pills The drug companies have done such an amazing job of drilling it into people’s brains that their products are “safe and effective” and often the best option for coping with whatever ails you, there’s a point that bears repeating: Drugs do not have “side effects,” per se.

They have effects.

Some of those effects are desirable. Others, not so much. They may be called “side effects,” but they’re just as direct as any other. They’re caused by the way the drug works.

And despite the testing that is done before a drug is put on or withheld from the market, no one is really sure of all the effects any given medication might have, especially over time periods longer than that of your typical clinical trial.

This brings us to some interesting research presented last month at United European Gastroenterology Week in Barcelona.

For their study, Dutch researchers looked at 41 common drug categories and analyzed 1883 fecal samples from two patient groups, one healthy and one diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease or syndrome. The researchers then compared the test results of those who took prescription drugs against those who did not, as well as the effects of single drugs versus combinations.

All told,

They found that 18 common drug categories have an important impact on the bacterial composition of the gut microbiome, which could lead to undesired consequences for health.

Four groups of drugs were found to have the greatest impact on bacterial balance: proton pump inhibitors, metaformin, antibiotics, and laxatives.

The analyses revealed that people who took PPIs had more upper gastrointestinal tract bacteria, and that their bodies produced more fatty acid. Meanwhile, those who took metformin had higher levels of Escherichia coli, a bacterium that can cause diarrhea and urinary tract infections.

Also, a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors was associated with increased levels of Eubacterium ramulus — another potentially harmful bacterium — in people with IBS.

Meanwhile, oral steroids were associated with higher levels of methane-producing bacteria, which could contribute to weight gain and obesity.

And this doesn’t even consider the impact of these drugs on the biological terrain, even as pharmaceuticals are one of the most common pollutants that get in the way of the body’s inherent ability to self-regulate. (For more on the terrain, start here.)

Simply put, drugs are intended to force particular actions in the body rather than support the body’s own natural healing abilities. Studies like the above provide a potent reminder that they trigger other actions – and reactions – as well.


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