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If you fell sick in 4th century China, you might have been lucky enough to get a special bowl of ‘yellow soup’ made from the faeces of someone healthy. Sound appealing? Human waste may disgust most of us, but it is a thriving source of good bacteria. There are more bacteria cells in our gut than human cells in the entire body. We live in symbiosis with hundreds if not thousands of different species of microorganism, and many of these bacteria carry out important tasks. Recent studies show they affect digestive, immune, and even psychological health.
Using oral antibiotics can disrupt the balance of different types of bacteria that live in our gut and intestines. Overuse of antibiotics leaves nothing but the most resistant and harmful bacteria behind. Some of these hardy bacteria, such as clostridium difficile, cause nausea, diarrhoea and pain when left to take over without competition from other species.
So some very clever people at the University of Colorado, Denver decided to transplant faeces from healthy people directly into the lower gut of people suffering from this infection. In 90 per cent of cases, faecal transplant led to recovery. In some parts of the United States you can now get paid up to $13,000 US a year for donating faeces five times a week. So the next time you look at a poo, don’t think ew! Think life-saving cure.