Parents will go to great lengths to get their children the medical care they need — which is why some parents are turning to a bizarre new method to treat their children's autism symptoms: fecal transplants. Fecal transplants — injecting a colon with someone else's healthy waste (read: poop) — are medically approved for people with the deadly bacteria infection, Clostridium difficile, commonly known as C. diff. But the "fecal microbiota transplantations (FMTs)" aren't approved to treat any other disease, though there are clinical trials underway to study whether or not fecal transplants could be effective for autism, HIV, epilepsy, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, and other diseases thought to be affected by microbiota in the gut.
The FDA banned all fecal transplants for anything other than C.Diff back in 2013, but there are some rogue clinics that are getting around the guidelines in Florida (and likely other places across the country). According to a BuzzFeed News report, gastroenterologist Roland David Shepard administers a handful of fecal transplants a week for C.diff, but he believes so much in the power of poop that he skates around the FDA regulations for other patients. Technically, he's showing patients how to "self administer" the fecal shots and sends patients home with a supply of samples.
Does this sound totally insane? Maybe. But patients and clinical trials show that poop transplants might actually work. Especially for children with autism.
A January 2017 study out of Ohio State University did a clinical trial with 18 autistic children, based on the hypothesis that the behavioral symptoms in children with autism were directly related to their intestinal problems. Researchers found that after a fecal transplant, parents and doctors saw positive changes that lasted up to two months after the FMT. They included children without autism in the study to compare bacterial and viral gut composition before the study.
After the treatment, the researchers found that gastrointestinal symptoms (like diarrhea and constipation, common in autistic children) dropped 82 percent. When parents gave feedback on 17 autism related symptoms, they found an overall improvement. The children's doctors, evaluating the same symptoms from the Childhood Autism Rating Scale decreased 22 percent when the treatment was over compared to the beginning of the study.
Parents and children were aware they were being given the treatment in this particular study, so the study isn't a perfect one. One of the study's authors, an associate professor of microbiology at Ohio State, Matthew Sullivan, said in a statement on the study, "We have to be mindful of the placebo effect and we have to take it with a grain of salt. But it does give us hope.”
An important note: Do not try fecal transplants at home, although the internet is rife with DIY poop transplant tips. The FDA hasn't approved the procedure for anything other than C.diff just yet and a sample from a donor that hasn't been tested or screened could cause serious harm to a patient. But given more research, there might be a very affordable way — given the availability of feces — for all kinds of patients to get the treatment they need soon.