Digestive Health

Meriter Digestive Health Center offers two new programs to dramatically improve the lives of patients living with severe gastrointestinal distress.

Fecal Bacteriotherapy Program

Maybe you saw it splashed across the pages of major newspapers last spring, or heard about it on CNN. Either way, it wasn’t good news. Rates of incidence for the “super bug” Clostridium difficile—“C. diff” for short—are at an all-time high and linked to more than 14,000 deaths in the United States each year.

C. diff is a nasty infection. Its symptoms range from mild diarrhea to bleeding, fever and toxicity, and it can result in death. Experts say it’s especially prevalent in hospitals, nursing homes and other extended-care health institutions. They also say that overuse of antibiotics is the primary cause of its resurgence.

Now Meriter Digestive Health Center has implemented the groundbreaking Fecal Bacteriotherapy Program, with extraordinarily successful results.

“We started implementing the program last March,” says Dr. Gary Griglione, gastroenterologist at Meriter Digestive Health Center. “We’ve seen thirty-three cases and so far every single one has been cleared of their C. diff.”

The program works like this: Antibiotics interrupt the delicate balance of “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria (including C. diff) in the gut. Then C. diff, which is normally kept in check by the good bacteria, begins to overgrow and causes colitis. Treatment with probiotics does not help. 

Ironically, the conventional treatment has been to treat the problem with even more antibiotics, targeted to kill specifically C. diff bacteria, but this fails about twenty-five percent of the time.

“Those people, their lives oftentimes are overtaken by this,” says Griglione. “They lose jobs, can’t go to school, can’t leave the house. Some of them, usually the young, the elderly, the debilitated, the immunosuppressed, even die from it. It’s very serious.”

Enter Fecal Bacteriotherapy. Doctors transplant a stool sample from a donor into the C. diff-infected patient via a fecal enema. Good bacteria is literally transplanted into the gut, restoring balance nearly immediately.

“The vast majority of people feel better within a day,” says Griglione. “It’s very rapidly acting.”

Fecal Bacteriotherapy was discovered more than fifty years ago but only recently taken seriously enough to put into practice. Dramatic results such as those at Meriter immediately instigated a flurry of research and implementation.

According to Griglione, at this point Meriter is the only provider in the state using Fecal Bacteriotherapy, and one of a few in the Midwest. Future plans include developing a fecal bank (similar to a blood or breast milk bank), as finding donors can be an expensive hassle.

In January, the first Fecal Bacteriotherapy study was released from Europe using fecal enemas and placebo water enemas (a similar study is currently underway in here in the U.S.). 

“They’d planned on testing a couple hundred patients,” says Griglione. “They got through fifteen patients and it was so obvious that the fecal bacteriotherapy was so effective that it was ethically immoral to continue the study giving placebos to some. They stopped it, and published it.”

Griglione advises against the use of antibiotics unless it’s absolutely necessary. When taking antibiotics, supplement with a probiotic during the course and for an additional week after. Take side effects seriously and see a doctor should diarrhea persist. Should you contract C. diff, consider the fecal transplant.

“The other beautiful thing is that so far there are no reports of untoward or toxic events occurring with fecal enema,” says Griglione. “Show me any drug that has a zero percent side effect profile. There isn’t one.”

Irritable Bowl Syndrome Program

Known throughout the years as colitis, spastic bowel and nervous bowel, at least half of patients presenting with gastric maladies today are diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), according to Griglione. IBS typically presents as abdominal pain combined with a roller coaster of constipation and diarrhea, a chronic condition lasting at least several months. Those living with IBS can easily fall down a rabbit hole of diet restriction and prescriptions, often with little to no relief.

“Modern medicine and old medicine alike have done a horrific job of managing this condition,” says Griglione. “These people are miserable. Their lives can be a nightmare.”

In January, after eight months of development, Meriter Digestive Health Center launched the IBS Program. It’s a four-pronged treatment plan, using a team approach, intended to address not only the medical, but the social and psychological aspects of IBS. Through the program, each patient is assigned a team of four experts—a GI doctor, a medical psychologist, a dietician and an integrative medicine physician. Meriter is submitting data results to Northwestern University, where a similar program is in place. 

“We’re trying to help people learn to cope with and manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life without a bunch of pills and willy-nilly diet trials,” says Griglione.

The GI doctor oversees the specialized treatment required for managing IBS symptoms. The dietician helps the patient navigate science-based diet choices specific to his or her symptoms. This is a huge help for people who have become overwhelmed and confused by dealing with IBS. The integrative medicine doctor sorts through prescriptions, supplements, and any naturopathic or alternative therapies patients are taking to determine what might be an adverse combination or contributing to worsening symptoms, or what might be added in to help. The medical psychologist will schedule six to eight visits and implement Cognitive Behavior Therapy techniques, talk therapy and hypnosis to assist patients with the daunting psychological impact of IBS. 

“So many people, by the time they come in to see me, they’re basically on water. They’ve restricted gluten, lactose, you name it. Or, at the other end of the spectrum, they’re poring all kinds of alternative therapies into their bodies with absolutely no idea what they’re doing,” says Griglione. “So let’s take a new approach. Detoxify the diet, detoxify the medical regimen. It’s a holistic, multi-dimensional approach to IBS.”

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