Every once in a while I see something that stops me in my tracks. This time it was a report I saw in our internal library abstracts that told of a new and highly effective experimental treatment for a very threatening illness known in hospital talk as C. diff. I had served on our local hospital board for a while, so I was used to hearing about and monitoring stats for Clostridium difficile. It's an infection people who are on antibiotics can get, and it's often deadly. Hospitals do not like C. diff, and it's whispered in hushed tones, "He's got C. diff." Not good. So imagine this conversation:
You are in the hospital and you've been having diarrhea really badly, bloody even. You feel like crap! You may die. Seriously. Your doctor comes in and says, "This is serious. There is only one thing we can do. You will need a transplant." Your heart skips a few beats.
"What kind of transplant, doctor?" fearful you may not live till your waiting list number comes up.
"A fecal transplant."
"Excuse me?" you ask. "I mean, isn't fecal a word for poop?"
"Yes, a fecal transplant. We will need to find a family member willing to make a donation."
This sounds funny, but I'm not joking. Fecal transplants, where doctors take poop from a relative, mix it up with water, and insert it into a patient's intestines, has almost miraculous healing properties. This comes straight from my morning library news: According to lead study author Mayur Ramesh, MD, from the Henry Ford Health System. Of the 49 patients, 43 fully recovered, 4 died of causes unrelated to C. diff, 1 had intestinal surgery, and 1 showed no improvement.
Now, this study has not been written up and peer reviewed yet, so there is a chance it's a fluke. But I doubt it. In a recent issue of Organic Gardening, I wrote about a whole new area of medicine that's studying the microbiome, a fancy way of saying tiny living creatures that live in the world inside your body-especially your stomach, intestines, and all the other dark places. What's fascinating to me is the exact parallel to those tiny little creatures (myccorhyzal fungi, for example) that live in our soil.
Here's the point, people: You may be grossed out by these tiny living creatures in our bodies and our soil, but without them, we die. We are dead. We cannot survive. And in both cases, our bodies and the planet's body, those tiny creatures are becoming extinct at an alarming rate. And we are doing it to ourselves every time we overuse antibiotics, douse ourselves with antimicrobial soaps and other completely unnecessary and dangerous products, and clean our houses to the point of sterility. Sterility is death. Likewise, we do it to our soil every time we apply pesticides, herbicides, insecticides, fungicides. And who the hell knows what eating GMOs will do to the essential life inside our bodies?
A poop transplant will only work if the person the poop comes from is healthy and has an active living collection of the tiny creatures working inside their bodies. This explains the effectiveness of compost even more-it's like a poop transplant for the soil.
There are a few essential books written about China and how it survived for thousands of years without destroying its soil. The main thing it did was apply "night soil" to the crops (aka poop). Europe, too. Now we live in a culture in which that idea is gross and our human waste must be hidden, sterilized, and disposed of outside of our realm of awareness. The sad thing is that our overuse of toxic products-be it cleaning products, pharmaceuticals that come out of our bodies, or other things we flush down our toilets-make our sewage sludge unhealthy.
What about E. coli, you ask? Well, E. coli is a lot like C. diff. I've seen studies that show it's not the poop itself that causes E. coli infection, rather, it's the microbiome out of balance that does. For example, animals raised in confined animal-feeding operations (CAFOs) are much greater carriers of E. coli than animals raised healthfully outside on organic farms.
In conclusion, there are a lot of things we don't yet understand about our bodies and our planet and the universe, but the one frontier that still needs exploring is the world of tiny creatures that keep us all alive. Rather than fearing the microbiome, we need to understand it better. Rather than being embarrassed and ashamed by our bodily functions, we need to respect and learn from them.
Nature is not dirty. Nature is a miracle!
For more from Maria Rodale, go to www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com