'Aquatic life is bathing in a soup of antidepressants,' says marine biologist
Antidepressants are destroying underwater ecosystems, which we in turn eat.
- A new British study has discovered that "our aquatic life is bathing in a soup of antidepressants."
- Entire ecosystems are being negatively affected by our pharmaceutical use.
- The drugs re-enter our bodies when we consume seafood from these areas.
In 2009, the NYC Department of Environment Protections discovered numerous pharmaceuticals floating around in the city's tap water. A 2010 follow-up study concluded that trace amounts of Ibuprofen, caffeine, Butalbital, DEET—yes, insect repellent—and a variety of prescription and illicit drugs, along with personal care products, posed no threat to us.
A similar conclusion was reached in Britain, where in 2014 various substances, including cocaine, were discovered in that country's reservoirs. Researchers noted the amounts were thousands of times below what would make an actual impact on our biology.
But what about other ecosystems? Earlier this year scientists uncovered a startling consequence of the drugs we put into of our mouths (and up our nostrils):
Researchers in Italy have found that small amounts of cocaine in water can make eels hyperactive and cause significant muscle damage.
European eels, they note, are an endangered species. And it's not only eels. Oysters floating around in Oregon were found to contain antibiotics and pain relievers; Northeastern fish are displaying male and female sex traits thanks to birth control pills. Whether we flush, urinate, or defecate these substances, we're destroying ocean life.
And now, a new study published in British Journal of Psychiatry is targeting doctors and Big Pharma: marine life is suffering due to our overuse of antidepressants. Alex Ford, a University of Portsmouth professor in the Institute of Marine Biology, remarks,
Our aquatic life is bathing in a soup of antidepressants. Antidepressant and antianxiety medications are found everywhere, in sewage, surface water, ground water, drinking water, soil, and accumulating in wildlife tissues. They are found in sea water and rivers and their potential ability to disrupt the normal biological systems of aquatic organisms is extensive.
This is no weekend binge. Ford says that the animals spend their entire lives in this toxic environment, which affects their immune system, eating habits, color, behavior, metabolism, even the way they moves. In previous studies, Ford noticed that Prozac causes shrimp to leave their natural habitat to head toward light, making them more vulnerable to predators.
We've known about the consequences of our drug diet on marine life since the sixties. Like climate change, we've not only done little about it, we've made things worse. The opioid epidemic in America is not the only indication of this; antidepressant usage in the UK has doubled in the last decade, with 10 percent of the population taking them on a regular basis.
Even if you don't care about marine life, this problem returns to haunt us: when we eat seafood, we're putting those drugs right back into our bodies. If these pharmaceuticals are affecting fish physiology, they're certainly affecting us.
The researchers put forward many suggestions to address this problem, including upgrading waste water treatment plants, requesting that the pharmaceutical industry green its "cradle-to-grave" approach, reducing prescriptions in favor of counseling, and coaching patients to limit the duration in which they consume antidepressants instead of building a reliance upon them.
Such compliance will be difficult, given Big Pharma's profit motive and the fact that writing scripts is much more economically beneficial to doctors than counseling. Hopefully we won't wait until there are no more fish left to eat to understand the gravity of this problem. In the meantime, it's just another reminder that our addictions don't only affect us. We're all in this together. The sooner we realize this, the better.
Join Radiolab's Latif Nasser at 1pm ET on Monday as he chats with Malcolm Gladwell live on Big Think.
University of Utah research finds that men are especially well suited for fisticuffs.
- With males having more upper-body mass than women, a study looks to find the reason.
- The study is based on the assumption that men have been fighters for so long that evolution has selected those best-equipped for the task.
- If men fought other men, winners would have survived and reproduced, losers not so much.
Built for mayhem<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2NDIyMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMzk4NTQ2OX0.my6nML12F3fEQu3H4G0BScdqgaMZkRQHxgyj-Cmjmzk/img.jpg?width=980" id="906fc" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="dd77af7a881631355ed8972437846394" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Ollyy/Shutterstock<p>The researchers are, of course, talking averages here, not stating a rule: There are plenty of accomplished female pugilists, as well as lots of males who have no idea how to throw a punch.</p><p>Even so, says co-author <a href="https://www.wofford.edu/academics/majors-and-programs/biology/faculty-and-staff" target="_blank">Jeremy Morris</a> says, "The general approach to understanding why sexual dimorphism evolves is to measure the actual differences in the muscles or the skeletons of males and females of a given species, and then look at the behaviors that might be driving those differences."</p><p>Carrier has been interested in the idea that millennia of male fighting has shaped certain structures in male bodies. Previous research has reinforced his hunch:</p> <ul> <li><a href="https://jeb.biologists.org/content/216/2/236" target="_blank">When a hand is formed into a fist, its structure is self-protective</a>.</li> <li><a href="https://unews.utah.edu/flat-footed-fighters/" target="_blank">Heels planted firmly on the ground augment upper-body power</a>.</li> <li><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24909544" target="_blank">A study examined facial bone structure as being especially well-suited for taking a punch</a>.</li> </ul> <p>(That last one is our favorite. Do you know the German word "<a href="https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Backpfeifengesicht" target="_blank">backpfeifengesicht</a>?" It's an adjective describing "a face that badly needs a punching.")</p><p>"One of the predictions that comes out of those," asserts Carrier, "is if we are specialized for punching, you might expect males to be particularly strong in the muscles that are associated with throwing a punch."</p>
Testing the theory<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMjY2NDIzMy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzMxMTE2MH0.UXJICMy57UPYUWskhK98alctOrPidJL9yxMkz3HDQrM/img.jpg?width=980" id="98718" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b12287684ac3e740b70392e6433a6b8f" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Image source: Ollyy/Shutterstock<p>The researchers measured the punching — and spear-throwing — force of 20 men and 19 women. The assumption was that early humans were punchers <em>and</em> spear-throwers.</p><p>Prior to testing, each participant had filled out an activity questionnaire so that "we weren't getting couch potatoes, we were getting people that were very fit and active," says Morris.</p><p>For punching, participants operated a hand crank that required movement similar to throwing a haymaker. The purpose of the hand crank was to spare participants any damage that might be inflicted on their fists by throwing actual punches. Subjects were also measured pulling a line forward over their heads to assess their strength at throwing a spear.</p><p>Even though all of the participants, male and female, were routinely fit, the average power of males was assessed as being 162% greater than females. There were no gender differences in throwing strength recorded. Other untested, though presumably likely, hand-to-hand combat activities come to mind including tackling, clubbing, running, kicking, scratching, and biting.</p><p>Carrier's takeaway: "This is a dramatic example of sexual dimorphism that's consistent with males becoming more specialized for fighting, and males fighting in a particular way, which is throwing punches."</p>
Boys will be boys<p>It, er, strikes us as odd that, even in science fiction — hi-tech weaponry notwithstanding — the hero <em>is</em> going to wind up duking it out with some bad guy, or alien, in the climactic battle. What is it about men punching, anyway? Are they more sexually attractive? The study suggests so:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><em>The results of this study add to a set of recently identified characters indicating that sexual selection on male aggressive performance has played a role in the evolution of the human musculoskeletal system and the evolution of sexual dimorphism in hominins.</em></p><p>It's tough to contribute to the gene pool after being killed in battle.</p><p>Also, while the authors aren't <em>quite</em> saying that males' historical fighting role is mandated by biology and not by social expectations, neither are they quite <em>not</em> saying it.</p><p>As Carrier explain to <a href="https://attheu.utah.edu/facultystaff/carrier-punch/" target="_blank">theU</a>: "Human nature is also characterized by avoiding violence and finding ways to be cooperative and work together, to have empathy, to care for each other, right? There are two sides to who we are as a species. If our goal is to minimize all forms of violence in the future, then understanding our tendencies and what our nature really is, is going to help."</p>
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Cool hand rebuke<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQyMTIyNy9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NjY1NTYyOH0.0MCPKN3If94mYCNf3mMNrnTvJXjXN_bKLhgk9203EXk/img.jpg?width=917&coordinates=0%2C0%2C0%2C0&height=453" id="1627b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="6d76421ba1ea0de4b09956b97e80c384" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A chart showing prison population rates (per 100,000 people) in 2018. The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world.