop functions as a sort of international middleman for the poop. (Yes, they ship worldwide.)

The HumanMicrobes website, which is full of images of doctors in white coats peering through microscopes, claims that less than 0.1 percent of the human population has the “healthy, unperturbed, disease-resistant microbiomes” needed to produce medicinal stools of quality. (This is a standard echoed by some of the more honest FMT distributors – Osman joked that it’s harder to qualify for OpenBiome’s stool donation program than it is to get into Harvard. ) Harrop checks these qualities by sending a long, self-written questionnaire to potential donors. who apply on the website – checking, among other things, their body fat percentage, food cravings, “risky sexual behaviors” and whether they were born by C-section or vaginally. Additionally, if a donor scores high enough on Harrop’s private scoring system, he and the HumanMicrobes community will split the cost for him to receive a fecal test from a doctor to screen for “a handful of pathogens known”. (Future testing, Harrop says, “depends on the recipients.”) Then the donor will be added to HumanMicrobes’ internal database, so people like Alexandra can inspect their wares.

“The ultimate stool donor is probably a Michael Jordan between the ages of 2 and 18,” reads Humanmicrobiome.info, another Harrop-owned website that spreads a working theory that children tend to produce FMT material of higher quality due to the fact that they’re “less likely to have taken antibiotics”.

Humanmicrobiome.info also provides a detailed set of instructions on how donors can “harvest” and store their feces safely in a basic residential freezer. Some of its procedures are reminiscent THE Anarchist Cookbook. For example, in order to effectively seal stool in over-the-counter gelatin capsules, the site recommends first creating a fecal slurry and inserting it into a plastic bag with a corner cut off. Next, the donor must “squeeze” the foul paste into the unsealed pills, “the same way you apply icing.”

Once a donor has fully built up their inventory of preserved stools and is ready to ship them upon request, they will be added to HumanMicrobes’ Google Spreadsheet, which essentially functions as a Yelp for the bootleg FMT community. All Harrop fecal dealers are listed, along with a brief description of their biological parameters, personal hobbies and, of course, the structural consistency of their feces, before it is put into capsules . (“Female. Born 1998. Tennessee. Crossfit. Nursing student. Brown, floaty, varies in size.”) Previous buyers leave reviews expanding on their experience with harvesting…

News Source : slate.com
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