Friday, August 4, 2017

The Latest in Doping - P. EWW

The latest thing in doping for racing cyclists is not a drug that boosts red blood cells, or increases oxygen levels. It's not a drug that builds muscle mass or speeds up muscle recovery. It's not even a tiny motor hidden somewhere in the bike. Nope - it is not any of those things. In fact, when I first heard about it, I was certain it was a joke. But it's real. The latest thing in doping for athletes may be something called a "fecal transplant" which is exactly what you think it is, but in case it isn't clear, I'll break it down more simply. Basically it's a "poop transplant," but it will absolutely come to be known as "poop doping."

What is driving people to borrow someone else's feces (hmmm. . . "borrow" probably isn't the right word, since they aren't likely to give it back when they're done) and place it inside their own colon? According to a recent article in Bicycling magazine, elite athletes - for reasons that aren't exactly made clear - are more likely than non-athletes to have a microorganism called Prevotella in their intestines, along with another microorganism called Methanobrevibacter Smithii, or M. Smithii. Lauren Petersen, a scientist at The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, Connecticut, has been studying the effects of these gut bacteria and believes that they are connected to better/faster recovery after exertion, and better use of calories from the digestion of foods. Both are good benefits for competitive athletes.
You know, as I understand it, this is actually supposed to
represent soft-serve chocolate ice cream, but . . .

How did Petersen get involved in this study? As she says in the article, she apparently battled for years with the effects of Lyme disease which she had contracted as a child. Fecal transplanting, which is a fairly rare treatment for extreme cases of an uncommon disease (Clostridium Difficile -- I had to look it up. It causes chronic diarrhea) seemed like it might be worth a try, but no doctor would perform one for her. So . . . she decided to do it herself. Apparently she found a person who was a competitive cyclist who was willing to donate his own feces. Bing, bang, boom (boom boom) and she's put his feces into her own colon (With what, I wonder. An enema? A turkey baster?). Now, did she seek him out because he was a competitive cyclist, or was he simply a willing donor who happened to be a cyclist, I don't really know.

Forgive me, but I do have to digress for a moment. How exactly does one even broach this subject with someone? Does someone place an ad somewhere? (Casual encounters. Must be disease-free. Athletic. Willing to donate poop.) How well do you have to know somebody before you feel comfortable enough to ask if you can borrow their scat? I've been married 25 years and I don't think I could ask my wife such a question.

Anyhow - so she gets this guy's poop into her colon and Guess What? Miracle cure. Suddenly she's got energy she didn't know she had, she's riding more, training more. Entering races and winning them. So of course she starts wondering what it is about this guy's caca that has boosted her endurance so much? Through her research, she finds out about those microorganisms mentioned above, and how ordinary schlubs generally don't have them, but high-level athletes do. So today, researchers like Petersen are studying the effects and benefits of gut bacteria. They expect that at some point they will find a way to make these microbes ingestible so that all one needs to do to get the benefits of an elite racer's gut is take a pill. But in the meantime, rectal doodie transplants are the reliable/preferred method.

Okay - nowhere in the Bicycling article does it say that there are known instances of athletes swapping poo. They aren't passing brown bags to each other under the stall dividers -- yet. But given what we've seen over the past decades, and what we know racers are willing to do, and the depths to which they're willing to stoop (squat?) to get any kind of advantage, it's really only a matter of time before poop doping takes off. As if the sport isn't smelly enough already.


  1. Bicycling site is a joke, pardon my French. But so is modern professional cycling, so it's all relative, lol.

  2. Hm... when I hover my mouse over that icon on my MacBook, it says "a pile of poop". What made you think it was "self serve chocolate ice cream"?

    1. I really don't care about emojis and rarely use them. But I recall reading somewhere that it was supposed to be ice cream - but it was almost universally interpreted by users as poo. So much so that that is what it became for all intents and purposes. Apparently there have been numerous debates about it on the web. However if you look closely at it, and compare it to the ice cream cone emoji, you'll see that they are perfectly identical - the only difference being the cone.
      Your Mac is telling you what most if not all emoji users would tell you. Wherever I snipped the photo from called it a pile of poo. My caption was simply mentioning some little-known info. Now if you'll excuse me, I've written more about poo than I ever want to again.

  3. French cycling fans often nickname their heroes by repeating the first syllable of their last names.

    So one of the most beloved cyclists of all, Raymond Poulidor--who had the misfortune of coming along when Jacques Anquetil was in his prime and leaving when Eddy Mercx was in his--was greeted with chants of "Pou-Pou."

    Hmm...What would other riders in the peloton give for his merde?

  4. As an infectious disease specialist, I have been involved in quite a few fecal transplants. It is a proven therapy for C. difficile disease that has not responded to less drastic approaches. However, there are no other proven indications. There are certainly people out there who are willing to provide unproven treatments as long as there’s payment for them, and in this case it’s probably not a great idea. We have not yet established the health implications of different intestinal flora, so there is the potential for unanticipated harm in manipulating the flora. In addition, stool can certainly transmit diseases, and donors must undergo costly and time-consuming testing to minimize this risk.

    That said, there is a great deal of interest in the health impact of the human microbiome. Animal models and observational studies suggest that it is important. But we don’t even know what’s “normal” yet. Even if a correlation is established between a health state (e.g., elite athlete) and a particular characteristic of a microbiome, we won’t know if the microbiome contributed to the health state, or if the microbiome is a result of that state (e.g., vigorous exercise changing the flora). If the latter is the case, a transplant will not benefit the recipient.

    Finally, regarding that emoji, you may be amused to know that we use common foods to teach nurses how to evaluate and describe stool. Tootsie rolls, milk shakes – you get the idea. Gross but effective.

    1. That's good info to add. Thanks. Not that any Retrogrouch readers would be inclined to try this for any reason at all (though more "racer mindset" Bicycling readers might) it sounds like a "do it yourself" fecal transplant would be a really bad idea.

  5. Ha! I know several med/surge floor nurses, and fecal transfer for C diff is well known as a real option...

    Seems once you're around nurses, the barriers of common decency cross with the desire to educate about our bodies, a generalized lack of giving a shit (hah) about body parts and functions any longer (I mean, how many penises do you have to grab before it's no longer weird?) and a definite desire to occasionally try and gross out their friends and families? =:P

  6. One of your best, Kyle. I just wish that I hadn't read it just before supper.