How Common Medication Accumulation Influences Gut Microbiome

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The human gut naturally contains hundreds of species of bacteria. These communities of bacteria which hold importance when considering overall health and disease, are called the gut microbiome. Every human has a unique composition of bacterial species which have shown to be associated with a wide array of conditions including but not limited to, obesity, immune responses, and mental health.

New Study Highlights:

  • Commonly used medications can accumulate in your gut bacteria and microbiome
  • This accumulation can alter bacterial function and reduce the effectiveness of the medication
  • Commonly used medications include drugs for depression, diabetes, and asthma
  • The new study helps doctors and researchers better understand the individual differences in drug effectiveness and side-effects


The new study was recently published in the the journal Nature. It’s known the gut bacteria can chemically alter some drugs. The new study, led by doctors and research from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Toxicology Unit at the University of Cambridge and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Germany, is the first to show that some species of gut bacteria accumulate in the presence of human drugs, ultimately altering bacteria, the drug, and their activity and functions.

These changes can lead to issues in drug effectiveness both in the availability of the drug to the human body, as well as the side affects of the drugs due to accumulation.

Study Highlights:

  • Researchers grew 25 common gut bacteria and studied how they interacted with 15 common drugs
  • The chosen drugs represented various and common types, such as antidepressants which are known to affect individuals with sides affects
  • A total of 375 bacteria-drug interaction tests were studied


Study Results:

  • Researchers found 70 interactions between bacteria and drugs, of which 29 had not previously been reported
  • Of the 29, 17 interactions found the drug accumulated within the bacteria without being modified
  • Researchers also found that accumulation of drugs the metabolism of the accumulating bacteria


Dr. Kiran Patil, from the MRC Toxicology Unit at the University of Cambridge, who co-led the study, said: “It was surprising that the majority of the new interactions we saw between bacteria and drugs were the drugs accumulating in the bacteria, because up until now biotransformation was thought to be the main way that bacteria affect the availability of drugs.”

“These will likely be very personal differences between individuals, depending on the composition of their gut microbiota. We saw differences even between different strains of the same species of bacteria.”

Dr. Athanasios Typas, from EMBL, who co-led the study, said: “Only now people are recognizing that drugs and our microbiome impact each other with a critical consequence to our health.”

Dr. Peer Bork, from EMBL and a co-lead of the study, said: “This calls for us to start treating the microbiome as one of our organs.”

Finally, the researchers urged caution in the study findings, noting that the results are only on bacteria grown in the lab and more research is needed to further understand how bioaccumulation of medication manifests within the human body.

Dr. Megan Dowie, Head of Molecular and Cellular Medicine at the MRC, said: “This study highlights the importance of the microbiome in drug delivery, effectiveness and safety. There’s still a great deal that is not well understood about the microbiome and it’s clear that further work needs to be done to understand the important molecular aspects involved here, which could lead to a positive impact on an individual’s response to a range of commonly used drugs.”

What does this mean for you and your family? 

Vita Medical Solutions offers a variety of genetic tests including a PGx Test and Gut Microbiome test. The PGx Tests analyzes how you metabolize certain medications based on your genetic profile. The Gut Microbiome Test determines if your gut as healthy as you may think. Our at-home microbiome test can help you improve your gut health by providing you with detailed information about the abundances of your gut bacteria and instructions on how to achieve or maintain a balanced microbial community.

Patients have different reasons for being tested or declining testing. For many, it is important to know whether a disease can be prevented or treated if a test is positive. Genetic test results might help a person make life decisions, such as family planning or insurance coverage. Your doctor and genetic counselor can provide information about the pros and cons of testing.

Are you a Candidate for Genetic Testing: 

To help assess whether you may benefit and from genetic testing, take our 1-minute assessment at: 

Call us 1.800.590.9292 (toll free) or email at [email protected]

Test. Know. Educate. Advocate.


For more information and to read the full article:

More information: Bioaccumulation of therapeutic drugs by human gut bacteria, Nature (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41586-021-03891-8 ,

Journal information: Nature


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