by Pamela Levin, R.N.
Hormone replacement therapy always requires a prescription, right? You go to the doctor, list your complaints, get an exam and come out with a piece of paper you deliver to the pharmacist in return for a chunk of change and some pills or cream, right? Surely you would KNOW if you’ve engaged in that process.
How could it be, then that you could be on hormone replacement and not know it? Here’s how:
Everybody on the planet that’s on hormone replacement therapy passes their urine into one of two places where it collects. For most people, that means the local sewage system, and for others, it means an individual septic tank, the leach field of which drains into the water table and then into rivers and streams.
Then, if someone wants to get rid of an old prescription hormone, the easiest and most common way has been to simply flush it down the toilet. But flushing them, whether directly, or with a pass through the human body first, still leaves them biologically active. How active? Enough to feminize fish.
What this means is that any hormones that individual person is taking end up in the water table or sewage treatment plant. Whether that water is then directly reclaimed and turned into drinking water, or goes into rivers and streams and then pumped out to turn into drinking water, the result is the same – hormones in drinking water. If you live in a major metropolitan area, your risk is much greater than that in small outlying areas, but even outlying areas have been demonstrated to be contaminated.
Doesn’t the sewage treatment plant clean the water and remove the hormones?
In a word, no. In fact, as of this writing, most municipal water districts don’t even to test for these hormones. A recent study of California drinking water showed that even when additional techniques – even ones that included reverse osmosis were employed, the results showed more but not all of these substances were removed.
What about bottled water?
A great deal of bottled water is sourced from ordinary tap water before it is bottled. Some is taken from aquifers. Regardless, the quality of the water totally depends on its source and treatment, so for now it is unlikely that the bottled water is any more pure than from that from the tap. Additionally, if the bottle is plastic and has been exposed to heat during its storage and transport, it likely contains substances that are estrogen mimics.
What are the hormones in question?
Here are the most common ones:
Estrogen. This is the big kahuna – the hormone currently of greatest concern and impact. Why? Because estrogen tells cells to ‘grow’, and those orders reach not only your body cells, but any viruses, bacteria, yeast, fungi, parasites and, yes, cancer cells, and tell them to grow too!
Progesterone, synthetic progestins, and other progestagens (progesterone-like compounds). These are currently included on Calfornia’s Prop 65 list, a ballot initiative passed with the intent to protect citizens and the state’s drinking water sources from chemicals known to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (“OEHHA”) includes all these substances on that list. Although progesterone is non-water soluble in its natural form, and therefore unlikely to turn up in drinking water, its chemical forms can show up. Increasing levels of progesterone in fat cells can feel like being pregnant.
Testosterone. This is a male hormone favored by body builders and athletes because it helps build muscle, but now being prescribed for women to ‘improve libido.’ Emerging research estimates that an estimated 65% of men over 40 have low testosterone levels in relation to estrogen – in other words, they are estrogen dominant secondary to exposure to estrogen and toxic endocrine disruptors. This results in sexual performance problems and a variety of health threats, including loss of muscle tone and increased body fat. Unfortunately it is often addressed with a testosterone prescription rather than by lowering the excess estrogen.
Birth control hormones. These include both synthetic and bioidentical estrogens and progesterones/ progestins. Again, the hormones of greatest concern are those containing estrogen; consuming them via your drinking water throws off the hormone balance of anyone consuming them, man, woman, child, pet or farm animal.
Human growth hormone.Often referred to as “HGH” for short, recently has become very popular, touted as the new fountain of youth. Also used by body builders and people who want to lose fat.
Thyroid hormone. This hormone is routinely prescribed to a large number of people because thyroid problems are increasing.
Androgen blockers, such as Tricolsan (which is reported to also block thyroid hormones)
What are the long term effects of this exposure?
At this point the answer to that question is a big ‘unknown’ in terms of actual research results. However, common sense tells you that that since these substances build up in the body, and since they are designed to be effective in small doses, and since they are retained in fatty tissue, over time the effects are cumulative.
What can we do?
First of all, we need to accept that it’s not a perfect world, and we need to do the best we possibly can. We can be informed and pro-active without developing a neurosis about drinking water! That said, here are some practical tips:
Water filtration: You can use filtration- that will remove some, but not all the impurities in water. How much depends on the system and how often you clean the filter. Distilled water is the most pure, but many people object to how it tastes, plus it is devoid of naturally occurring healthy minerals.Second best is a reverse osmosis filter. Third best is an activated carbon filter that you change regularly. (As of this writing, activated carbon filters have not been demonstrated to remove pharmaceuticals by any researchers independent of the manufacturers.) Perhaps a combination of these methods would be even better; however this has not yet been demonstrated. Boiling the water does not remove medications.
Safe disposal of your prescriptions: Do not use the toilet or sink to flush down any unused medications. Instead take them to the local toxic landfill site where they can be disposed of properly.
Political action: Lobby your water district to use reverse osmosis as this cleans up more (but not all) the medications. Don’t accept the argument that drug residue concentrations are extremely diluted. Since these ‘extremely diluted concentrations’ have been demonstrated in trace amounts to harm fish, frogs and other aquatic species, and since in the laboratory they have been shown to impair human cell function, they are too much. And these laboratory studies don’t even take into account the effects of combinations of these substances. Write letters to the editor of your local newspaper. Include the subject in your online communications. Participate in educating others.
To become better informed and to keep abreast of new developments on this subject, here are some contacts recommended by Scientific American: USGS Water Resources, water.usgs.gov; Sierra Club, www.sierraclub.org/watersentinels; NSF International, www.nsf.org; Natural News, www.naturalnews.com.
Pamela Levin is an R.N., an award-winning nutritional journalist and author with 500+ post-graduate hours in clinical nutrition, herbology and applied kinesiology. In private practice 42 years, she has worked extensively and effectively with female hormone issues and has shared her expertise with colleagues and lay audiences in 10 countries and four continents.
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