September 27, 2022

The World's Local Health

What Is N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) And Why It’s Dangerous To Your Health

4 min read
What Is N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) And Why It’s Dangerous To Your Health

More commonly known as NDMA, N-Nitrosodimethylamine is a chemical agent that was once widely used to produce rocket fuel. Scientists discovered high concentrations of the compound in the air, water, and soil surrounding the factories that produced it and it has since been made illegal to manufacture in the US.

But, that’s not necessarily why it’s dangerous to us. While NMDA is found in our environment, it is also found in trace amounts in several products you may use on a daily basis

  • Drinking water-unintentional byproduct of chlorinating wastewater for drinking water
  • Foods containing nitrosamines- cured or smoked meat, malt beverages (beer, whiskey)
  • Cigarette smoke and chewing tobacco
  • Shampoos and cosmetics

The most well-known product linked to dangerous levels of NMDA is a common acid reducer known as Zantac.

In 2018, scientists at the FDA discovered high traces in some commonly prescribed and over-the-counter medications. NMDA can be found in approved levels in medications for high blood pressure (Valsartan, Losartan), diabetes (Metformin), and heartburn (Zantac, Generic Ranitidine).

Chloramine products, including antihistamines (doxylamine and chlorpheniramine), a migraine drug (sumatriptan), another heartburn drug (nizatidine), and a blood pressure drug (diltiazem) have all also generated NDMA in amounts over the legal threshold. Since then, many of these products have been recalled and Zantac, in particular, is banned from production in the US.

As far as drinking water is concerned, wastewater that is treated for drinking purposes undergoes extreme filtration processes to avoid contamination. Prior to chlorination, it undergoes photolysis, a blasting of UV radiation. Reverse osmosis, the introduction of biological treatments, such as microbes, and microfiltration are some of the other methods used to purify wastewater. Once the concentration of NMDA falls below the threshold for consumption, the water is then cycled into the drinking water subsystem.

How Does Zantac Work?

Zantac, generically known as Ranitidine, works by blocking histamines. This and other H2 blockers offer relief by reducing the amount of acid in the stomach. They can provide relief for up to 12 hours.

For those of you who rely on products containing ranitidine to reduce heartburn and acid reflux, or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), you’re not destined to suffer. There are still plenty of other medications, such as Prilosec (omeprazole) and Pepcid AC (famotidine), and natural remedies for heartburn available for those of you who are seeking relief.

Why Is It Potentially Dangerous?

Increases Over Time

  • Studies found that the level of NMDA can increase over the shelf life of a product even if it passed safety standards during production. This is why it’s important to read labels. Follow the recommendations for storage temperatures and toss unused medication by the expiration date.

Probable Carcinogen

Analysis of N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) - Impurities in Ranitidine

  • According to the American Cancer Society, N-nitrosodimethylamine is classified as a category 2, or probable carcinogen. Due to the fact that it is known to cause cancer in animals, the conclusion can be drawn that it is also likely to cause cancer in humans.
  • It is known to cause cancer in the lungs and liver in animals.
  • Currently linked to lawsuits related to 5 types of cancer in humans: lung, liver, stomach, bladder, and esophageal.

For more in-depth information, take a look at this NDMA fact sheet. While most products containing this compound are perfectly safe for consumption, it never hurts to be aware of the potential hazards and side effects.

In the event that you were prescribed or taking one of the medications mentioned above and subsequently were diagnosed with cancer, you may be entitled to compensation. There are several lawsuits in progress across the nation and it’s worth having an attorney, such as Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers, look into whether you qualify.

What Should You Do If You Suspect Overexposure?

In most cases, your body breaks NMDA down within 24 hours of ingestion, but with the levels found in some medications, your liver can’t keep up. Here are some common symptoms of overexposure

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Jaundice
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Enlarged liver
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Agitation and confusion
  • Reduced liver, kidney, and lung function

Should you experience any of the symptoms above, it is recommended to discontinue using it. For life-threatening situations, such as allergic reactions including anaphylaxis, do not hesitate to call 911.

Treatment for overexposure includes activated charcoal for ingested NDMA, oxygen for inhaled NDMA, and saline washes for eye contamination. Aside from the possibility of developing cancer, there doesn’t appear to be other lasting trauma from the overuse of this drug.

Despite safety measures and FDA oversight, prescription and OTC medications can still be harmful. It’s imperative to always follow the directions as prescribed and to toss medications that have reached the expiration date.