Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Principles of Holistic Medicine

It is surprising how often I am asked "What does 'holistic health' mean?" or "What kind of doctor would be considered a holistic health practitioner?"

The link to this week's featured article sent out by AHHA: American Holistic Health Association newsletter answers that exact question! (If you would like the Article Of The Week delivered to your emailbox, please visit the AHHA Website and look under "Free Stuff" where you will find link to subscribe to the weekly email.)

Holistic medicine is the art and science of healing that addresses the whole person - body, mind, and spirit.

The practice of holistic medicine integrates conventional and alternative therapies to prevent and treat disease, and most importantly, to promote optimal helath. This condition of holistic health is defined as the unlimited and unimpeded free flow of life force energy through body, mind, and spirit.

Holistic medicine encompasses all safe and appropriate modalities of diagnosis and treatment. It includes analysis of physical, nutritional, environmental, emotional, spiritual and lifestyle elements. Holistic medicine focuses upon patient education and participation in the healing process.

The Principles of Holistic Medical Practice

  • Holistic physicians embrace a variety of safe, effective options in the diagnosis and treatment, including:
    a. education for lifestyle changes and self-care
    b. complementary alternatives; and
    c. conventional drugs and surgery
  • Searching for the underlying causes of disease is preferable to treating symptoms alone.
  • Holistic physicians expend as much effort in establishing what kind of patient has a disease as they do in establishing what kind of disease a patient has.
  • Prevention is preferable to treatment and is usually more cost-effective. The most cost-effective approach evokes the patient's own innate healing capabilities.
  • Illness is viewed as a manifestation of a dysfunction of the whole person, not as an isolated event.
  • A major determinant of healing outcomes is the quality of the relationship established between physician and patient, in which patient autonomy is encouraged.
  • The ideal physician-patient relationship considers the needs, desires, awareness and insight of the patient as well as those of the physician.
  • Physicians significantly influence patients by their example.
  • Illness, pain, and the dying process can be learning opportunities for patients and physicians.
  • Holistic physicians encourage patients to evoke the healing power of love, hope, humor and enthusiasm, and to release the toxic consequences of hostility, shame, greed, depression, and prolonged fear, anger, and grief.
  • Unconditional love is life's most powerful medicine. Physicians strive to adopt an attitude of unconditional love for patients, themselves, and other practitioners.
  • Optimal health is much more than the absence of sickness. It is the conscious pursuit of the highest qualities of the physical, environmental, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social aspects of the human experience.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Progressive Relaxation Technique II

The Progressive Relaxation Technique was created by Chicago physician Edmund Jacobson. He was the first person to accurately measure the electrical impulses in human muscles, nerves, and mental activities. In his study and treatment of stress, he proved that excessive or unresolved (i.e. residual) tension has a direct and causal relationship with both mental and physical illnesses; tension shortens the muscular fibers which causes a decrease in the central nervous system activity. He also determined that intentional and directed muscular tension and relaxation can relieve anxiety and stress, as well as being effective against ulcers, insomnia, and high blood pressure.

This led to the publication of his book Progressive Relaxation in 1929, followed by You Must Relax in 1934. His original works contained approximately 200 exercises to effect relaxation. Today, the Progressive Relaxation Technique practiced by most people has been reduced to fewer than 20 exercises, but does cover all the major muscle groups.

What it is:

Progressive relaxation is an excellent, natural practice that gives you the control to relax all your tense muscles, and practice deep breathing at the same time.

If you find yourself becoming tense and uncomfortable at home or work during the day, either mentally, emotionally, or physically, you can do the steps of the technique that address the area of your tension without performing the entire routine. For example, if mental tension has caused a headache, you would want to concentrate on relaxing the areas of the shoulders, neck, and head. Emotional tension such as anger or frustration is often centered in the hands, arms, and torso; abdominal, chest, and hand/arm exercises would be appropriate. Physical discomfort caused by sitting or standing in a fixed position for long periods of time may be reduced or eliminated by performing muscular tensing and relaxing on the affected leg and back areas.

If you suffer from insomnia, regularly doing this technique in bed before going to sleep will help you to get to sleep quicker, and stay asleep throughout the night. It may take a few weeks for this technique to become a fully effective sleep aid, but each time you do it, it will bring you closer and closer to a natural good night’s sleep. The progressive relaxation technique has proven over time to be a very effective sleep aid without the risk of side effects or dependency you have on medications. In fact, safety questions have arisen concerning some sleep-inducing drugs since people have exhibited short-term memory loss while taking the drugs, rare but bizarre side effects like binge eating, and severe withdrawal symptoms, even seizures, if the drug use is abruptly halted.1 Nature is safer!

Where to start:

You may be seated or lying for this exercise.

If you are seated in a chair, place both your feet flat on the floor, and let your arms rest by your sides. Your hands may rest at your sides or in your lap. If you are in an armchair, do not rest your arms or elbows on the chair arms. Doing so will push your shoulders upward and tense the muscles in your arms, shoulders and neck.

If you are lying, be comfortable. You may want a pillow beneath your head and another under your knees if you like. If you are using this exercise as a sleep aid, you will want to be in bed and ready for sleep.

While performing this technique, it also is beneficial to visualize your muscular tension flow out of your body or sink into the ground as you relax each muscle group. (This is called Autogenic Training.) Your physical body responds to the thoughts provided through your visual imagery or visualization, and you will be further relaxed by thinking thoughts of warmth and relaxation. (Note: don’t ever visualize or think of stimulating activity while trying to relax! You will be working against yourself.)

Pay attention to how you feel while relaxing, and use the memory of feeling warm, comfortable, and relaxed as part of your visualization for your next relaxation session. Each time you do this, the memory becomes stronger and more influential in aiding you in your comfort and wellness.

As always, if you have any medical condition, consult your doctor before performing this technique. If you experience discomfort or pain while performing the technique, Stop Immediately! People who are prone to foot or leg cramps may want to either skip the foot and leg sections of the technique, or only slightly tense the foot and leg muscles.

How to do it:

To begin, take between five and ten cleansing breaths; inhale deeply and slowly through the nose while counting three seconds (never inhale through the mouth). Exhale fully while counting three seconds, and imagine your tension leaving your body. You may exhale through the nose or the mouth. While taking your cleansing breaths, tell yourself how great and relaxed you are going to feel when you have finished Progressive Relaxation. If practicing before sleep, tell yourself how well you are going to sleep and how rested and wonderful you are going to feel in the morning.

My original article outlined the following instructions in a different order, starting at the foot and ending at the head. Today, I give those instructions in an order that is (I believe) closer to the original order of tensing and relaxing the muscular groups as outlined by Dr. Jacobson.

1. Hands. Inhale to the count of five while clenching your fingers into fists and bending the wrist inward. Exhale to the count of five while stretching out and relaxing your fingers, and bending your wrist outward. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

2. Arms. Inhale to the count of five while bending your arms at the elbows and clenching the upper and lower arm muscles. Exhale to the count of five while stretching out your arms. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

3. Shoulders. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your shoulder muscles. You may want to hunch your shoulders forward to tense the muscles, then relax; then hunch the shoulders backward, then relax. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your shoulders. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

4. Neck. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your neck muscles. To deliberately tense the neck muscles, you may want to pull your head down as if you were a turtle pulling its head into its shell, or slowly and gently tilt your head from side to side or front to back, or turn your head from side to side. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your neck. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

5. Face. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your facial muscles. Instructions include, each to the count of five:

  • pursing the lips and then opening the mouth as wide as possible;
  • closing the eyes and then opening the eyes as wide as possible;
  • pushing your tongue into the roof of your mouth and then into the bottom of your mouth.

Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your facial muscles. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

6. Chest. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your chest muscles. You may need to cross your arms in front of you to do this. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your chest muscles. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

7. Back. Inhale to the count of five while tensing your back muscles. You may need to arch your back slightly to do this. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your back muscles. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

8. Derriere. Inhale to the count of five while constricting the muscles in your buttocks. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your buttocks. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

9. Thighs. Inhale to the count of five while tensing the muscles in your thighs. It may help to raise your leg an inch or so to tense the thigh muscles; raise the leg just enough to engage the thigh muscles, don’t do leg lifts. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your thighs; lower your legs if you raised them. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

10. Abdomen. Inhale to the count of five while expanding or pushing out the muscles in your abdomen. Exhale to the count of five while contracting or pulling in your abdominal muscles. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

11. Feet and calves. Inhale to the count of five while pointing your toes up and your heel away from you to flex feet and calves. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your feet and calves. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

12. Toes. Inhale to the count of five while curling your toes and pointing your toes down and away from you. Exhale to the count of five while relaxing your foot. Feel warm and comfortable. Visualize tension either flowing away, or sinking into the ground.

1 “Bizarre events linked to sleeping pills in US” Reuters news article, March 15, 2006 http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060315/hl_nm/insomnia_dc

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Five Animal Frolics Qigong class

Crane positions cultivate balance and graceful movement. They especially enhance heart health, and cool and relax your entire body

Monkey improves agility and strengthens spine and shoulders. The movements keep the stomach, spleen, and pancreas healthy, and improve digestion. These postures also can bring relief to shoulder and neck problems.

Tiger teaches speed and upper-body strength in arm and hand joints and muscles. Tiger moves are good for the lungs and the spine, and one of the moves is especially good for the relief of arthritis.
Bear builds strong bones and lower body strength in lower back, leg joints and muscles. These moves are also good for the health of the kidneys, urinary, and reproductive organs. They help you build stamina and vitality.

Deer develops flexibility and strengthens tendons and ligaments; stretches the spine and the legs.

I no longer teach Five Animal Frolics Classes but here is an excellent video class I'm sure you will benefit from and enjoy!


Five Animals is not only an excellent practice for adults, it's great for kids, too. Studies have shown that children who participated in qigong classes were more calm and relaxed, had longer-lasting levels of energy, suffered fewer illnesses, and missed fewer days of school. Students who practiced qigong were better able to focus and concentrate in school, too. Qigong is currently being researched as an alternative therapy for ADD and ADHD.
If the longer forms of tai-chi are more than you can or want to learn, this is a great alternative. The practice for each animal is made up of five easy movements. Being related to each other and grouped together as they are makes the practices for the animals easy to learn and remember. 


Recorded 1,800 years ago, the Five Animal Frolics may very well be the oldest written expression of preventative as well as rejuvenating medical qigong practice. (Even though this practice was prescribed due to its medicinal benefits, please do not confuse this with Medical Qigong which is another style altogether.)

The creator of the Frolics is purported to be a doctor named Hua Tou who lived from (approximately) 110 to 207 CE/AD. A famous Chinese acupuncturist, herbalist, and surgeon, he preferred simple cures to the more complex variety. He is credited with developing the principle of preventative medicine, avoiding illness and disease through the performance of exercises like the Five Animal Frolics. 

Hua Tou lived to be 97 years old, and it is said that he was an energetic and vibrant man until his untimely death at the hand of a mistrustful army general. His long-time assistant Wu Pu recorded the Frolics as a practice titled "The Five Animal Classic," and probably practiced them too, given that he lived to the ripe old age of 90.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

How safe is your drinking water?

It is almost impossible to be stress-free when you are exposed to toxic substances in your food, air, and water. These substances build up and cause illness which leads to stress which leads to more illness and more stress and so on.

In order to maintain a stress-free lifestyle, environmental toxins must be eliminated as much as possible. This is especially important in our water supply since water is such a crucial element in a stress-free lifestyle….dehydration can mimic depression and stress.

For more on that, see my articles "Stressed and depressed, or dehydrated?" and "Stressed and depressed, or dehydrated? Part 2 – electrolytes"

A growing environmental toxin has become pharmaceutical drugs. Not only human drugs, but veterinary drugs as well!

Not long ago I made a call to a doctor's office. It wasn't because I wanted to make an appointment or talk to him, but to protest his comment in a news story and his cavalier attitude toward adding drugs to the public water supply. This particular doctor thought it would be a great idea to add cholesterol-lowering drugs to the public water supply, never mind that the level would be either too low to do any good in adults or, if high enough to medicate adults, the levels would certainly be far too high for infants and children. (Maybe he owned a lot of stock in the drug company.)

Well, as it turns out, there are already plenty of cholesterol-lowering drugs in the water supply, not to mention antibiotics, anti-convulsants, hormones, analgesics, antiseizure medications, potential endocrine disruptors, mood-stabilizers, and OTC painkillers like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, to name a few.

Below is an article from the web pages of SeattlePI.com. Following that are snippets and links to two other articles from 2005 and 2004 showing that pharmaceutical contamination of the water supply is not a new problem.

Before I leave you to the articles though, I have to say that this has got to be my favorite quote in all the articles:

For example, the head of a group representing major California [water] suppliers said the public "doesn't know how to interpret the information" and might be unduly alarmed.

Unduly alarmed? When as many as 63 different drugs were found in Philadelphia's water sheds, can a person possibly be unduly alarmed? How many drugs should it take to make a person duly alarmed?

It's about time we were unduly alarmed!

It's well past time that we moved to hold accountable all the pushers of these pharmaceutical products that are polluting our water, and causing abnormal, never-before-seen changes in fish and wildlife. If you think it's not affecting humans, think again!

After you read the articles, please contact your government representatives and tell them to require tests for toxic pharmaceutical substances, tell them to set realistic safety limits (like, ZERO PPM), tell them to clean up the water!


AP probe finds drugs in drinking water


Last updated March 9, 2008 2:03 p.m. PT

A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation shows.

To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

But the presence of so many prescription drugs — and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen — in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.

In the course of a five-month inquiry, the AP discovered that drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas — from Southern California to Northern New Jersey, from Detroit to Louisville, Ky.

Water providers rarely disclose results of pharmaceutical screenings, unless pressed, the AP found. For example, the head of a group representing major California suppliers said the public "doesn't know how to interpret the information" and might be unduly alarmed.

How do the drugs get into the water?

People take pills. Their bodies absorb some of the medication, but the rest of it passes through and is flushed down the toilet. The wastewater is treated before it is discharged into reservoirs, rivers or lakes. Then, some of the water is cleansed again at drinking water treatment plants and piped to consumers. But most treatments do not remove all drug residue.

And while researchers do not yet understand the exact risks from decades of persistent exposure to random combinations of low levels of pharmaceuticals, recent studies — which have gone virtually unnoticed by the general public — have found alarming effects on human cells and wildlife.

"We recognize it is a growing concern and we're taking it very seriously," said Benjamin H. Grumbles, assistant administrator for water at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Members of the AP National Investigative Team reviewed hundreds of scientific reports, analyzed federal drinking water databases, visited environmental study sites and treatment plants and interviewed more than 230 officials, academics and scientists. They also surveyed the nation's 50 largest cities and a dozen other major water providers, as well as smaller community water providers in all 50 states.

Here are some of the key test results obtained by the AP:

_Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city's watersheds.

_Anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications were detected in a portion of the treated drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California.

_Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed a Passaic Valley Water Commission drinking water treatment plant, which serves 850,000 people in Northern New Jersey, and found a metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing carbamazepine in drinking water.

_A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco's drinking water.

_The drinking water for Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas tested positive for six pharmaceuticals.

_Three medications, including an antibiotic, were found in drinking water supplied to Tucson, Ariz.

The situation is undoubtedly worse than suggested by the positive test results in the major population centers documented by the AP.

The federal government doesn't require any testing and hasn't set safety limits for drugs in water. Of the 62 major water providers contacted, the drinking water for only 28 was tested. Among the 34 that haven't: Houston, Chicago, Miami, Baltimore, Phoenix, Boston and New York City's Department of Environmental Protection, which delivers water to 9 million people.

Some providers screen only for one or two pharmaceuticals, leaving open the possibility that others are present.

The AP's investigation also indicates that watersheds, the natural sources of most of the nation's water supply, also are contaminated. Tests were conducted in the watersheds of 35 of the 62 major providers surveyed by the AP, and pharmaceuticals were detected in 28.

Yet officials in six of those 28 metropolitan areas said they did not go on to test their drinking water — Fairfax, Va.; Montgomery County in Maryland; Omaha, Neb.; Oklahoma City; Santa Clara, Calif., and New York City.

The New York state health department and the USGS tested the source of the city's water, upstate. They found trace concentrations of heart medicine, infection fighters, estrogen, anti-convulsants, a mood stabilizer and a tranquilizer.

City water officials declined repeated requests for an interview. In a statement, they insisted that "New York City's drinking water continues to meet all federal and state regulations regarding drinking water quality in the watershed and the distribution system" — regulations that do not address trace pharmaceuticals.

In several cases, officials at municipal or regional water providers told the AP that pharmaceuticals had not been detected, but the AP obtained the results of tests conducted by independent researchers that showed otherwise. For example, water department officials in New Orleans said their water had not been tested for pharmaceuticals, but a Tulane University researcher and his students have published a study that found the pain reliever naproxen, the sex hormone estrone and the anti-cholesterol drug byproduct clofibric acid in treated drinking water.

Of the 28 major metropolitan areas where tests were performed on drinking water supplies, only Albuquerque; Austin, Texas; and Virginia Beach, Va.; said tests were negative. The drinking water in Dallas has been tested, but officials are awaiting results. Arlington, Texas, acknowledged that traces of a pharmaceutical were detected in its drinking water but cited post-9/11 security concerns in refusing to identify the drug.

The AP also contacted 52 small water providers — one in each state, and two each in Missouri and Texas — that serve communities with populations around 25,000. All but one said their drinking water had not been screened for pharmaceuticals; officials in Emporia, Kan., refused to answer AP's questions, also citing post-9/11 issues.

Rural consumers who draw water from their own wells aren't in the clear either, experts say.

The Stroud Water Research Center, in Avondale, Pa., has measured water samples from New York City's upstate watershed for caffeine, a common contaminant that scientists often look for as a possible signal for the presence of other pharmaceuticals. Though more caffeine was detected at suburban sites, researcher Anthony Aufdenkampe was struck by the relatively high levels even in less populated areas.

He suspects it escapes from failed septic tanks, maybe with other drugs. "Septic systems are essentially small treatment plants that are essentially unmanaged and therefore tend to fail," Aufdenkampe said.

Even users of bottled water and home filtration systems don't necessarily avoid exposure. Bottlers, some of which simply repackage tap water, do not typically treat or test for pharmaceuticals, according to the industry's main trade group. The same goes for the makers of home filtration systems.

Contamination is not confined to the United States. More than 100 different pharmaceuticals have been detected in lakes, rivers, reservoirs and streams throughout the world. Studies have detected pharmaceuticals in waters throughout Asia, Australia, Canada and Europe — even in Swiss lakes and the North Sea.

For example, in Canada, a study of 20 Ontario drinking water treatment plants by a national research institute found nine different drugs in water samples. Japanese health officials in December called for human health impact studies after detecting prescription drugs in drinking water at seven different sites.

In the United States, the problem isn't confined to surface waters. Pharmaceuticals also permeate aquifers deep underground, source of 40 percent of the nation's water supply. Federal scientists who drew water in 24 states from aquifers near contaminant sources such as landfills and animal feed lots found minuscule levels of hormones, antibiotics and other drugs.

Perhaps it's because Americans have been taking drugs — and flushing them unmetabolized or unused — in growing amounts. Over the past five years, the number of U.S. prescriptions rose 12 percent to a record 3.7 billion, while nonprescription drug purchases held steady around 3.3 billion, according to IMS Health and The Nielsen Co.

"People think that if they take a medication, their body absorbs it and it disappears, but of course that's not the case," said EPA scientist Christian Daughton, one of the first to draw attention to the issue of pharmaceuticals in water in the United States.

Some drugs, including widely used cholesterol fighters, tranquilizers and anti-epileptic medications, resist modern drinking water and wastewater treatment processes. Plus, the EPA says there are no sewage treatment systems specifically engineered to remove pharmaceuticals.

One technology, reverse osmosis, removes virtually all pharmaceutical contaminants but is very expensive for large-scale use and leaves several gallons of polluted water for every one that is made drinkable.

Another issue: There's evidence that adding chlorine, a common process in conventional drinking water treatment plants, makes some pharmaceuticals more toxic.

Human waste isn't the only source of contamination. Cattle, for example, are given ear implants that provide a slow release of trenbolone, an anabolic steroid used by some bodybuilders, which causes cattle to bulk up. But not all the trenbolone circulating in a steer is metabolized. A German study showed 10 percent of the steroid passed right through the animals.

Water sampled downstream of a Nebraska feedlot had steroid levels four times as high as the water taken upstream. Male fathead minnows living in that downstream area had low testosterone levels and small heads.

Other veterinary drugs also play a role. Pets are now treated for arthritis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, allergies, dementia, and even obesity — sometimes with the same drugs as humans. The inflation-adjusted value of veterinary drugs rose by 8 percent, to $5.2 billion, over the past five years, according to an analysis of data from the Animal Health Institute.

Ask the pharmaceutical industry whether the contamination of water supplies is a problem, and officials will tell you no. "Based on what we now know, I would say we find there's little or no risk from pharmaceuticals in the environment to human health," said microbiologist Thomas White, a consultant for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

But at a conference last summer, Mary Buzby — director of environmental technology for drug maker Merck & Co. Inc. — said: "There's no doubt about it, pharmaceuticals are being detected in the environment and there is genuine concern that these compounds, in the small concentrations that they're at, could be causing impacts to human health or to aquatic organisms."

Recent laboratory research has found that small amounts of medication have affected human embryonic kidney cells, human blood cells and human breast cancer cells. The cancer cells proliferated too quickly; the kidney cells grew too slowly; and the blood cells showed biological activity associated with inflammation.

Also, pharmaceuticals in waterways are damaging wildlife across the nation and around the globe, research shows. Notably, male fish are being feminized, creating egg yolk proteins, a process usually restricted to females. Pharmaceuticals also are affecting sentinel species at the foundation of the pyramid of life — such as earth worms in the wild and zooplankton in the laboratory, studies show.

Some scientists stress that the research is extremely limited, and there are too many unknowns. They say, though, that the documented health problems in wildlife are disconcerting.

"It brings a question to people's minds that if the fish were affected ... might there be a potential problem for humans?" EPA research biologist Vickie Wilson told the AP. "It could be that the fish are just exquisitely sensitive because of their physiology or something. We haven't gotten far enough along."

With limited research funds, said Shane Snyder, research and development project manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority, a greater emphasis should be put on studying the effects of drugs in water.

"I think it's a shame that so much money is going into monitoring to figure out if these things are out there, and so little is being spent on human health," said Snyder. "They need to just accept that these things are everywhere — every chemical and pharmaceutical could be there. It's time for the EPA to step up to the plate and make a statement about the need to study effects, both human and environmental."

To the degree that the EPA is focused on the issue, it appears to be looking at detection. Grumbles acknowledged that just late last year the agency developed three new methods to "detect and quantify pharmaceuticals" in wastewater. "We realize that we have a limited amount of data on the concentrations," he said. "We're going to be able to learn a lot more."

While Grumbles said the EPA had analyzed 287 pharmaceuticals for possible inclusion on a draft list of candidates for regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, he said only one, nitroglycerin, was on the list. Nitroglycerin can be used as a drug for heart problems, but the key reason it's being considered is its widespread use in making explosives.

So much is unknown. Many independent scientists are skeptical that trace concentrations will ultimately prove to be harmful to humans. Confidence about human safety is based largely on studies that poison lab animals with much higher amounts.

There's growing concern in the scientific community, meanwhile, that certain drugs — or combinations of drugs — may harm humans over decades because water, unlike most specific foods, is consumed in sizable amounts every day.

Our bodies may shrug off a relatively big one-time dose, yet suffer from a smaller amount delivered continuously over a half century, perhaps subtly stirring allergies or nerve damage. Pregnant women, the elderly and the very ill might be more sensitive.

Many concerns about chronic low-level exposure focus on certain drug classes: chemotherapy that can act as a powerful poison; hormones that can hamper reproduction or development; medicines for depression and epilepsy that can damage the brain or change behavior; antibiotics that can allow human germs to mutate into more dangerous forms; pain relievers and blood-pressure diuretics.

For several decades, federal environmental officials and nonprofit watchdog environmental groups have focused on regulated contaminants — pesticides, lead, PCBs — which are present in higher concentrations and clearly pose a health risk.

However, some experts say medications may pose a unique danger because, unlike most pollutants, they were crafted to act on the human body.

"These are chemicals that are designed to have very specific effects at very low concentrations. That's what pharmaceuticals do. So when they get out to the environment, it should not be a shock to people that they have effects," says zoologist John Sumpter at Brunel University in London, who has studied trace hormones, heart medicine and other drugs.

And while drugs are tested to be safe for humans, the timeframe is usually over a matter of months, not a lifetime. Pharmaceuticals also can produce side effects and interact with other drugs at normal medical doses. That's why — aside from therapeutic doses of fluoride injected into potable water supplies — pharmaceuticals are prescribed to people who need them, not delivered to everyone in their drinking water.

"We know we are being exposed to other people's drugs through our drinking water, and that can't be good," says Dr. David Carpenter, who directs the Institute for Health and the Environment of the State University of New York at Albany.


The AP National Investigative Team can be reached at investigate (at) ap.org


If you think this is a new problem, think again:

Environmental Health Perspectives reports in October 2005

Damming the Flow of Drugs into Drinking Water

Roughly 100 pharmaceuticals have now been identified in rivers, lakes, and coastal waters throughout Europe and the United States….

The first major European studies on this topic--in journals such as volume 67, issue 1-4 (1997) of the International Journal of Environmental Analytical Chemistry and the November 1998 issue of Water Research--examined German ground and surfaces waters, and found occurrences of drugs including cholesterol regulators, analgesics, and antiseizure medications. Since that time, numerous other studies have documented the presence of pharmaceuticals, including potential endocrine disruptors, in other locales as well.


How about this one from 2004:

Drinking water contains traces of nine drugs, new study finds

The federal government's first study of pharmaceuticals in drinking water will confirm traces of common painkillers, anti-cholesterol drugs and the antidepressant Prozac are ending up in the treated water that Canadians drink, CanWest News Service has learned.

A study by researchers from the National Water Research Institute for Health and Environment Canada, designed to gauge how efficiently plants removed traces of drugs from drinking water, found nine different drugs in water samples taken near 20 drinking water treatment plants across southern Ontario.

While the amounts are well below prescription doses, experts from the NWRI [National Water Research Institute for Health and Environment Canada] say confirmation of even scant levels of a burgeoning assortment of drugs in Canada's drinking water is a troubling find warranting further investigation.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Engaged Spirituality Blog Carnival

One of the posts at our sister blog Spirits In Harmony has been included in the very first Engaged Spirituality blog carnival hosted by Beth Patterson at Virtual Tea House.

Beth has chosen some fabulous posts to include in the carnival....more than food for thought, she has provided a veritable feast for thought!

Please pop over and enjoy the Engaged Spirituality blog carnival!