Juice cleanses, butter in our coffee, waist training—we try some pretty crazy things to lose weight. But if you could take a pill and suddenly have the super-charged metabolism you’d always dreamed of, would you do it?
The answer for most would be a resounding yes. But there’s the catch: That pill is full of freeze-dried poop.
Stay with us.
The idea of “poop pills” is just an extension of something scientists already know—that a digestive system full of healthy bacteria often leads to better immunity, improved mental health, and a more efficient metabolic system. So “hacking the gut” to improve overall health is nothing new. Most recently, a groundbreaking study out of Israel examined the blood sugar levels and gut bacteria of 800 participants, and researchers found that different strains of bacteria had varying effects on weight.
Now, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital are taking this line of research a step further, with a proposed clinical trial to study the effects of the gut microbiota on obesity using fecal microbiota transplants (FMT). Typically, an FMTs is an invasive procedure that involves transplanting the feces from a healthy subject into a patient via a colonoscopy or enema. It’s a less-mainstream practice, but the American College of Gastroenterology found FMTs 98 percent effective in curing Clostridium difficile, an aggressive antibiotic-resistant infection.
In the Mass General study, the FMT will much less invasive. Obese subjects will swallow a pill packed with the fecal matter of a healthy, lean person to effectively create a “stool transplant.” The hope is that, after the pill “transplant," the bacteria in the stool of the healthy weight subjects will positively influence the gut biome in the obese subjects. According to the lead researcher, the pill will be odorless and tasteless (we hope so!) and double-encapsulated, so they won’t release until they reach the correct location in the large intestine.
It’s hard to say what the outcome will be until the trial starts. There one case regarding a woman who became obese after receiving a fecal transplant from an overweight donor suggests that gut bacteria definitely has something to do with weight. But this will be the first major study examining the effects of FMT procedures on obesity. If the “poop pills” work, we could be looking at a relatively simple (if icky-sounding) treatment for those struggling with the disease.
Illustration by Katherine Prendergast