The Medical Power of Poop--A Guest Post by Tracy Mac

Dearest Poopers, It gives me great pleasure to bring you this guest post by Tracy Mac. As editor of The Power of Poop, she has helped to create an informational hub and supportive community for those seeking access to fecal transplants. She's also a fierce advocate for understanding of the human microbiome. (It's a topic very dear to my heart--and my colon. I'm about to receive my very own "find out whose living in your gut" kit from uBiome! More information on that soon. Till then...) Please enjoy!

Yours in balance,

Shawn "The Puru" Shafner

Within one linear centimeter of your lower colon there lives and works more bacteria (about 100 billion) than all humans who have ever been born. Yet many people continue to assert that it is we who are in charge of the world.

Neil deGrasse Tyson  American astrophysicist, science communicator

2013 was the year fecal microbiota became sexy in the scientific community. Research teams and would-be Nobel Prize aspirants across the globe are investigating the role of the Human Microbiome, that community of microbiota – bacteria, viruses, phages and even helminths - that live on our skin, our mucus membranes and in our gut.

So why are these bugs so important?  Increasingly research is showing that each of these microbiota produce substances on which the human body relies for survival and good health. Links are being identified between the human microbiome and conditions as diverse as cancer, heart disease, mental health, autoimmune conditions and inflammatory bowel disease. However correlation does not equal causation and more research needs to be done to establish what this means for medical practice.  In the meantime, if there’s an illness to be cured you can bet there is a scientist somewhere that is researching its connection to a dysfunctional microbiome and an entrepreneur who’s trying to make money out of it.

One of the more confronting manifestations of microbiome awareness is the use of fecal microbiota transplantation therapy to cure the vicious and fatal gut infection C difficile. C diff has been an increasing problem in hospitals and nursing homes around the world with the increasing use of anti-biotics and growing anti-biotic resistance. It is estimated to kill 14,000 people each year in the US alone. Fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT) has been around since 4th century China and was used in Western hospitals as recently as 1958, until the widespread use of anti-biotics became an easier option.   In its modern day form FMT has been pioneered since 1995 by Australian Professor Thomas Borody of the Australian Centre for Digestive Diseases.

Last year a study published in the respected New England Journal of Medicine showed FMT to have a 93% success rates in the treatment of C diff. The trial was stopped for ethical reasons as it was not believed fair on those patients in the placebo group to continue. Recent research has shown that it takes up to 4 months for the new microbiota to colonize the gut of a patient who has received a fecal transplant for C diff.

FMT is slowly gaining acceptance within the medical professions for treatment of C diff, although some caution that more research needs to be done to monitor long terms risks. This research cannot come fast enough for desperate patients who are doing FMT at home for C diff and a variety of other conditions for which FMT shows promise.  FMT patient information and advocacy websites like The Power of Poop have sprung up to ensure that patients have accurate information about FMT before trying it and urging them to carry out the procedure safely, including having their donor tested by a doctor for blood borne and fecal pathogens.

In the last year over 1000 chronically ill patients have poured from the Power of Poop website into a private FMT facebook group to discuss everything from where to buy a suitable FMT enema bag, to the latest FMT research and where to find a FMT-friendly doctor. Lest you think this is a group of fruit-loops, a quick review of the facebook profiles of members will show normal people from all walks of life, united only by the fact that their gut microbiome has become unbalanced and needs fixing. In this group you won’t hear a snigger or sneer about poop, as it’s treated with deadly reverence. There is also a facebook group for those searching for relief from autoimmune conditions, who are willing to infect themselves with helminths, in the form of hookworm and whipworm.

So what does microbiome mania mean for you and I? We need to take the Poop Pledge and start thinking kindly of the bugs within. We need to start caring for that ecosystem of microbiota that keeps us well and healthy. We need to think twice before we feed our microbiota a standard Western diet or slaughter them with antibiotics. Most of all, we need to get over the ick factor and come to terms with the fact that we are more bug than human. For every one human cell, there are 10 microbiota living within your body, with most living in your gut. Indeed we are 10% human and 90% shit. We just don’t like it.

Tracy Mac

Editor, The Power of Poop


Getting Gassy and All Fueled Up!

Dearest Poopers,

In nature, there is no such thing as waste. To have an ecosystem means that all the organisms present are balancing each other out, providing for one another so that every problem has an equal and opposite solution.

There's a gallon of rotting cabbage on my kitchen counter right now--a little delicacy called Sauerkraut. Guided by Sandor Ellix Katz' Wild Fermentation, I bravely chopped up a mess of cabbage, green onion, carrots and their tops, added water and salt, shoved the whole thing in a crock with a another one on top. That was last Monday night.

Click the pic for a Scientific American article about the dangers of antibiotics and bacterial extinction.

Now I've got a little ecosystem going in my kitchen, thriving with healthy bacteria that are predigesting the cabbage for me, freeing up nutrients my body couldn't otherwise access. The healthy Lactobacilli that came from somewhere in my kitchen will become a part of my body, an ecosystem (officially called the human microbiome) that already contains approximately 100 trillion bacteria living symbiotically with my 10 trillion cells--that's a 10:1 bacteria to human ratio. The approximately 500 species in my gut are so helpful in the digestive process that, according to a nicely footnoted Wikipedia article, "the metabolic activity performed by these bacteria is equal to that of a virtual organ, leading to gut bacteria being termed a forgotten' organ.[24]"

For more information check out this great Science Daily article about how decoding the microbiome might play a role in health and illness. You can also read the latest news from The Human Microbiome Project, a federal initiative to map the microbiome.

These ecosystems just go to show that for every problem there's an equal and opposite solution. To that end, I am pleased to announce two news items in this fashion!


New York's Riverkeeper released an important report yesterday revealing that, though the Hudson is getting healthier, there's still has a long way to go. In the words of Riverkeeper Boat Captain John Lipscomb, "We still have a significant problem with sewage contamination. The recent 200+ million gallon sewage spill in New York City is only a minor part of widespread contamination that regularly occurs in the Hudson.” I encourage you to check out the Riverkeeper website to read more about this eye-opening report, or listen to the audio explanation.


The ultimate solution will mean that what goes down NYC's pipes during a rainstorm doesn't flow back unchecked into the river. In the meantime, it might be nice for swimmers, kayakers and river walkers to at least know when it's happening. You can help make this so! Sign this petition to join Riverkeeper, New York State Senator Adriano Espaillat and New York State Assemblyman Thomas Abinanti in calling for a Sewage Right to Know Law for New York so that the public can be  properly informed about where and when it is safe to get in the water.


I've recently been going to protests and meetings about the dangers of hyrdraulic fracturing, or "fracking." While there's tons of natural gas lying underneath the ground, current fracking technology is unsafe, requires millions of gallons of water that must be dumped after, and has the potential to contaminate the water we depend on for drinking (and flushing, but that wasteful practice is a whole other post). When I go to these events, I've been struck by the inherent dilemma--yes, fracking is a bad way to get energy and, yes, our energy consumption is out of control. So if we're going to say "No!" to fracking, but can we say "Yes!" to?


Sunday, 8/14, at 2pm The MORE Project presents a FREE screening of Josh Fox's Gasland, an expose on fracking, followed  at 4pm by Fuel the Film, all about exciting new possibilities for energy. A discussion with The Puru will follow and the beer will surely flow over at Pour George on 8th btwn 5th and 6th Aves, because there's nothing like alcohol and documentary films! Full details just below.

Now I've gotta go. It's sauerkraut hour.

Peaceful pooping,

Shawn "The Puru" Shafner

2 Great FREE films – Sunday 14-Aug-2011 at 2 PM in NYC

The M.O.R.E. project is proud to present a ‘fair use’ screening of TWO outstanding films on Sunday 14-Aug-2011. There is NO admission fee! A ‘fair use’ screening must be FREE!

The two award winning films are “Gasland” at 2 PM, and “Fuel” around 4 PM. They will be shown in the back room of a great bar in Greenwich Village called “Pour George” at 35 West 8th St, New York, NY 10011 / (212) 253-2999. That's just East of 6th Ave.  Take the N/R to 8th Street, the 6 to Astor Place, or the A/C/E to West 4th St.

“Gasland” by Josh Fox explores the truly deadly consequences of extracting natural gas by the process called hydraulic fracturing aka “fracking”. This process has reportedly already contaminated drinking water in 34 states and unless we block it, fracking will soon start in areas whose water feeds New York City.

People are being sickened and killed by fracking all over the country, but the laws that are supposed to protect us have been bypassed by Halliburton and other large companies.

Josh F’s courageous film digs deep into what fracking is, what it does, how it kills, and who profits from (literally) ‘making a killing’…

“Fuel” is the story of Josh Tickell, filmmaker and eco-evangelist, who spent eleven years exploring real-world energy alternatives to oil, coal, and natural gas. He put his findings into his film along with his brave spirit (as did Josh Fox).

Josh T found that there ARE real ways to create power that do not poison the Earth and all the living beings who share it.  In his film, he explores energy creation from wind, solar, tidal and biofuel power sources.  He also makes a fantastic case for biodiesel fuel created by algae from sewage and industrial waste. 

If you are coming to the event, please RSVP, John Hechtman at You don’t have to do this – as long as we have space to seat you, no one will be turned away. But Pour George is not a large place – it would be very helpful to have a rough idea of how many people are coming.  For more info call  212 586 4633.