In a study published in the journal Circulation, researchers found that a common type of blood pressure drug, called a calcium-channel blocker, may be harmful to your gut health. The medication has been linked with an increased risk of developing diverticulosis. This bowel condition causes small bulges or pouches to appear in the lining of the intestine.
This gut problem particularly affects the elderly (as many as 65 percent over the age of 85 may be affected). Diverticulosis can in some cases lead to a medical emergency if the pouches become infected or burst.
In the study, scientists led by Imperial College London, examined the effectiveness and side effects of three common blood pressure medications: ACE-inhibitors, beta-blockers, and calcium channel blockers.
High blood pressure affects one in ten adults across the globe, and increases the risk of heart attack and stroke. The most common treatments for high blood pressure are lifestyle changes and medications.
However, despite the three main medications being taken by millions, investigating their potential side effects (as well as studying their effectiveness for treating other diseases), can be difficult and often involves lengthy and expensive clinical trials.
To overcome this problem, the research team used genetic analyses to study the effects of the drugs.
By checking versions of genes that mimic the effects of these drugs, the team were able to study the drugs’ effectiveness – and their potential side effects.
First, the researchers identified the proteins targeted by the drugs, and which ones helped lower blood pressure. Next, they analyzed genetic data from around 750,000 people and identified the so-called genetic variants that code for these proteins.
The team, then studied whether these gene variants – which cause increased production of these proteins – were linked to an increased or decreased risk of other diseases.
The good news was that, as expected, these so-called genetic variants (which coded for proteins involved in lowering blood pressure) were linked to lower heart disease and stroke risk.
However, after assessing the risk of around 900 different diseases, the team found that the versions of genes related to the effects of a particular type of calcium channel blocker – the non-dihydropyridine class, were linked to an increased the risk of a bowel condition called diverticulosis.
The team compared their findings with further genetic data, and supported the potential link with an increased risk of the bowel condition.
The link now needs further investigation with larger trials. “This is the first time that this class of blood pressure drug has been associated with diverticulosis. We’re not sure of the underlying mechanism – although it may relate to effects on the function of intestine muscles, which perform contractions to transport food through the gut,” explains Dr Dipender Gill, co-lead author of the study.