Many of us have heard whispers that there are hormones in our drinking water. In 2002 the BBC, the Independent, and the Environment Agency conducted a joint study that found that British men's fertility had plummeted in the previous 50 years and that about half of the fish in British rivers had either changed sex or had the physical characteristics of both sexes. The researchers attributed it to oestradiol, the most potent form of the oestrogen hormone family.
Oestradiol is synthesised and used in the contraceptive pill which 2.5 million British women use and subsequently excrete in their urine and faeces. Sewage water is treated, recycled, and thereby makes its way into our taps. Only, the treatment methods do not remove the oestradiol from the water. In 2002, the British government made the appropriate statements of concern and kicked the problem down the road for someone else to deal with.
In 2012 the European Union discussed measures to purify Europe's rivers, reservoirs, and tap water of oestradiol. It the EU had passed a binding resolution to that effect, it would have required a serious upgrade to many countries' sewage networks and treatment plants. This would have cost Britain a horrifying £30 billion. Predictably, the problem was once again kicked down the road.
It seems unlikely that this problem will be addressed any time soon. Politicians, water suppliers, the pharmaceutical industry, and water bill payers are all too unenthusiastic about picking up the tab.
The Hormone Problem
Professor Charles Tyler of Exeter University, one of the leaders of the 2002 study, explained that a hormone like oestradiol was "so exquisitely potent" that the amount that caused 50 per cent of British fish to have fertility and sexual problems was hardly detectable in our drinking water. In other words, it may also be possible that the alarming rise in British male infertility may have been caused by such small amounts of oestradiol that scientists can hardly detect it.
Male infertility is bad enough, but the problem is even more critical. In the United States, drugs that contain oestrogen must carry a label that warns consumers that it carries cardiovascular and cancer risks. Endometrial cancer, a cancer of the lining of the uterus, can be a direct result of it. It may cause ovarian cancer, gall-bladder disease, heart attacks, strokes, blood clots in the lungs or legs, breast cancer, and dementia. It also affects the timing and speed of children's sexual development.
Even worse, the oestrogen family is probably not the only hormones in our water. Progestogens are prescribed as contraceptives. Thyroxine is given to those with hypothyroidism. Steroids like cortisone are taken by those with autoimmune disorders, asthma, allergies, as well as by body-builders. Insulin use is increasing with the rise in diabetes. People tend to flush testosterone, oestrogen, and progesterone creams straight down the drain when they wash. Like in the case of oestradiol, it takes only minuscule amounts of all these hormones to affect our bodies.
Hormones circulate in our bloodstream and affect every single system in the body: the cardiovascular system, the respiratory system, the brain and nervous system, the skeleton, the muscles, the reproductive system, digestion, the integumentary system, and the endocrine system itself. Health effects of hormonal imbalances can, therefore, be wide-ranging and complex.
Examples of Increasing Hormonal Diseases
It is impossible to establish beyond doubt that hormones in our water are responsible for various hormonal imbalances and for the diseases caused by them. But there are certainly many hormonal imbalances that are on the rise in the 21st century. Our unhealthy modern lifestyle is clearly responsible for some of these, but scientists should investigate whether our chronic exposure to hormones in our water contribute to them.
Addison's disease is a condition wherein the adrenal glands produce an insufficient amount of cortisol, the body's main stress hormone. The most prominent symptom is chronic complete exhaustion. Addison's disease is becoming more common in developed Western countries. One of its causes is the consumption of steroids, which suppress the activity of the adrenal glands. Physicians usually warn that the adrenal glands can actually atrophy as a result of high doses of steroids that are taken for more than a week. It is not inconceivable that a chronic intake of steroids in our water can have a similar effect.
Diabetes obviously has numerous causes, especially all the refined carbohydrates in our diet, but it essentially involves our bodies' becoming resistant to the insulin that is meant to move sugar out of our blood. Glucocorticoids, a class of hormones, can cause insulin resistance, while other hormones, like Progesterone, help to regulate the pancreas' secretion of insulin.
About one out of every five thousand children shows signs of puberty at or before age seven. Testosterone and oestrogen are obviously the two primary causes, but it is not clear why such young children's bodies have so much of these sex hormones. There is a lot of evidence that, on average, girls now start menstruating and developing breasts much earlier than before. Up to now researchers have been speculating that it is a combination of obesity, poor dieting, and genetic factors that cause it, but the truth is that no one is currently sure of the causes. It certainly seems like the kind of condition that can be caused by a chronic intake of sex hormones.
Testicular cancer is currently on the rise in developed countries, especially among young men and even children. The American Cancer Society admits that scientists do not understand the causes at all. Cancers of the pancreas, liver, thyroid, kidney, skin, and oesophagus are also rising sharply.
Since British water suppliers will not take action to purify our tap water of hormones, and particularly oestradiol, any time soon, it is up to us to act. At present the best course of action is to install a water filter, such as Water For Health's Energy Plus filter, to remove oestradiol from our tap water. In fact, the Energy Plus filter has been scientifically tested by the University of Edinburgh's Department of Engineering who verified that it was able to remove oestradiol. The health risks seem just a bit too high to ignore.