Every time we go to the doctor to receive treatment for an ailment, medication is dispensed for us. Our body consumes it, recuperates and off we go back to our daily routine. Some of the basic principles of drug absorption in the body is that not the entire pill gets consumed in your body. Some of it gets filtered out in the kidneys and some gets released through your intestines. Once we flush it down our toilets, treatment plants process our waste and clean the waste water to return to the oceans. The only issue is that treatment facilities are not able to filter for active drug ingredients and are released into lakes and oceans.
Let us evaluate metformin or metformin hcl which has grown in consumption over the past few years. What is metformin? It is a drug used for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Since our society has a large population of obese or overweight people, type 2 diabetes has become an epidemic.We all know some of the side effects which include metformin and weight loss, diarrhea and flatulence.
There are two ways to determine how many metformin pills are consumed by the general population. The first way is to count all the prescriptions written by doctors which gives you a general count. The second way which can also determine damage to the environment is to measure the concentration of active drug ingredient used in the rivers.
One such study was performed on Lake Michigan. We all know there are metformin side effects for humans but did you know that there are side effects of metformin in fish? It turns out that as metformin is consumed in mass quantities, it is being released in a larger concentration into lake Michigan. For years, the assumption was that the volume of water in the Great Lakes was so enormous that any drugs that got through treatment facilities would be diluted to the point that they would not pose a problem. Well, that theory is no longer the case.
One study was performed on fathead minnows in the lab that were exposed to metformin at levels found in the lake for 4 weeks. The study was not performed on metformin for weight loss on fish but rather on the disruption of the endocrine system of male fish. It turns out, the males were producing biochemicals that are associated with female minnows. The biochemicals are precursors to the production of eggs. So a fish sex change. More studies are being done to see if the changes also could be affecting other species such as perch, walleye, and northern pike.
To be fair, these were not the only chemicals to be found in high concentration. Other commonly found substances include caffeine, sulfamethoxazole, an antibiotic, and triclosan, an antibacterial and anti-fungal found in soap and other consumer products. Together these made up the largest concentrations of drugs being released into lake Michigan.
Are you concerned about prescription drug use on the environment?