Saffron Cassaday, a 36-year-old woman diagnosed with ulcerative colitis 15 years ago, found relief from her debilitating condition through an unconventional method: fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT). Ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease causing painful inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract, severely impacted Cassaday’s daily life, prompting her to seek alternative treatments.
After reading about a Crohn’s disease patient’s DIY fecal transplant, Cassaday embarked on her own journey, conducting over 100 fecal transfers over two years using her healthy partner, Al Mukadam, as a donor. This process involved collecting, blending, and administering the stool via an enema, driven by sheer desperation to find relief.
Cassaday’s efforts, which she documents in her new film “Designer S***,” paid off. She experienced a significant improvement in her condition, achieving complete histologic remission, as confirmed by colonoscopies. Her story highlights the potential of FMT in treating autoimmune diseases, though it remains a controversial and unapproved method for ulcerative colitis by the FDA.
Dr. Ari Grinspan, a gastroenterologist, explains that FMT involves transferring a screened donor’s healthy microbiota to a patient lacking a healthy microbiome. This treatment has proven effective against C. diff infections, with a nearly 90% cure rate, significantly higher than standard antibiotics. For ulcerative colitis, however, the success rate is around 25%, with a 10% improvement observed in placebo cases.
FMT’s potential extends beyond gastrointestinal diseases, with over 200 clinical trials exploring its use in conditions ranging from IBS and liver diseases to autism, obesity, diabetes, and even hair loss. Despite the excitement around FMT, its effectiveness in these areas remains to be fully understood, and the hype needs to be tempered with more research.
The risks associated with FMT, particularly DIY approaches like Cassaday’s, are significant. In a clinical setting, FMT is generally safe and well-tolerated, but it can lead to infections if the donor is not properly screened. To understand the long-term risks, patients are being enrolled in a national registry for a 10-year follow-up.
For those considering FMT for conditions other than C. diff, participation in clinical trials is the safest and most recommended path. As the medical community continues to explore the possibilities of FMT, Cassaday’s story serves as a testament to the treatment’s potential, albeit with caution due to the associated risks and the need for further research.