Comparing Health Risks of Water and Pharmaceuticals

“How safe is my drinking water?” That is probably the second-most-asked question I encounter, following only “Are we running out of water?” Today, we examine the former question from a different perspective – that of the relative safety of one of the most highly used prescription drugs in the world.
The drug in question has been on the market for 50 years, and has been used by 40% of the population in the USA. I don’t believe even Tylenol or aspirin reaches this level of usage!
If this drug has been so widely used for so long, it must be completely safe, correct? Well, not quite. This drug is known to increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and cervical cancer. It is also known to increase the risk of breast cancer by a staggering 44%, according to the proceedings of the Mayo Clinic! (See: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17036554)
That wouldn’t come close to the standard put forward by the USEPA for drinking water safety. The greatest accepted risk level for drinking water is a theoretical — not actual, as in the case of this drug! — increase of of cancer incidence of just 0.01%! Thus, according to the regulatory agencies of our federal government, it is okay for a widely used prescription drug to have a known risk that is 4400 times greater than drinking water.
Also consider this: while 100% of a prescription drug is consumed, far less than 1% of the drinking water delivered to a household is actually consumed. Based on this, which one should be held to the greater level of safety?
How can such an enormous disparity in safety levels exist? My opinion is that drinking water quality is held to irrationally high levels of safety, in sharp contrast to many – if not all – other aspects of our lives. And this level of safety costs water consumers – and taxpayers – greatly.
So what is this drug that is so widely used, and carries such a huge, known health risk? None other than “The Pill” – the oral contraceptive.
And if you happen to think you are not impacted by this risk – because you are among the 20% of women who have never used this drug, or you are a male – think again! Birth control chemicals are among the most commonly detected pharmaceuticals in the environment. So the adverse health effects of The Pill may be in everyone’s future! Perhaps the EPA will have to sue the Food and Drug Administration for the environmental disaster the FDA has allowed.
Aren’t you glad the government is looking out for our safety?
(Thanks to Sheila St. John of the California Association of Natural Family Planning at www.canfp.org.)

3 Responses to Comparing Health Risks of Water and Pharmaceuticals

  1. avatar Bob Ostrove says:

    According to the FDA:

    Today's Pill Safer

    Today's oral contraceptives are considerably safer than the pill of the '60s because they contain less estrogen and progestin. Over the years, the amount of estrogen has been reduced to one-third or less of that in the first birth control pills, and the progestin has been decreased to one-tenth or less.

    The risks of blood clots, heart attacks, and stroke have decreased correspondingly for healthy, non-smoking women. There is a slightly increased risk of cardiovascular disease for women over 40 who use the pill, but the benefits of contraception are considered to outweigh the risk in most women, says Philip Corfman, M.D., of FDA's division of metabolism and endocrine drug products.

    Most side effects of the pill are not medically serious. The most common are nausea, breakthrough bleeding (bleeding between menstrual periods), and mood changes, including depression. Some women may also experience weight gain, breast tenderness, and difficulty wearing contact lenses due to eye dryness. These side effects, especially nausea, usually subside within the first three months of use.

    Health Benefits

    In addition to its contraceptive effectiveness, the pill has proven to have significant health benefits. Studies show that the incidence of ovarian and endometrial cancers, benign cysts of the ovaries and breasts, and pelvic inflammatory disease decreases with pill use. The pill also prevents heavy and irregular menstrual periods, a common cause of anemia that leads to surgical procedures, including hysterectomy, in older women.

    Whether these benefits will continue with the newer, low-dose pill remains to be seen. The present benefits are associated with oral contraceptives containing 50 mcg of estrogen. As yet, no scientific data are available on the effects of those containing 30 to 35 mcg or less.

    Not Safe for All

    As safe as today's pill is for most healthy, non-smoking women, it is still not safe for all women. The risk of serious illness and death increases significantly for certain groups:

    Women who smoke — particularly those over 35 who are heavy smokers (more than 14 cigarettes a day) — have a significantly increased risk of heart attack and stroke. This risk increases with age. Women who use oral contraceptives are strongly advised not to smoke.

    Women who are obese or have underlying health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, also have a significantly increased risk of serious side effects from using the pill.

    Women who have a history of blood clots, heart attack, stroke, liver disease, or cancer of the breast or sex organs should not use oral contraceptives.

    Uncertainties remain about whether the pill causes breast or cervical cancer in some groups of women. Despite many studies over the years, there is still insufficient evidence to definitely rule out these possibilities.

    While there are conflicting results among studies on breast cancer and the pill, most investigations have found that women who have taken the pill have no increased risk of developing breast cancer. However, the product labeling on oral contraceptives recommends that women who use the pill and have a strong family history of breast cancer or who have breast lumps or abnormal mammograms be closely monitored by their doctors.

    Some studies have found an increase in the incidence of cervical cancer in women who use the pill, but this may not necessarily be related to the pill, scientists say.

    Though some safety questions remain unsettled, for most healthy women the pill provides a safe, effective means of birth control with some possible beneficial health effects.

  2. avatar Bob Ostrove says:

    And speaking of the pill…

    Q: What do the World Series and a mama bear on the pill have in common?

    A: No Cubs.

  3. avatar Steve McLean says:

    You're killing me, Bob!

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