New proof that pharmaceutical drugs used by humans can harm marine life

Posted on Monday, May 27, 2013

A study by a team of researchers from the University of Ottawa has shown that the infiltration of multiple pharmaceutical drugs in waterways not only affects the reproductive systems of fish, but also attacks their metabolisms. This international collaborative research project was conducted by Professor Vance Trudeau, his team at the Faculty of Science, and Dr. Helena Silva de Assis, a visiting professor from the Department of Pharmacology at the Federal University of Paraná, in Brazil.

Chemical testing strategies worldwide consider the effects of pharmaceuticals alone, yet hundreds of these products are mixing in our aquatic environments and potentially causing harm to marine life. Professor Trudeau and his colleagues at the University of Ottawa had previously demonstrated that estrogens from only one type of contraceptive and antidepressant are major endocrine disruptors in fish. This study proves how the mixture of just two pharmaceuticals can have an even bigger negative effect.

“Let's compare this to drug interactions in humans. If you take one therapeutic drug, it can be beneficial to health. If you take a second when you shouldn't, then you can get a bad reaction. Our research indicates that male fish experienced metabolic system failure two weeks after the introduction of two pharmaceuticals” concludes Dr. Helena Silva de Assis, visiting professor from the Department of Pharmacology, Federal University of Paraná, Brazil, lead author on the project.

“The mixture of multiple pharmaceuticals has important implications for the health of our environment,” states Professor Vance Trudeau. “Fish that were exposed to a simple mixture of estrogen and Prozac can cause an intensified production of female egg yolk protein in males. This is yet another example of how pollution causes sexual dysfunction in fish.”

Many effects were measured using cutting-edge diagnostic procedures performed by Dr. Denina Simmons at Environment Canada, and showed significant metabolic disruption in fish, problems that are similar to those associated with diabetes in humans. Few of these effects could have been predicted from existing knowledge, raising further concerns about the hundreds of pollutants in our environment.


Kina Leclair
Media Relations Officer
University of Ottawa
Office: 613-562-5800 (2529)
Cell: 613-762-2908

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