Medication vs. The Environment

Wolfgang - ClinicaCommonly, physicians are being asked about the possible side effects of medication. To be truthful nobody knows all the side effects; there exist hundreds for each single one of them.

Not surprisingly, it is estimated that between 5 and 10% of hospital admissions are caused by side effects. We also know that medications have side effects concerning our environment, e.g. drug resistant bacteria or rats living in sewers close to hospitals being contaminated with those multi-resistant bugs.

For some years now a new research area is looking at the question of how medications influence the environment in general, simply through persisting in soil and water.

This type of environmental contamination includes the excretion of medications and their metabolites through our urine and feces! They are called ‘Environmental Persistent Pharmaceutical Pollutants.’

Depending on the medication, we excreted 30 – 90% of our pills unchanged and they mostly don’t get broken down in the sewage plants either.

Studies have detected a wide range of medications across an equally wide range of soils, surface and groundwater. In total 613 different pharmaceuticals have been found.

The problem is not small; the river Rhine alone deposits between 50 to 100 tons of Clofibric acid, a blood fat lowering medication, in the Northern Sea each year.

Pharmaceuticals are the only chemicals designed to interact with the body’s cells or to kill infectious organisms.

Many basic systems of lower animals are similar to humans because we share the same blueprint only elaborating it during the course of evolution.

Acute toxicity is not the problem for those animals, constant exposure, particularly in aqueous environments is. The result is the so-called ‘Genotoxic Disease Syndrome,’ which has been defined as the accumulation of toxic action leading to diffuse alterations in enzyme systems, protein
turnover, cell repair mechanisms and/or metabolism which leads to gradual deterioration of tissues, reduced fitness, accelerated aging, impaired immunity and reproduction, higher incidence of diseases, impaired adaption capabilities.

Nobody knows how pharmaceuticals are impacting on the long-term health of our environment, particularly about subtle changes like growth, behavior and fertility, but some definite changes through existing low levels of medications have already been proven:

Increased spawning in mussels, immobilization of water fleas, impaired fertility in snails, feminization of male fish, frogs, reptiles and alligators, palpitations, altered feeding and mobility of molluscs, changed decomposition of dung (an extremely important ecosystem!), changed water metabolism in insects, increased activity and aggression in crabs, inhibition of growth in aquatic plants, deformities in frogs, disappearance of earth worms, stimulation of the growth of aquatic mites, reduced break down of pesticides by soil bacteria.

In short; changes impacting on entire ecosystems which are at the bottom of our food chain.

It is recommended, that around 40 human pharmaceuticals should be investigated urgently, particularly stimulants, hormones, painkillers, antidepressants and antibiotics. The latter doesn’t only debilitate organisms, they also select resistant ones they influence the composition of ecosystems and possibly contribute to multi-resistance. Bacteria from wild geese have been isolated showing resistance to multiple antibiotics.

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