How some heart medications impact gut health

Jane Shearer led a study investigating the complex relationships between heart m
Jane Shearer led a study investigating the complex relationships between heart medications and gut health. Courtesy Jane Shearer
UCalgary study finds certain medications decrease diversity and beneficial microorganisms found in the gut, which may affect overall health

Our intestines house trillions of microorganisms known as the gut microbiota. These microorganisms 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. 

Sign up for UToday

Delivered to your inbox -- a daily roundup of news and events from across the University of Calgary’s 14 faculties and dozens of units

Thank you for your submission.

Collection of personal information Your personal information is collected under the authority of section 33(c) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, and is required for updating your email subscription preferences. If you have any questions about the collection or use of this information, please visit our Access to Information page.