Elaine Yu, an assistant professor and clinical researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, will be conducting a clinical trial to see if taking pills containing the freeze dried fecal matter of thin people will make fat people thin. If you’re thinking “How the everlovingcrap did this happen?” let me assure you, you are not alone.
Here is how the everlovingcrap this happened:
A series of studies (of mice and humans) found that thin and fat subjects had differences in their gut microbes. Then in a 2013 study, microbes were taken from four sets of human twins. In each set of twins, one was thin and one was fat. Those microbes were then transplanted into mice. Those mice who received microbes from the fat twin gained weight regardless of which of three diets they were fed (my favorite part of this study may be the use of the phrase “mouse chow” but that’s obviously beside the point.)
Fecal transplants have been found to a legitimate, and very helpful, treatment to help people with bacterial infections, and the freeze-dried poo pill technology was developed as a way to facilitate these transplants. So now Professor Yu is going to give 20 fat people 6 weekly doses of poop pills (far fewer than in the bacterial infection studies where subjects were given 15 pills a day for 2 days), then track their weight at 3, 6, and 12 months, telling subjects not to make changes to their eating and exercise habits (obviously, that’s difficult to determine, and I imagine that knowing that you are ingesting poo might have an effect on appetite – I know that researching ingesting poo did for me.)
Let’s talk about the issues with this:
The research upon which this study rests is all correlational, with all the inherent issues and weaknesses. There’s a lot we don’t know about gut microbes. According to Yu “we have no idea what the result will be.” That creates risk, since according to Dr. Elizabeth Hohmann – who did the research on bacterial infection and freeze-dried fecal matter -“There’s always the possibility that unknown infectious agents could be transmitted this way, we screen these people to be as healthy as we can determine in 2014, but who knows?”
This risk is even riskier when you consider that even if it makes fat people thinner, we have no way to know if it will make them healthier. The entire thing is based upon the untested hypothesis that making fat people thinner (though a gut microbe transplant or some other reason) will make us healthier. The keywords here being untested hypothesis. There is no study of fat people who have maintained long-term weight loss compared to those who stay fat, or compared to those who practice Health at Every Size to show that weight loss makes people healthier, the research simply doesn’t exist.
Consider this: male pattern baldness is strongly correlated with cardiac incidents, but even if taking poo pills made these men grow hair, it wouldn’t make them less likely to have a heart attack, because trying to imitate health outcomes by making one group of people look like another group of people is not good science. Especially when research shows that behaviors are a much better predictor of future health than body size (knowing, of course, that health isn’t an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or guaranteed under any circumstances.)
So while this poo pill study isn’t as bad as, say, the FDA approving a weight loss drug that is absolutely horrifying and possibly deadly, I think this study isn’t worth the contents of the acid-resistant capsules. I would be very happy if all the time, money, and energy that goes into researching how to eradicate fat people would go into eradicating actual diseases.
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