New Study Shows Poop Pills Might Be a Promising Weight-Loss Therapy

Brigham and Women's researchers conducted the first controlled trial of fecal transplants for obese patients.

fecal transplant

Photo by Alex Lau

Before you turn your nose up—if you haven’t already—your poop can tell you a lot about your health. It can tell you if your gut is functioning properly or whether or not your diet is working for you, among other things. Bottom line, it’s important. And it has even been taken from healthy donors and transplanted into those suffering from intestinal disorders to restore the delicate balance of bacteria in the gut. Researchers at Brigham and Women’s hospital wanted to see if this method of treatment, so successful for other ailments, would be successful in helping obese patients lose weight.

Fecal transplants are typically conducted through colonoscopy, but for this study, capsules filled with fecal matter from a lean donor were used in what is called fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT). Twenty-two obese patients with no other health implications participated in the study, which lasted 12-weeks. Half took the capsules and half took identical-looking placebo capsules. Researchers wanted to see if the fecal matter had any affect on the composition of gut bacteria and whether or not weight loss was a result. They specifically looked at a gut hormone called glucagon-like peptide 1, which is responsible for making you feel satiated and is associated with weight gain and loss, to see if there were any changes.

Although there were no significant changes in the hormone responsible for satiety, and no significant weight-loss was shown, there was promising evidence that the capsules changed different things about the patients’ gut flora. Specifically, there was a decrease in specific bile acid and changes in stool samples that were more representative of the lean donor among patients taking the capsules compared to those taking the placebo. They plan to conduct additional research looking at varying dosage of fecal material, among other things. Animal trials have been conducted and show that weight loss can be a byproduct of fecal transplants.

“In our clinic, we see patients who really don’t have any other medical problems, but just cannot lose weight,” Jessica Allegretti, author of the study and director for the Fecal Microbiota Transplant Program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said in a release. “It is a very important patient population that we really wanted to give focus to and try to help understand.”

Mass Gen began a similar study back in 2016. While it is still ongoing, they found that these poop pills can be an effective treatment for C. Difficile infection, a bacterial condition commonly acquired in hospitals that can cause pain, diarrhea, and a potentially fatal hole in the bowel.

“Our study adds an encouraging first step in trying to understand the role that the gut microbiome is playing in metabolically healthy people with obesity,” Allegretti said in a release. “This will hopefully lend itself to more targeted therapies in the future.”

And you thought the only thing that mattered was what was going in! It’s apparently worth paying just as much attention to what comes out for scientists these days. But for the many ways this method of treatment might be able to help, we’ll just have to…uh…sit tight.