Rethinking Fluoride

Fluoride might rank low on your list of concerns.

But the controversy continues surrounding the practice of adding fluoride to drinking water. A recent report published in the journal Lancet Neurology will bring fresh voices to the issue of industrial chemicals.

The report states that the incidence of brain disorders in children the world over have doubled since 2006, affecting 10 to 15 percent of children born today. And, they say, the changing environment our children grow up in may be playing a role in the increase of disorders like autism, dyslexia and attention deficit disorder.

These are the same researchers from Harvard and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai who, in 2006, identified five chemicals that are responsible for causing damage to the brain, and in this latest report they’ve added five more.

One of the chemicals is fluoride.

In fact, they’ve identified two chemicals found in water that may be causing harm in high levels: manganese, which is found in drinking water, may contribute to the lowering of math scores and hyperactivity, and fluoride, which can cause a seven-point drop in IQ on average when high levels are present in the body.

The Time Magazine article states: ” they (researchers) say the growing body of research that is finding links between higher levels of these chemicals in expectant mothers’ blood and urine and brain disorders in their children should raise alarms about how damaging these chemicals can be. The developing brain in particular, they say, is vulnerable to the effects of these chemicals, and in many cases, the changes they trigger are permanent.”

The report points to two obstacles in protecting our children: One is that there has not been enough testing on industrialized chemicals and the effects they may have on the human body, and the second is the incredible amount of proof needed to put restrictions on them.

“A new framework of action is needed,” they say.

Debating the pros and cons of fluoride (also called hydrofluosilicic acid or sodium fluoride) is frustrating – and the fact that the issue has been hijacked by conspiracy theorists doesn’t make it easier. Proponents point to studies that show adding fluoride to public drinking supplies helps to prevent tooth decay and many health organizations and practitioners support its use. Opponents say fluoridation is an outdated form of mass medication and that it’s more effective when it’s applied directly to the teeth rather than ingesting it.

As a mother and a person who values choice, I tend to agree with the opponents.

In 2012, Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health and China Medical University combined 27 studies and found strong indications that fluoride may adversely affect cognitive development in children at high levels – mostly children in China.

The key word here is “high levels.” That particular study (a different study altogether than the report mentioned in Time Magazine last week) only looked at the effects of high levels of fluoride and did not seek to make a statement about the purportedly low levels of fluoride added to public water supplies in the U.S.

But fluoride accumulates in our bodies. One thing both sides can agree on is that the kidneys can only expel half of daily fluoride intake.

I’m not a big fan of where the fluoride that is added to our water comes from either. Opponents like to point out that fluoride is an unpurified industrial by-product that is collected in the air pollution control systems of certain industries – like the fertilizer industry. And there are reports that municipalities are starting to buy their fluoride from China – like the Fluoride Chemicals (Yunnan) Co. Ltd and Shanghai Polymet Commodities Ltd. – which both list the U.S. as buyers on their website.

Most people are not aware of where the fluoride comes from, but that’s true of a lot of things that we consume.

You might not know that the United States – which fluoridates more than 70 percent of its water supplies – has more people drinking fluoridated water than the rest of the world combined.

There are pertinent questions being raised about how fluoride affects health, and many cities across the world have successfully lobbied to have fluoride removed from their drinking water. Most recently, a West Cork town in Ireland has been designated the country’s first fluoride-free town. In 2012, Albuquerque, N.M., made the decision to stop artificially fluoridating the municipal water supply – becoming the largest city in the United States to do so, although more than 200 communities in the U.S. have withdrawn from the program since 1990, according to the New York Times. (To be fair, several municipalities have added it to their water supplies in the past two years.)

Perhaps the takeaway, as the Lancet journal prescribes, is to create a new framework of action.

And as always, stay informed.