Monday, February 2, 2009

Can we eat shit and get away with it? Coprophagy is normal.

Talking about gut fermentation and ruminants got me thinking the physiology of eating faeces. Animals like rabbits have to do it because their fermentation chamber is sited quite far down their alimentary tract. If they don't eat their own faeces, the fermentation products and nutrients have little chance of being absorbed. And rabbits don't die from eating their own shit.

We are actually more like rabbits than cows where our gut is concerned. While we do not have a large caecal fermentation chamber, scientists have documented considerable digestion occuring in the colon and have suggested that as much as 10% of our nutritional needs may be contributed by what happens in our colons. So why don't we eat our own shit... can we do it and get away with it?

Many animal species in fact do engage in coprophagy. Our closest primate relatives do it regularly. But we don't ... and in fact regard it as an abnormal activity reserved for mad people.

Actually from a biological perspective, there is really no problem in eating our own shit. Mad people do it and they do not fall sick, or die. Our gut is full of bacteria, and our shit is teeming with bugs. But in reality, most of them are friendly creatures. Reswallowing them should really not cause any problems.

The problems with coprophagy is when we are sick and carry some abnormal, pathogenic bacteria in our gut, as when we have salmonellosis, or a pathogenic coliform bacteria, or the dreaded norovirus... then eating shit becomes a problem...not so much for ourselves because if we are already infected, eating more of it is not really going to make much of a difference. The problem is when other people eat our infected shit. Then the infection spreads across the community.

For this reason the practice of eating shit or shit contaminated materials is not recommended. Public health people look for evidences of such contamination by counting the number of Escherichia coli present in food. These otherwise friendly bugs who live happily in our colon, generally do not cause problems unless they have a chance to attack other organs They generally do not live long outside our bodies so their presence in food generally indicates fresh faecal contamination.

So the long and short of it is that eating shit is fine. I wouldn't recommend it though, because I don't think it will be a pleasant experience. But whatever you do, try not to eat other people's shit...

Bon app├ętit


christyzee said...

LOL!! This takes me back--You eat shit, you eat shit and die! huh, guess not! Very insightful! thanks for sharing!

gigamole said...

Just remember not to take any s*** from your boss! Cheers!