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Prozac Doesn’t Make Birds Happy

Birds on Prozac lose their appetite and libido

(Photo: Anton Luhr/imageBROKER/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Dr. Kathryn Arnold, a researcher at the University of York, knew that sewage infrastructure was a good place for bird watching: all the worms and insects that live there provide tasty meals. But she started wondering, as the Guardian reports, what else the birds might be consuming along with the insects that flourish in that treated effluent.

The active ingredients in many of our medications—from birth control pills to antibiotics—winds up in waterways; once those drugs find their way into the environment, they can cause abnormalities in growth, metabolism, reproduction and behavior in animals and plants. Arnold and her colleagues decided to look at the effects of one particular drug—Prozac.

According to theird new study, birds on Prozac lose interest in both eating and reproduction. And they don't seem to be getting the positive impacts of the drugs, either: the birds do not seem to become happier or less anxious.

To reach this conclusion, the team collected some earthworms and measured the worms' Prozaclevels. Then, for six months, they fed 24 captive starlings worms containing the same amount of Prozac found in the wild, or about four percent of the average human dose, the Guardian describes. 

The birds, the researchers found, ate significantly less than their non-medicated counterparts. They also seemed to lose all interest in mating, the Guardian reports.

To see if Prozac reduced anxiety in birds as it does in humans, the researchers also performed some experiments that measured how bold the birds were and found no effect. 

The researchers wonder whether Prozac and other medications might be playing a role in the decline of starlings in the U.K., where 50 million of those birds have been lost since 1960, the Guardian writes. To begin to find out, they plan to next study starlings in the wild to see if there is any discernable trace of Prozac or other drugs in the birds' systems. 

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