Gene Logsdon: Shit Makes Good Medicine


The Contrary Farmer

Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit recently announced a startling breakthrough. Transplanting feces from healthy humans into the digestive tracts of people suffering from a deadly bacteria (Clostridium difficile) cured 90% of the patients. This bacteria causes some 14,000 deaths a year. The feces were transplanted during colonoscopy or through a nasogastro tube. Apparently healthy bacteria in transplanted stools are able to fight off the harmful bacteria and reinstate a healthy environment in the gut.

This news is heavenly music to me because of the shock and disbelief that parts of my book, Holy Shit, invariably cause. In radio interviews, (where I am asked not even to mention the name of the book, horrors) I try to argue that bodily wastes from healthy people is healthy stuff and makes great fertilizer. This often causes earnest consternation in the interviewers because we have been taught that our bodily wastes are vile, nasty, disease-causing material. Even scientists and health professionals who know better, wave cautionary red flags all over the place at the idea of using human waste for fertilizer.

Because of our cultural attitudes toward bodily waste, society is spending billions of dollars trying to make the stuff disappear when in fact it is worth billions of dollars as plant food. If it were white and smelled like roses, there would not be a problem. I am hopeful that this new discovery will finally persuade people to change their minds. Culture is a funny thing. Right now, advertising is doing a good job of convincing pet owners that it is okay to let their dogs lick them on the face but the same people throw their hands up in horror at the idea of composting the dog’s manure for garden fertilizer. In case you think this is not much of a problem, there are something like 70 million pet dogs in this country and most of their manure is going into landfills or down the toilet hole. And another 70 million pet cats.

The shit problem is as immediately dangerous to our environment as the global warming problem and compared to the latter, is much easier to solve. For example, right now the phosphorus level in our oceans, lakes and rivers is reaching alarming concentrations and causing blue-green algae eruptions that result in dead zones in our waterways. That phosphorus comes from farm chemical and animal manure fertilizer and from septage water coming out of our waste treatment plants. What makes this wastefulness so pathetic is that at the same time we are throwing the stuff away, the price of phosphorus fertilizers is rising. I know from talking recently to a farmer active in official soil conservation circles (he definitely doesn’t want me to use his name because this is very controversial) that the government is readying some very strict rules about fertilizer runoff. There are also new ways to remove phosphorus from septage and use it as fertilizer. The problem is that all the ways to solve the problems seem to cost more money than society has been willing to spend. That’s because the rising value of the recovered plant food is not reckoned into the equation properly in my opinion. I get tired of repeating myself, but maybe that is the only way to get the message out. Much of the problem could be solved simply by viewing manure— human, pet and farm animal, as a resource not a burden to society. Now we have an example from Henry Ford Hospital that the old crudity, “eat shit,” might not be a bad idea in some cases.

But it does open up another interesting discussion. Why do some people have healthy feces and some people don’t?

One Comment

I wonder if/why probiotics could not achieve the same result?