Non-Antibiotic Drugs Found to Harm Gut Flora

By Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

September 17, 2018

Non-Antibiotic Drugs Found to Harm Gut Flora
You may already know that antibiotics disrupt gut flora balance. However, new research shows other common medications affect the trillion microbes found in our gut. This can affect immune health, mood, digestion, allergies, cardiovascular health, and more.

The Lancet June 2018 issue released the some of the latest statistics for global burden of disease on the planet. Once again, the United States ranks lower in health outcome than many countries. It showed that the US ranks #29 of 195 nations. We spend the most money on healthcare compared to other countries across the globe yet there is lower quality health, and enormous drug profits. While we are still in the upper category of good healthcare, clearly the balance of cost-benefit and positive health outcomes leaves something to be desired.

We are in the midst of an opioid and benzodiazepine crises with other individuals overmedicated or on numerous drugs often to combat the side effects of other medications. This takes a toll on the body and in this article we will see that medications other than antibiotics impact the gut. We know that antibiotic use leaves a path of destruction against beneficial flora in the gut and has led to increasing problems with “supergerms”. Added to the burden of expenses and loss of health is a lesser known war with non-antibiotic drugs and the gut microbiome.

Non-Antibiotic Drugs Harm Gut Flora

The widely recognized journal Nature published in March 2018 showed that an astonishing one in four medications harm friendly gut flora. This is beyond antibiotics. These medications have the capacity to alter and harm the gut flora. The study performed by a team of scientists at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory meticulously evaluated nearly 1200 of the most commonly prescribed medications.

Twenty-four percent or one in four of these medications altered the gut flora and are now considered an “accidental antibiotic”. Medications found to alter gut flora and be problematic included anti-viral medications, calcium channel blockers, proton-pump inhibitors/acid blockers, anti-histamines, NSAIDs, anti-diabetics, anti-psychotics, and others.

The study’s authors raised several concerns of microbes increased resistance to both antibiotics and non-antibiotic drugs due to their functional similarities and detriment to the gut flora. In fact, when nearly 40 different bacterial strains were tested, it was found that the strains resistant to the antibiotics were also more resistant to the non-antibiotic drugs.

It was also suggested that the finding of these non-antibiotic drugs affects the gut flora may lead to the drugs to be repurposed or re-categorized as antibiotic – similar to an off-label usage. But the effects don’t stop there. The study's authors write, "One could speculate that pharmaceuticals, used regularly in our times, may be contributing to a decrease in microbiome diversity in modern Western societies."

As findings have unfolded in the Human Microbiome Project, numerous diseases like heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders, mood disorders, neurodegenerative disorders, etc. have been linked to an altered gut microbiome. Decreased gut flora diversity and making unhealthy germs more resistant to germ killing is a slippery slope to certain loss of health and vitality.

Of particular concern is the link that cancer drugs impact gut flora. Considerable research has taken place on this topic with many different findings and viewpoints. In cancer, it has been found that a healthy gut flora influences the outcome of cancer therapy by modulating the inflammatory response in the patient and that “an intact microbiome is required for successful tumor control in response to genotoxic as well as immunomodulatory therapies”. Animal and human studies show that gut bacteria can influence patients’ response to chemodrugs - good and bad.

Drug Companies Amass Fortunes

Now consider recent statistics on drug revenue. The biggest revenue generators within pharmaceutical companies were anti-retroviral and cancer therapies, but there is no shortage of revenue from other drugs. Here are the 2017 revenue statistics for the world’s biggest pharmaceutical companies. Total yearly reported revenues in the pharmaceutical industry include Johnson & Johnson at the top of the list with $62.9 billion. This is followed by Pfizer $52 billion, Novartis $49 billion, Sinopharm Group $42.6 billion, Hoffman-LaRoche at $42.2 billion, Sanofi $41.99, GlaxoSmithKline $40.7 billion, Merck & Co at $40.1 billion, Bayer $29.1 billion, and Gilead Sciences $26.1 billion in 2017 revenue.

Research on the human microbiome has shown us that a trillion germs in our gut act as a moderator between our body and the food that we consume. This includes the interaction between healthy or chemically laden food and the drugs or other substances that are ingested. Over the previous few years, it has been recognized that the gut flora affects our mind and health and influences healthy aging and risk for diseases affecting the heart, bones, mood, allergies, obesity and metabolism, and cancer. This enormity of drug use and now recognition of numerous other drugs that change healthy gut flora in no doubt contributes to the total disease burden and enormous health care costs.

“First do no harm” is the Hippocratic Oath. How far has medicine fallen away from this oath when science shows that one in four drugs harms the gut microbiome? There is no doubt that there is a place for properly prescribed medications. However, we face an ever growing conundrum of concerns created by properly prescribed medications. When was the last time your physician talked to you about healthy poop and digestion? Or interested you in the care of the human body with a healthy diet, physical activitygood sleep hygiene, structural care, relaxation, and recognition of nutritional needs beyond the Food Pyramid?

The body requires proteins, fats, carbohydrates, water, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and enzymes to function. The gut flora modulates these nutrients. If the gut flora is disrupted in the first days of life with prenatal stress, C-section, vaccinations, antibiotics followed by years of antacids/proton pump inhibitors, NSAIDs, more antibiotics, calcium channel blockers, food from animals treated with antibiotics, GMOs, Roundup/glyphosate chemicals, and stress, then we will continue to face an enormous burden and loss of health in this country. It is an ongoing battle to keep our body’s healthy in today’s world. Change starts with you.

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