The gut microbiome is a collection of billions of bacteria that promote good health. They work like a big chemical factory, producing a plethora of various compounds that pass past the intestinal wall, enter the bloodstream, and then have a variety of effects on the body’s cells.
A European research group made up of scientists from France, Germany, and Denmark has now demonstrated the various ways in which popular drugs appear to impact gut microorganisms. The findings have been published in the journal Nature.
“It has already been substantiated in various clinical trials that different kinds of food can both positively and negatively regulate the gut’s ‘chemical factory’. We have now taken the next step and investigated the relationship of 20 different kinds of ordinary medicine with the abundance and function of intestinal bacteria and their connection to the severity of chronic diseases, such as heart disease, obesity, and type 2 diabetes,” says Professor Oluf Pedersen from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research (CBMR) at the University of Copenhagen. He is the leader of the Danish team of researchers involved in the European research project.
Several surprising findings
Evidence that a combination of two regularly used medications, diuretic pills (so-called loop diuretics) and blood pressure medication (so-called beta-blockers), is linked to elevated levels of health-promoting bacteria belonging to the bacterium genus Roseburia, was one of the most surprising findings.
This type of bacteria may break down dietary fiber in plant foods and convert it to butyric acid, which has health benefits such as inflammation reduction and epigenome modulation. That is the component of our DNA that is always changing.
If statins, a common family of medications that lowers the level of bad LDL cholesterol in the blood, were also taken, people with cardiovascular disease were more likely to have a healthy combination of different gut bacteria.
The combination of statins and cardiac magnyl was linked to lower amounts of dangerous lipids in the blood, which was a particularly fascinating conclusion.
In the colon of people who take gastric acid medication, we found relatively high levels of bacteria that are normally only present in the oral cavity. Stomach acid usually kills bacteria from the oral cavity that try to escape to the gut where they do not belong. But this is not the case when you use these gastric acid inhibitors. The observation we have made is important because the presence of oral bacteria in the colon is associated with an increased risk of developing some types of colon cancer.Oluf Pedersen
On the other hand, the researchers revealed that proton pump inhibitors, which are used to treat gastric acid, are associated to alterations in the intestinal microbiome.
“In the colon of people who take gastric acid medication, we found relatively high levels of bacteria that are normally only present in the oral cavity. Stomach acid usually kills bacteria from the oral cavity that try to escape to the gut where they do not belong. But this is not the case when you use these gastric acid inhibitors. The observation we have made is important because the presence of oral bacteria in the colon is associated with an increased risk of developing some types of colon cancer,” says Professor Oluf Pedersen.
Less diverse gut bacteria is linked to the consumption of antibiotics
The researchers discovered that frequent antibiotic treatments over the previous five to 10 years are linked to a less diverse gut microbiota, which is not surprising.
Healthy persons have a diverse gut microbiota, whereas patients with chronic conditions including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease have a microbiome that is less diverse. The gut’s ‘chemical factory’ may be less able to manufacture health-promoting chemicals as a result of this lack of diversity.
MetaCardis (Metagenomics in Cardiometabolic Diseases) was a study project that began in 2012 with a €20 million grant from the European Union and European research institutes and featured 2173 trial participants from Denmark, Germany, and France. Participants in the study were either healthy or had common chronic conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, or obesity.
The MetaCardis project’s researchers emphasize that they have only observed links between common drug use and changes in the gut microbiome.
These findings do not suggest any causal linkages, which is why more clinical trials on humans and animals are needed to investigate any potential mechanistic causal relationships between drug intake, gut microbiome, and chronic illness incidence.