Friday, November 28, 2014

The shitty modern medical treatment!

One of the attractions for us kids when going to Pattamadai--grandma's village--was the thought that we would go to the river a few times.


The village was a couple of miles away from the riverbanks, and it was one awesome morning picnic trip of sorts.

We didn't walk to the river, the Thamirabarani, but went in the bullock-cart.  If my father's cousin was also visiting at the same time, then it was all the more fun because when he "drove" the bullock-cart, we went at top speeds, with kids shrieking with delight and the older women fondly cursing the driver as the heads and pots and everything banged against everything.


The river water was even sweeter than the water at Neyveli.  We loved drinking that water.  We ate the pooris that we would have purchased at the local cafe, or the idlis or dosais made by the older women.  

The horrible truth is this: there was always all kinds of crap floating in that river.  Sometimes it was literally crap!  We simply pretended that we did not see them.  We didn't talk about the crap. Ever.  But, the sighting of crap never stopped us from drinking that river water as if it was honey.

Of course, I would never, ever drink that river water again.  But, sometimes, I do wonder if those kinds of activities contributed to the relatively good health my people and I have.  Especially after I read an essay in the New Yorker.  No, it was not about the river back in India.  The essay is about fecal transplantation.  Yep, transplanting one person's shit into another person.  
No one knows how many people have undergone fecal transplants—the official term is fecal microbiota transplantation, or FMT—but the number is thought to be at least ten thousand and climbing rapidly. New research suggests that the microbes in our guts—and, consequently, in our stool—may play a role in conditions ranging from autoimmune disorders to allergies and obesity, and reports of recoveries by patients who, with or without the help of doctors, have received these bacteria-rich infusions have spurred demand for the procedure.
It was one of the most difficult essays that I have read in that wonderful magazine.  Difficult not because it used big and fancy words, but because I felt squeamish throughout.  The very thought that shit from one person is introduced into another!  

So, why is this being done?  It is all because of our digestive tracts, which:
house about a hundred trillion bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other tiny creatures. (As one gastroenterologist put it to me, with only mild exaggeration, “We’re ten per cent human and ninety per cent poo.”) Collectively, this invisible population is known as the gut microbiome, and lately it has become an object of intense scientific interest.
You can already guess where this is going, right?  What if somebody's microbiome is messed up and the microorganisms are out of whack?  What if we introduced the missing tiny creatures?
It's possible that no Americans have gut microbiomes that are truly healthy. Evidence is mounting that over the course of human history the diversity of our microbes has diminished, and, in a recent paper, Erica and Justin Sonnenburg, microbiologists at Stanford, argue that the price of microbial-species loss may be an increase in chronic illness. Unlike our genes, which have remained relatively stable, our microbiome has undergone radical changes in response to shifts in our diet, our antibiotic use, and our increasingly sterile living environments, raising the possibility that “incompatibilities between the two could rapidly arise.” In particular, the Sonnenburgs stress the adverse effects of a standard Western diet, which is notoriously light on the plant fibre that serves as fuel for gut microbes. Less fuel means fewer types of microbes and fewer of the chemical by-products that microbes produce as they ferment our food.
How fascinating, right?  The essay is an awesome read--it has rich details on how the FDA is responding to this, the pharmaceutical research on "crapsules," and on the growth of a "stool bank" where, yes, anonymous donors bring their stool that is less than an hour old.

I am now all the more convinced that drinking that tasty Thamirabarani water during all those visits to Pattamadai was a mild fecal transplant every single time, which helped the microbe population in my gut ;)


3 comments:

Ramesh said...

God, what all stuff can you write about ?? Foecal transplantation ??????? If you have to write about it, can you at least spell it right, as the Queen would do :)

Now, which one in that hpto is you ?

Anne in Salem said...

Seriously? It would be cheaper and much more pleasant to eat more vegetables.

There are any number of childhood activities that we survived that cause us to cringe as adults. I believe they all made us stronger.

You really do need a new hobby.

Sriram Khé said...

Apparently you two didn't think much about the importance of the medical/scientific thoughts in the post ... hmmm ... ;)

The photo is an old one, even before my time, Ramesh. But, because changes those days were so slow from decade to decade, well, it was bullock-carts even in my childhood.

Anne, this is not merely about eating fruits and veggies. Our GI tract is a complex ecosystem with a gazillion living organisms. And there is a growing body of medical/scientific evidence that disruptions to this "microbiome", which has resulted from the modern living uber-sterile conditions and dietary habits, is also perhaps why we have an increasing number of illnesses, especially of the autoimmune kind.

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