Drugs, medical devices can contain harmful chemicals linked to cancer and other health issues: Experts

Experts worry that endocrine-disrupting chemicals might nullify the benefits of drugs by lowering their efficiency or increasing their side effects


                            Drugs, medical devices can contain harmful chemicals linked to cancer and other health issues: Experts
(Getty Images)

Patients, including the most vulnerable ones, could unwittingly expose themselves to harmful chemicals present in certain medications and medical devices, according to scientists. Through a new study, these experts hope to raise awareness and urge manufacturers to work on the issue.

The harmful toxins — called endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC) — are highly prevalent around us. They are commonly found in plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys and cosmetics. Once they make their way into the body, these chemicals interfere with the normal functioning of hormones, leading to a range of health problems. Some of the issues linked to the EDCs include cancer, development issues in children, infants and fetuses, infertility, and endometriosis.

"We’ve been studying EDCs for a long time, and most of the focus has been on exposures that occur to folks either because of environmental contamination or from an individual’s own actions, including their use of cosmetics or consumption of canned foods or use of plastic," the study's lead author, Dr. Robert Michael Sargis, from the University of Illinois tells MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).

But the fact that these chemicals exist in medications and medical devices has not been fully appreciated, he added. Experts worry that endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC) might nullify the benefits of drugs by lowering their efficiency or increasing their side effects. However, Dr Sargis and his colleagues are not discouraging people from seeking health care. "To be clear, we are not advocating that patients stop taking their medications. We are also not advocating for a sudden end to the use of medical devices. That’s not the point," he says, adding that their focus is to raise awareness among doctors and the public.

EDCs are commonly found in plastic bottles, metal food cans, detergents, flame retardants, food, toys and cosmetics (Getty Images)

What do we know of these chemicals in drugs and medical devices?

Some manufacturers mix drugs with chemicals that have hormone-disrupting effects. They act as add ons, which alter some properties such as changing the way medicine is absorbed into the body. The EDCs focused in the study are, however, not the main ingredient. Further, these chemicals can escape from the plastics components of medical devices and enter the body.

Still, many are unaware. Explaining the reason behind it, Dr. Sagis said:  "It likely reflects the fact that studies examining these facts are still relatively new and that awareness of EDCs among clinicians and the public is still insufficient.  Moreover, there’s often a deliberate effort to cast doubt on endocrine disruption by some individuals for secondary gain."

How can we reduce exposure?

Dr Sargis recommends raising awareness among physicians and patients through education and transparency. He hopes that all chemicals used in medications and medical devices are screened for endocrine-disrupting activity. "In essence, it comes down to this:  as healthcare providers, we’re obligated to maximize the benefits of our therapies, and minimize their harms while providing patients with the information they need to make informed choices about their care.  Doing so now requires us to tackle the impact of endocrine disruptors.  I’m confident we can do that," he added.

The perspective is published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

Disclaimer : This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.