Another Batch of Poop-Loving Doctors

Photo: rosmary

In this week’s Freakonomics Radio podcast, “The Power of Poop” (subscribe to iTunes here), we meet Alex Khoruts, an immunologist and gastroenterologist at the University of Minnesota whose research concerns the human gut. It turns out that human waste, which for centuries has been regarded with fear and wariness, is now being redefined as the largest organ in your body — and, more important, as a potential source for new ways to treat ailments ranging from constipation to obesity to Parkinson’s disease.? Khoruts has an unbounded enthusiasm for his field:

KHORUTS: I was aware that an entire new science was being born.? And actually I was almost salivating with envy — Boy, I wish I was in that field!? And it just so happened that as a gastroenterologist, I’m in the middle of that field. So I couldn’t resist entering it. We’re at the beginning of this new science. This is a wide-open new frontier.

For Ben Gepfrey, one listener of our podcast, this brought to mind some other medical poop enthusiasts: namely, the cast of Scrubs.? During a 2007 musical episode, they broke into song about the stuff:

It may sound gross, you may say “shush!”

But we need to see what comes out of your tush! Because!

Everything comes down to poo! Whether it’s a tumor or a touch of the flu!



physicists: everything reduces to physics
economists: everything reduces to economics
psychologists: everything reduces to psychology
gastroenterologists: well, their claim is significantly more silly than the others...


hey i was wondering what was the song you guys used in the intro. with the trumpets and the woah oh oh's.


First of all, how can human waste be considered an "organ?" That is ridiculous. Secondly, this does seem like we are moving forward in the medical industry. I am glad to hear that our natural productivity can lead to cures and whatnot. Although we are dealing with poop, it still serves as a solution and we should use it if possible and necessary.


This is ridiculous, how and what allows human excrement to be considered a human organ?


While I really enjoyed the books and the podcasts about trash and food, I found this one to be lacking. It was just an interview with one person, who is doing interesting, albeit gross stuff. In journalism they call this a "one-source-story" when only one person's perspective is considered. Even a lazy journalist can interview two people! I guess I just don't see what the "hidden side" or even the alternative view is for this issue. Try harder guys!


I loved this episode ... up to a point (several actually).
It's another situation where we focus on the end result rather than discussing the tricky mix of choices and genetics that led us to poofusion.

Let me explain: consider that the bacteria in our poo develop organically, based on a complicated combination of genetics, environment, nourishment and our outlook (environment/nourishment/outlook are themselves a complicated combination and in some ways may seem to be the same thing). An imbalance occurs in the flora of the gut due to the influence of one or more of these factors. These imbalances happen all the time and are corrected due to the body's ability to react and again, the flux in the factors mentioned earlier ... usually without any or very little awareness by the person.

Occasionally, the imbalance becomes chronic and is expressed through discomfort (flatulence, constipation to name a few to do with the digestive tract but the skin and other organs will show signs of distress) or disease. At this point, we become aware of the imbalance and begin to treat it. As this segment shows, one protocol of treating the imbalance is the poofusion (clever that).

But we've also seen people maintain a more consistently balanced and healthy gut flora with diet and lifestyle changes such as consumption of probiotics, contemplative practices (types of yoga, meditation), juicefeasting, more alkaline foods, eating raw/fresh foods and mitigating stress. The goal being to put these successful methods to work in life before the disease.

So, while we should definitely celebrate finding this cure, I want you to have made this discussion more multi-dimensional: what influences the health of the gut? Are there ways to keep your gut flora healthy? Who is pioneering tools for healthy gut flora?


Dave Auerbach

This brings to mind a quote made to every medical student during microbiology: 60% of feces is e coli and 50% of basic medical research is based on e coli.

Well not any more, but lots of basic science research years ago was based on e coli, and it is too good of a quote to give up.

Also, the GI tract is considered an organ, not its result.

charles danielson

Do we recover our bacterial fauna after a colonoscopy?