Are we drinking a liquid pharmacy?

Like all animals, we have a natural instinct to drink water. It’s a basic drive to survive. For most of our history on this planet, we naturally looked at our drinking water as a source of life and had no reason to fear it.

Today we live in a different world. The Environmental Working Group reports  316 contaminants in U.S. tap water. For the first time in human history, we need to stop and think before we drink.

That’s not a natural thing for us to do but it’s a discipline we need to learn. In the modern world, our instinct to drink water might just get us into trouble.

You see, many of the chemicals in our water are over-the-counter and prescription medications. That’s right. Drink from the tap at home and you could be taking drugs without even knowing it.

A 2008 investigative study from the Associated Press found 56 different drugs in Philadelphia’s water supply. They detected antibiotics, cholesterol drugs, and blood pressure medications, as well as psychiatric drugs for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, epilepsy, and schizophrenia. They also found lots of veterinary medicines.

It’s not just Philly. The AP found over 100 different types of drugs and human hormones in the water supplies of 23 other municipalities affecting 46 million people.

How do all these drugs get into our water supply?

Every year:

  • Drug companies and healthcare facilities dump tons of drugs into the water supply, landfills and down the drain.
  • Consumers flush unused or expired prescriptions down the toilet.
  • Animals and people excrete medications into sewer systems and surface waters.

Once in the system, pharmaceuticals pretty much stay there. Most municipal treatment plants are designed to remove bacteria and pathogens… not drugs. The pharmaceuticals go right back into our drinking water supply.

Amounts found so far have been small. The study measured concentrations way below any medical dose. But what happens when you take a low level of 50 drugs over decades? No one knows. Just last month a study in the journal Science, found low levels of oxazepam, a psychiatric drug for anxiety, insomnia and alcohol withdrawal, changed the way wild fish fed and how they socialized.

Another fish study suggested that low levels of psychoactive drugs found in drinking water could potentially trigger an autism gene.

It’s hard to believe but the US federal government has never set safety limits for pharmaceuticals in our water supply. Most municipal water systems don’t even test for drugs.

And you can’t rely on bottled water since 40% of it comes straight from the tap with a fancy label slapped on.

The best way to protect yourself from other people’s medicine is through a home filtration system. There are two types that most experts recommend.

Reverse Osmosis Systems. These are generally considered the most effective way to filter out just about everything in your water, including arsenic and pharmaceuticals. The drawback is the steep price of the systems which usually require professional installation and frequent filter changes. If you can afford it, this is the way to go.

Carbon Systems. Most home filtration systems use more cost-effective carbon filters. And here’s the good news… Brita claims internal test results show that its pitcher filters can remove 96.7% of pharmaceutical compounds found in tap water.

PUR brand filters claim to filter out 99% of pharmaceuticals, including painkillers, antibiotics, hormones, steroids, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety medications.

You can choose something as simple as a filtration pitcher for your refrigerator, a faucet mounted model, or even a whole house filter system. And you might want to consider a shower-head filter because taking a 10 minute hot shower is like drinking a gallon of water. Even if you never swallow a drop.

Be well

Dr Sundardas D. Annamalay

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