Llittle boy holding glass of fresh and pure tap water in a summer garden, focus on glass of water

by Crystal Lauer
Health Impact News

The validity of the 1950’s American Public Health Policy, which embraced the dumping of the toxic byproduct Fluorosilicic acid into water reservoirs across the country in an attempt at “better living through chemistry,” is being increasingly brought under scrutiny as more and more research suggests that drinking water ‘fortified’ with fluoride may be doing more harm than good.

Recent studies suggest that the consumption of fluoridated drinking water is damaging to the developing brain of infants in utero, as well as making the connection between kidney and liver damage in adolescents and chronic low-level exposure to fluoride in their water. 

Worrying is the fact that both studies were done using widely-accepted optimal levels of fluoride which are currently set at 0.7 milligrams per liter of drinking water.

One new study conducted by the Mount Sinai Hospital/Mount Sinai School of Medicine examined the effects of consuming fluoridated water, which currently accounts for 74% of U.S. public waters systems, through the close examination of National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.

The study published in the Environment International this August (2019), analyzed the connection between fluoride levels in drinking water and individuals’ blood, and kidney and liver health in participating adolescents. 

Researchers noted an unsettling link between low-level chronic exposure to fluoride in public drinking water and complex changes in the function of both kidneys and liver in young people.  

Past studies, conducted on adults and animals, have long shown an association between fluoride exposure and kidney and liver toxicity, but the importance of determining the effects of exposure in the most vulnerable among us is critical to the task of framing public health guidelines. 

This study was important, as fluoride is known to clear the kidneys through urine at a rate of 45% in children, versus an adult which excretes it at 60%, leaving children who are exposed to fluoride in their water with a higher likelihood of kidney damage and Chronic Kidney Disease later in their lives.

The findings also suggest that children with poorer functioning livers and kidneys are at a greater risk, as their bodies absorb larger amounts of fluoride than a child with healthy functioning kidneys and liver, with potential side effects being renal system damage, liver damage, thyroid dysfunction, bone and teeth diseases and impairment of protein metabolism.

In an observational study funded by the Canadian government and the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Science, researchers at York University in Ontario, Canada, examined 512 mother/child pairs from six major Canadian cities and found a significant correlation between low-level fluoride exposure in pregnant women and measurably lower IQs in their children who were then evaluated at ages 3 and 4 years old.

The research team stated in a paper published this month in the journal Jama Pediatrics that,

To our knowledge, this study is the first to estimate fluoride exposure in a large birth cohort receiving optimally fluoridated water.

These findings are consistent with that of a Mexican birth cohort study that reported a 6.3 decrement in IQ in preschool-aged children compared with a 4.5 decrement for boys in our study for every 1 mg/L of MUF.

The findings of the current study are also concordant with ecologic studies that have shown an association between higher levels of fluoride exposure and lower intellectual abilities in children.

Collectively, these findings support that fluoride exposure during pregnancy may be associated with neurocognitive deficits.

NPR reports that Christine Till, an associated Professor at York University and her colleagues assessed the data thoroughly, controlling for income and education levels in the mothers and for exposure to other elements such as lead, mercury, arsenic, manganese and PFOA, while acknowledging that there is always the possibility of yet undiscovered cofactors influencing the outcomes. 

Still, the results of the study, which were based on the US Public Health Services optimal levels of fluoride per liter of drinking water, showed a difference of a couple of IQ points when compared with children whose mothers had not been exposed to artificially-fluoridated water during pregnancy, with boys being affected at a higher rate.  

More research is necessary to determine why boys are more affected than girls by fluoride neurotoxicity, particularly in light of their already higher rates of autism and attention-deficit disorders.

“We would feel an impact of this magnitude at a population level,” Till says, “because you would have millions of more children falling in the range of intellectual disability, or an IQ of under 70, and that many fewer kids in the gifted range.”

In light of the fact that fluoride has absolutely no benefits to pregnancy, Till advises precautionary steps be taken by pregnant mothers, while science continues to unfold on the question of safety concerning fluoride intake during pregnancy.  

Dr. David Bellinger, Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and Boston Children’s Hospital, who reviewed the paper prior to its publishing, likened the effect to that commonly noted with childhood lead exposure and warning that while it’s not a good idea to read too much into a single study, it does certainly elucidate important issues.

In his review in the journal Pediatric Medicine, Dr. Bellinger places fluoride on a list of chemicals which are suspected or known to interfere with neurodevelopment in children, reported by Fluoride Action Network.

Bellinger, who is recognized as one of the leading experts in lead toxicity, cites multiple studies worldwide which found significant correlation between fluoride levels in pregnant mother’s urine and low IQ in their children. He went on to state,

Considerations notwithstanding, the hypothesis that fluoride is a neurodevelopmental toxicant must now be given serious consideration.

But not everyone agrees. The fight over whether public drinking water should be fluoridated is a fierce one and participants on both sides of the debate are committed to pointing out the faults and weaknesses of the others’ argument and research.

Early in the 20th century, scientists made the connection between naturally occurring fluoride in the water supply of certain communities and a low rate of tooth decay. 

This discovery led to Grand Rapids Michigan becoming the first community to fluoridate their tap water in the mid-1940s, in an effort to lower the incidences of dental caries. Subsequent studies in school children in the community seemed to show a vast improvement in oral health, and soon fluoridation spread to other communities throughout the United States, in what the CDC proudly declares as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.

In June of 2015, a published analysis of twenty important studies on the fluoridation of community drinking water was released by the Cochrane Collaboration, a group of researchers and health professionals who are known for their rigorous scientific reviews of public health policies.

In it they voiced concern for the methods used by early scientists in their research on fluoridated water, with approximately 97 percent of the studies, which dated from before 1975, being terribly flawed in reporting of results or methods employed.

Earlier studies did not account for the increasing use of fluoride-containing toothpastes and other fluoride treatments newly available, which may explain why countries without fluoridated water also saw a drop in dental caries.

Also, of concern is the fact that fluoride at high levels causes fluorosis, a discoloring of the teeth, including white spots and pitting, and also can accumulate in the bones, ultimately weakening the skeletal system. 

Animal studies suggest high levels of fluoride are toxic to the brain and nervous system, with learning problems and memory issues being correlated to high fluoride in human epidemiology studies. Most of these studies have been done in areas which have a higher fluoride level than that supplemented in the U.S. drinking water.

While it is generally accepted that topically applied fluoride is preventative against cavities, there have been no well-done studies which show conclusively that drinking fluoridated water is the contributory factor in decreased dental cavities. 

With statistics showing an overall improvement in dental health and a widespread decrease in cavities in countries which fluoridate, as well as those that do not, it would seem to leave a question in the minds of those who are concerned about the addition of an industrial waste product into the public water system being the dental panacea its advocates would suggest it is.

In the article written by Nicole Davis and posted on the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Health online magazine, Philippe Grandjean, Adjunct Professor of Environmental Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health suggests,

We should recognize that fluoride has beneficial effects on dental development and protection against cavities.

But do we need to add it to drinking water, so it gets into the bloodstream and potentially into the brain? To answer this, we must establish three research priorities.

First, since dental cavities have decreased in countries both with and without water fluoridation, we need to make sure we are dosing our water with the proper amount of fluoride for dental medicine purposes, but no more.

Second, we need to make sure fluoridation doesn’t raise the risk of adverse health effects. In particular, we need basic research on animals that would help us understand the mechanisms by which fluoride may be toxic to the developing brain.

Third, we need to find out if there are populations highly vulnerable to fluoride in drinking water—bottle-fed infants whose formula is made with tap water, for example, or patients undergoing dialysis.

If these individuals are at risk, their water must come from a source that is lower in fluoride.

When it comes to the topic of fluoridating public water systems, the debate has been largely centered around the scientific evidence, for or against, but perhaps just as important is the question of the bioethics of fluoridated drinking water.  

When policymakers decide in favor of the fluoridation of public water systems, they are essentially medicating individuals involuntarily. 

Even if the science left absolutely no room for doubt and fluoridated water presented only benefits and no possible consequences to the wide range of individuals who have no choice but to drink the water and eat the crops grown with the water, there is still the question of autonomy. 

Does the individual have the right to choose for themselves what they put in their bodies?  

With the number of easily available fluoride-supplemented products on the shelves of virtually every store, is it morally responsible to force any supplementation onto a population without the option of dissent? 

With the current levels of water fluoridation being set by epidemiological studies done over half a century ago, it’s high time for the policy of drinking water fluoridation to be honestly reviewed and subjected to rigorous new scientific methods, but even with that done, there will remain the question of individual autonomy to be considered.