Report Warns of Possible Link Between Fertility Drugs and Mad Cow Disease

7 years ago

Our local organic market sells a t-shirt that reads: there is no such thing as Mad Tofu Disease. And while I'll admit that I snickered when I first saw it, it's also obnoxious. It's smug.

And yet, I have to admit that one of the benefits of being a vegetarian is that I always had this peace with my food chain. It never weighed on my conscience that an animal gave up its life so I could continue mine. I don't have to think about slaughterhouse conditions. And when I was in Europe during the height of the Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) fears, I breathed easy knowing that I never had to worry about consuming tainted meat.

Which is why it was all the more upsetting when I saw the report in the CBC News that "Brain-wasting prions found in fertility hormone." In other words,

Certain fertility hormones could theoretically put women at risk of developing brain-wasting Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

At this point, the information is theoretical -- there have been no cases reported of a woman developing from fertility treatments Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, the human form of BSE or Mad Cow Disease. The report is meant to be proactive -- to point out possible problems before they develop into actual transmissions.

And the risk is minimal. As the articles state: "Given that CJD rates are low to start with -- roughly one in 10,000 people suffer from the disease -- the risk of transmission will likely remain low, even with the new finding."


And let's be realistic -- CJD is probably the least of my medical problems based on what I've injected into me. Beyond the possibility of directly related medical complications such as Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS), there are constant studies being done to see if fertility treatments contribute to an increased risk of breast, ovarian, or uterine cancers.

Yet why did this report give me pause? Perhaps it's because for me it signals just how much we don't know about the solutions we create. And please don't get me wrong -- I am grateful for those solutions and this is probably not going to stop me from using them again -- but it does get to the heart of the matter. That nothing is without risk. And we need to make our decisions knowing that even if we don't know the risks concretely, they're out there and we always need to weigh in that x-factor when we decide to treat a problem.

And beyond that, it pushed me out of my nice, can't-touch-me bubble; that one I was floating on by being a vegetarian. Though this isn't the first time that has happened. A while back, I was examining a syringe of Lovenox and saw the words "porcine intestinal mucosa." Whoa... did that mean what I thought it meant? Was Lovenox made from the intestinal mucous of a pig? Er... that would be correct.

I went through a big mental block with that one -- as a kosher vegetarian, where did injecting pig mucous into me fall? Would I do it, albeit squeamishly for the sake of maintaining a pregnancy? Would I draw the line at pig mucous?

I have to admit that I have an ignorance-is-bliss policy with medication. While I scour the labels of food products with a fine-tooth comb for animal by-products, I don't give my medications the same scrutiny. Perhaps it is because what we eat is a choice and medication often isn't. While there may be a completely vegan alternative, many times there isn't something as effective or trying to find it is next to impossible.

I wish I didn't know about the manufacturing of Lovenox (and perhaps you have deep regrets over reading this post). If I didn't, it wouldn't be an issue -- I'd inject it with my eyes of the prize, completely ignorant of its origins. But now that I know it, it becomes a question of ethics, a question of need. I may still make the same decision as I would if I didn't know the origins, but that decision feels different.

And the same can be said for this new study on the possible risk of CJD in urine-based fertility drugs. (As if the origins of these drugs don't give enough pause. Hmmm... which makes me throw-up in my mouth more? Urine or pig mucous?) If I didn't know about the study, I would inject without another thought. Knowing about the study, I will still probably inject, but it's with a heavier hand if not a heavier heart.

How does this study (or knowing the origins of your drugs) affect your decision-making with fertility treatments?

For vegetarians and vegans, where do you fall on knowingly using animal by-products in medications or surgical procedures?

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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