Anti-depressant tablets that Britons are taking in ever larger numbers are beginning to have an effect on the country’s water supply. And the results can be observed in the birds at the bottom of your garden.

Birds consuming antidepressants from water have lost interest in food and sex, scientists established after studying starlings. What else is in our water? And if that’s what it’s doing to birds, what is it doing to you?

How do drugs get into the water? When people take pills like antidepressants, not all of the medication is absorbed, meaning that tiny quantities progress into our urine which then passes into the water system. Even after it’s been treated and is safe to consume, it still consists of traces of the medication. The numbers of antidepressants taken by Britons have ascended sharply in the last 20 years.

Since birds drink out of rivers they can be affected by the drugs too.

Here’s what it does to the birds. One recently developed study of starlings near waste plants showed that even low levels of antidepressants drastically affected their behaviour. They looked at levels of the antidepressant fluoxetine which is the master component of Prozac amidst other medication.

Researchers gave food to starlings, worms and water that had been processed with fluoxetine, a dose of 0.92 micrograms per day. That’s the level scientists calculated roughly that birds were exposed to in the wild. They then documented the starlings’ behaviour.

They established that the birds that were on antidepressants didn’t eat as much, lost weight, and as well lost interest in prospective mates.

This is significant as, through the wintertime, the birds need to eat enough to be in a position to remain alive. If they’re consuming antidepressants in the ecosystem, they are less able to survive.

And here’s what it does to humans. In humans, the dose is a lot less elevated, however, the side effects of this specific drug can be identical – reduced sex drive, plus fatigue and possible sickness.

You’d need to consume loads to be affected by anti-depressants in the water, and there’s not a lot of data about levels of antidepressants in British waters. Nevertheless, American research concluded that there could be as much as 0.32-0.54 micrograms per litre in the water.

This is a high estimate from the United States, however, if this were the occurrence in British water, you’d still need to drink 37,000 – 62,500 litres of water at this concentration to get a dose of fluoxetine as normally prescribed.

And that’s not all that’s going around in the tap water

Here’s what else can find in our water:

Oestrogen – from contraceptive pills


Blood pressure tablets

Ibuprofen and other painkillers

Even if the levels are tiny now, the result of so many different drugs interacting with each other is not well-known and is a huge foundation for concern once they reach more powerful levels. The number of antidepressants taken in the United Kingdom is only going up.


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