Environmental impact of switching from the synthetic glucocorticoid prednisolone to the natural alkaloid berberine

Iris E Allijn, Rik Oldenkamp, Gert Storm, Ad M J Ragas, Raymond M Schiffelers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Low amounts of human pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment can affect bacteria, animals and ultimately humans. Here, the environmental consequences of a shift in prescription behavior from prednisolone to berberine was modeled using an environmental decision support system based on four consecutive steps: emission, fate, exposure and effect. This model estimates the relative aquatic and human health impacts of alternative pharmaceutical prescriptions throughout Europe. Since a Defined Daily Dose (DDD) of berberine has yet to be formulated, the environmental impacts of berberine and prednisolone were compared under the assumption of equal DDDs. Subsequently, the relative impact ratio indicates the extent to which the actual DDD of berberine might be higher to still be environmentally preferable over prednisolone. In fact, berberine can be administered at a six times higher dose throughout Europe before its impact on the aquatic environment exceeds that of one prescription of prednisolone. On average, the results for impacts on human health are similar, with the median impact ratio ranging between 5.87 and 22.8 depending on the level of drinking water purification. However, for some regions in Spain, Austria, Baltic States and Finland, berberine can only be considered an environmentally better alternative if it is administered at a lower dose than prednisolone. We conclude that for most regions in Europe it is, up until a certain dose of berberine, beneficial for the aquatic environment and therefore human health to prefer prescription of berberine over prednisolone.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0199095
Number of pages15
JournalPLoS ONE [E]
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


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