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I remember reading a newspaper article back in the '70's about strange events in the fish population of the Great Lakes: apparently the male fish were becoming feminized and it was thought to be due to the increased amounts of Oestrogen flowing into the giant waterway from the urine of women now on the Oral Contraceptive Pill.
This fact returned to me the other day when reading an article which highlighted the possibility of a link between the increased rate of Prostate cancer with the OCP. David Margel, MD, from the Princess Margaret Hospital, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada reported a demographic study where he and his colleagues found that in areas with the highest use of the OCP, there was an increased rate of Prostate Cancer. He also stressed that this was an "observational" study and no way intended to link the Pill to Prostate cancer, or to suggest that women should come off the Pill: but it does open a window onto an area that is murky to say the least.
There have been many environmental reports over the years on how synthetic organo-chlorines, PCBs and Dioxins have had adverse effects on fish, reptiles and amphibians. Spare a thought for the poor, confused, male Cricket Frogs in Illinois, where 9% of their confreres, instead of having two testicles, have one testicle and one ovary! And 90% of male Tiger frogs had eggs in their testes!
But can synthetic hormones that are found in the OCP find their way into the waterways and cause environmental problems? The answer is yes: but 90% of those synthetic hormones do NOT come from humans, but from cattle! Also, most of the synthetic hormones from humans do get removed from the water supply through current sewage treatment management. The problem is that the largest offenders - cattle - tend not to use toilets and their urine and faeces eventually ends up in the waterways.
Finally, the link to prostate cancer is curious as we commonly use Oestrogens to help suppress the growth of Prostate cancer, so how does this theraputic medicine become a driver of malignancy? These uncertainties should remind us that this latest study is an "Observation", and not meant to point a finger. So, for me, this report is a timely reminder that as we develop these powerful medications to help us fight disease, we should constantly be thinking of what happens to medications and their metabolites, once they have gone through the body - think antibiotics, chemotherapy medications, radioactive tracer dyes used in Radiography and now the latest medical treatments using Nanoparticles - and perhaps even more importantly, that most of these medications will have been used in farm animals for many years before they are released onto humans!