March 27, 2024

How some heart medications impact gut health

UCalgary study finds certain medications decrease diversity and beneficial micro-organisms found in the gut, which may affect overall health
A woman in a white lab coat smiles at the camera
Jane Shearer led a study investigating the complex relationships between heart medications and gut health. Courtesy Jane Shearer

Our intestines house trillions of micro-organisms known as the gut microbiota. These micro-organisms are important players in both drug metabolism and certain conditions like high blood pressure, coronary artery disease and diabetes. 

But the complex interactions between medications used to treat disease and the gut microbiota aren’t well understood. 

UCalgary researchers Dr. Jane Shearer, PhD, and Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Chunlong Mu, PhD, are investigating the complex relationships between heart medications and gut health to gain a clearer understanding of this intricate interplay.

The duo explored the impact of 12 medications, including beta blockers, statins and metformin, on gut microbiota health. 

The study, published and selected as a journal cover in ACS Pharmacology & Translational Science, examined a cohort of Albertans ages 35 to 69 with conditions like high blood pressure and diabetes. It uncovered some important interactions and shed light on the impact of common medication combinations. 

“The study showed a reduction in bacterial diversity, species, and microbial functional potential with certain single and multi-medication use,” says Mu, adding there was an overall decrease in beneficial microbes and an increase in bacteria that may have a negative effect. 

According to Shearer, the number of medications taken in combination also matters when it comes to gut health. 

“Generally, the quality of the microbiota, and which are present, declines as the number of medications increases,” she says. 

Shearer says this is important information from a clinical perspective because gut microbiota plays a critical role in drug metabolism too. Not only do drugs influence the gut microbiota, but the microbiota can also influence how drugs are absorbed and act in the body. 

“We need these medications to treat complex, life-threatening disease,” says Shearer. “But we also need to understand that they impact gut health, which we now realize is involved in a lot of important things, including overall health and well-being, disease susceptibility and drug metabolism.”

As a next step, Shearer is interested in looking at whether increasing dietary fibre or taking a targeted probiotic could offset some of the harmful effects of the medications. 

Jane Shearer is a professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM) as well as the Faculty of Kinesiology. She is a member of the Alberta Children's Hospital Research Institute, the Libin Cardiovascular Institute and the Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases at the CSM.

The cohort from the study are part of the Alberta Tomorrow Project, Alberta’s largest health research study investigating what causes and what could prevent cancer and chronic diseases. This work was also supported by a grant of the ERA-HDHL Initiative: Gut metabotypes as Biomarkers for Nutrition and Health and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Mu received postdoctoral funding from the Mitacs Accelerate Postdoctoral Fellowship.

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