The fact that waterways in the United States contain residues of a multitude of drugs —including diabetes drugs, birth control pills, antidepressants, painkillers, and many other chemical compounds has been known for years.
Unfortunately, little has been done to remedy the situation. As a result, we’re now faced not only with continued overtreatment of humans, but we’re also facing environmental destruction courtesy of what could be referred to as “drug pollution.”
Our agricultural system is also contributing to water pollution that, in some areas, has led to an increase in diabetes and other health problems, which are then treated with—you guessed it—drugs. Those drugs end up in water treatment plants, rivers, and lakes, and the vicious cycle just continues ad nauseum…
Metformin Threatens Aquatic Life
According to recent research,1 the type 2 diabetes drug metformin is the most prevalent drug in Lake Michigan, and it may be altering the hormonal systems of fish in the lake. As reported by the Detroit Free Press:2
“[F]athead minnows were exposed to metformin at the levels found in Lake Michigan for four weeks. Male minnows showed disruption of their endocrine systems, producing a chemical messenger usually associated with females' egg production…”
Basically, the drug has a feminizing effect on male fish. Other “gender-bending” chemicals released into the environment, such as BPA and phthalates, have similar effects, causing male animals and humans to take on feminine characteristics.
One of the ironies in this situation is that type 2 diabetes can easily be treated and reversed without drugs. In fact, drug treatment can do far more harm than good. And now we’re seeing that overtreatment of diabetes with drugs is also causing environmental harm…
The study in question was led by Rebecca Klaper,3 a professor and research scientist at the University of Wisconsin's School of Freshwater Sciences. In 2013, she participated in a study4 in which they discovered that a number of drugs and chemical compounds persist in the water of Lake Michigan.
Besides metformin, progesterone (birth control pills), androstenedione (hormone treatment to increase testosterone), triclosan, and antibiotics were also found in the lake. According to the featured article:
“The drugs are not completely broken down by people's bodies after ingestion, are excreted and then are not fully removed by wastewater treatment processes. The flushing of old pharmaceuticals down the toilet contributes to the problem.
‘It's enough to raise an alarm bell that this might be something that causes changes in reproduction of fish,’ [Klaper] said. It's something that definitely warrants further study.
…Of all the drugs researchers tested for in Lake Michigan, metformin is found at the highest concentrations, at up to 40 parts per billion. More than 60 million metformin prescriptions were dispensed in the U.S. in 2013, according to drug market research firm IMS Health…”