Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital are starting a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial where 21 obese participants will be given freeze-dried poop pills—that is, pills that contain actual fecal matter donated by healthy, lean individuals. Led by assistant professor Elaine W. Yu, the study will see if eating these pills once a week for six weeks will affect the body weight, body composition and insulin sensitivity of the obese participants.
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Sure, this may elicit more than a few reactions of “grosssss,” but the fact of the matter is, obesity, which affects 38 percent of Americans, is a problem and scientists are very serious about how to curb the epidemic.
There’s a lot of evidence suggesting that intestinal microbes, which can be extracted from feces, may play a key role in helping regulate human metabolism. A previous study conducted in 2013 shows that when gut microbes were extracted from a pair of twins—one which was obese and one that was lean—and transplanted into mice, the mice that received the obese twin’s microbes gained weight while the mice that received the lean twin’s microbes didn’t, despite all the mice eating the same diet.
The thought of voluntarily taking poop pills may still be hard to stomach, but it’s a lot less invasive than the alternative. In 2014, researchers from the same hospital concluded that fecal transplants could save the lives of people with certain severe bacterial infections. However, outside of pill form, the transplant would have to be conducted via a donation of fresh feces and colonoscopy or through a tube snaked down the mouth into the stomach. Putting that in context, suddenly popping a pill doesn’t sound so bad, and certainly worth it for the payoff.
According to Yu, the pills will be 1 cm in size and are “odorless, tasteless, double-encapsulated” and come from donors who have been OK’d by the FDA.
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