Forget Red and Blue Pills, Would You Take the Brown Pill?

This medical advance could save lives but comes with a stomach-churning premise.

3 min
Engrid Barnett
Engrid Barnett
Forget Red and Blue Pills, Would You Take the Brown Pill?
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Weird, experimental treatments populate the annals of medical history. Some were painful and others downright bizarre. Once upon a time, ketchup was a medicine . And in 19th-century Louisiana, doctors prescribed cockroach tea (yes, it’s as bad as it sounds!) to cure tetanus. Step back in time a few more centuries to the Middle Ages, and Europeans drank alleged curatives made from distilled human skulls .

Over the millennia, creative physicians have clearly thought outside the box, and we’d wager even a “spoonful of sugar” wouldn’t help some of their medicinal results go down. But if you assume that unappetizing cures are a thing of the past, think again. Believe It Or Not!, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the first-ever pill made from human feces, Vowt.

The poop pill might give some patients pause, but it’s more convenient and comfortable than the alternative, an enema. Keep reading about this innovative new take on “fecal microbiota transplants” and how it could save lives.

A Nasty Cure for an Insidious Infection

Consuming another person’s poop, even in pill form, is pretty hard to stomach. But, treatment options can be few and far between for patients fighting Clostridioides difficile (or C. diff for short). And they aren’t especially pleasant. You see, C. diff is a bacteria that can wreak havoc on the digestive system.

These bacteria often proliferate out of control in the intestines of patients who’ve taken antibiotics, throwing their healthy gut microbe ratios out of whack. Too much C. diff in the intestines leads to abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, and inflammation of the colon or colitis. But the damage doesn’t always stop there.

A medical illustration of Clostridioides difficile bacteria
A medical illustration of Clostridioides difficile bacteria. Credit: Jennifer Oosthuizen Via Wikimedia Commons.

It can lead to organ failure and even death. What’s the official fatality tally on this insidious bacterium? Anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 deaths annually. Moreover, one in every six patients struggling with C. diff will see a resurgence of the nasty organism within the first two months of recovery.

The result is a vicious cycle that can destroy a patient’s health and even take their life. What makes treating it so problematic? Traditionally, doctors prescribed more antibiotics, which damaged even more of a patient’s human gut bacteria. This, in turn, made more room for C. diff to go wild.

Poop Pills for Patients Show Potential

Doctors grasped at straws for alternative means of healing their patients’ digestive systems. Some pioneering physicians soon began experimenting with “fecal microbiota transplants.” By injecting fecal matter from healthy individuals into the colons of individuals infected with C. diff , they hoped to establish a healthier gut balance.

Until recently, such treatments proved experimental and expensive because insurance didn’t cover them. Ask patients, and they might add inconvenient, uncomfortable, and invasive to the list of cons, too. That’s where Vowst comes into play. For patients who can get their heads past placing a human poop pill in their mouth and swallowing it, the results can be impressive.

As the FDA’s Dr. Peter Marks explains, “The availability of a fecal microbiota product that can be taken orally is a significant step forward in advancing patient care and accessibility for individuals who have experienced this disease that can be potentially life-threatening.” Who would’ve thought a poop pill could prove so life-changing!

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