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Fecal Transplants and
Ancient Egyptian Medicine

April 22, 2017
by William P. Meyers

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Or, Eat Shit is now a health salutation

Most American's still lived on farms in 1900. In our urban/suburban society of 2017 most of us are far removed from nature. While we have vaccines and antibiotics and surgeries that cure many of the ills people suffered in 1900, we also have relatively new diseases that are not caused by germs. They are autoimmune diseases.

In the last few years medical scientists have discovered that the bacteria in our gut can play a large role in our health. Taking an antibiotic can leave these gut populations out of balance, sometimes completely missing some species important to our health. In our ultra-clean world far from farms, we can be missing crucial bacteria from our systems from an early age, even apart from antibiotic treatments.

Hence the experimenting with fecal transplants. Generally the hospital system can't charge you for eating shit, so they transplant carefully chosen shit by some more difficult method, including tubes up your butt (colonoscopy) and tubes down your throat (nasogastric introduction).

So imagine my surprise when I found this [in Life in Egypt During the Middle Kingdom by T. Eric Peet, Professor of Egyptology, published in 1939]:

[Egyptian medicine] "use was complicated by two curious considerations. The first was the superstitious belief that medicine could not be effective unless it contained some filthy ingredients such as the excreta of animals; and the second was magic."

So, perhaps this quote reflects the superstitions of the 1930s. True, certain bacteria and virus cause disease. But some kinds of bacteria apparently protect us against the bad kinds, and perhaps autoimmune diseases. They also help us digest our foods and, in some cases, emit healthy chemicals. One known bad bacteria that can inhabit your intestines has a particular fondness for beef, and emits chemicals known to cause (over time) heart attacks and strokes.

Good and evil, battling it out, human body by human body. It's complicated: you can't see the little life forms, much less know whether, if they get from the outside world into your gut, they will help you, hurt you, or establish a peaceful neutrality.

Postscript: the earliest idea I know of, that cleanliness can sometimes lead to disease, concerned polio. The disease itself is believed to be ancient, but it was rare until the 1900, and almost never struck infants less than 6 months old. Why? apparently the virus was so common that almost all mothers had been exposed to it and developed immunity that was passed to their babies, but which wore off after 6 months. Most babies were exposed to enough excretion harboring the virus that they were infected while still immune, and the exposure acted like a polio vaccine, giving them lifelong immunity. Once modern sanitation systems were introduced mothers, who were never infected, were unable to confer immunity on their children.

Note this particular case, polio, is quite different from getting autoimmune diseases because of failure to expose infants to a sufficiently wide variety of disease germs. Even failure to expose a child to foods in infancy can greatly increase the chances of developing allergies to those foods later.

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