FMT: The ‘life-saving’ poo-swapping treatment. Too soon for hospitals or not soon enough?

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"It's a shitty job but somebody's gotta do it," says Jane, who claims FMT is the only way she has been able to manage her bipolar.

We’re in Jane’s kitchen and her husband’s poo is in the blender. “Put it on really tight otherwise shit might literally hit the fan,” she says.

Jane is preparing a homemade faecal microbiota transplant (FMT). After she passes her husband’s faeces through a sieve, then whips it up in the blender, she will decant it into an enema bottle to spritz her anus.

After struggling with bipolar for 20 years and exhausting all standard treatments, Jane’s desperation led her to FMT. This is the seventh time she has prepared the treatment.

I felt like I had nothing to lose except a couple of seconds of dignity every time we do it.

“I felt like I had nothing to lose except a couple of seconds of dignity every time we do it.”

FMT advocates claim that transplanting bacteria from a healthy person to a sick person by way of dispersing the healthy person's bacteria-rich faeces into the gastrointestinal tract of the sick person can cultivate good gut health; and that gut health impacts on a range of physical and mental health problems.

But using FMT to treat bipolar is controversial to say the least. There’s still only a handful of clinics in Australia willing to perform FMT. In-hospital treatments can cost between $5,000 and $10,000.  

Laureate Professor of Neurogastroenterologist at the University of Newcastle, Nick Talley, says, “It’s possible FMT might work for some people with mental illness but it’s too early to be sure. Animal models suggest it may have a role in some cases. It’s an ethical question: when do you start to offer a treatment when you don’t have absolute evidence that it really benefits? And I think we are struggling with that now for FMT.”

One of the risks that health experts warn of is the transference of infectious diseases.

While people across the country are trying FMT for various conditions, there is one it’s medically proven to treat: C.Diff.

“I picked up quite a nasty condition called C.Diff from taking multiple antibiotics,” says Charlotte. “The symptoms for me were horrific diarrhoea.”

For severe, recurrent or life-threatening cases of C.Diff, the standard treatment is stronger antibiotics... but they only work in 26% of cases. FMT, on the other hand, has a success rate of 86% and the results are almost immediate.

“It just made absolute sense to me. It’s just like putting compost on a garden,” claims Charlotte.

Only, it’s not. The YouTube tutorials for DIY FMTs make it seem easy… but Charlotte’s home FMT didn’t work.

I want to tell my story in the hope that in the near future it is accessible for everybody that needs it.

“I think the reason I didn’t have success - it was partly because of the donor and partly because it needed to be done by colonoscopy for the full coverage.”

Charlotte decided she had no choice but to fork out a huge sum to have FMT performed in a clinic.

“When I woke up from the anaesthetic, after I had the colonoscopy, I felt like wonder woman,” says Charlotte.

“I want to tell my story in the hope that in the near future it is accessible for everybody that needs it.” 

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