Water Fluoridation: Helpful or Harmful?

In the United States, fluoride is added to 70% of public drinking water supplies.  However, most other developed countries do not add fluoride to drinking water; for instance, 97% of the population in Western Europe has water without any added fluoride.  Why the disparity?  Is water fluoridation helpful or harmful?  As it turns out, there is great cause for concern that water fluoridation is harmful.

For starters, water fluoridation has been implicated as a factor in causing underactive thyroid (hypothyroid).   One of the main reasons for this is that fluoride displaces iodine in the body and iodine is necessary for production of thyroid hormone.  The thyroid gland regulates metabolism and many other functions of the body.  Symptoms of hypothyroid can include weight gain, depression, thinning of hair, feeling cold, constipation, muscle aches, fatigue, mental sluggishness and more. Hypothyroid predominantly affects women although it can also strike men.  A study recently published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health illustrates the connection between water fluoridation and hypothyroid.  Researchers reviewed medical records from nearly 8000 medical practices covering 95% of the English population; hypothyroid disease was 30% more common in areas of the country with water fluoridation of greater than 0.3 parts per million (ppm).  That should concern Americans; our government actively promotes water fluoridation and allows up to 4 ppm (13 times higher than the dangerous level indicated in the British study).  According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, more than 27 million Americans suffer with thyroid dysfunction.

Brain damage and low IQ may be caused by fluoride according to more than 23 human studies and 100 animal studies.  A study from Harvard University funded by the National Institutes of Health concluded that water fluoridation significantly lowers IQ scores in children; the researchers stated that “the results suggest that fluoride may be a developmental neurotoxicant that affects brain development at exposures much below those that can cause toxicity in adults” and that “our results support the possibility of adverse effects of fluoride exposures on children’s neurodevelopment.”  Infants may be at particular risk. The Institute of Medicine recommends that infants consume 10 micrograms per day of fluoride (roughly the amount babies would consume from breast milk).  However, infants who consume formula made with fluoridated water may consume up to 100 times more than the recommended amount.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that 40% of American teens have a condition called dental fluorosis.  Fluorosis is a defect of tooth enamel caused by fluoride’s interference with enamel-producing cells.  Effects of fluorosis range from cloudy spots and streaks on teeth to brown stains and even tooth erosion.  While 40% is the overall incidence of fluorosis amongst American teens, in some areas of the country as many as 80% of teens are affected.  In addition to fluoride in drinking water, American children are exposed to fluoride in toothpastes, mouthwash, processed foods & beverages, tea, and even Teflon pans.

A 2006 report from the National Academy of Science (NAS) concluded that fluoride is an “endocrine disruptor”, i.e. fluoride interferes with hormone balance and production.  The report also suggests the possibility that “fluoride acts to increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease”.  Based on evidence that fluoride may negatively affect many things in the body including bones, brain, thyroid gland, pineal gland, fertility, blood sugar levels and more, the NAS team concluded that more research was necessary regarding the safety of fluoride exposure.

But wait!  Isn’t water fluoridation necessary to help prevent tooth decay?  Apparently not.  According to data from the World Health Organization, there is no real difference in occurrence of tooth decay between the minority of developed countries that fluoridate water and the majority of countries that do not.  It is true that fluoride can help to prevent tooth decay; however, it is now widely recognized that fluoride’s main benefit comes from topical contact.  Swallowing fluoride-supplemented water and/or other fluoridated substances is harmful and does not contribute to the prevention of tooth decay in any significant way.

The practice of adding fluoride to drinking water offers no health benefit.  On the contrary, ingesting fluoride-supplemented water poses various and significant health risks.  For information on how to reduce your consumption of fluoride and on how to help end the practice of water fluoridation, visit the Fluoride Action Network at www.fluoridealert.org.