Myth or Fact: Is Fluoride Toxic to the Brain?
For years, fluoride has been touted as a risk-free, effective way of preventing tooth decay. Its daily use had been supported by the American Dental Association, World Health Organization, and Center for Disease Control. It is thought to prevent tooth decay by depositing onto teeth during a process called remineralization, a natural process whereby minerals are deposited back onto areas of teeth that have been demineralized (areas of mineral break down). By depositing onto teeth, fluoride is thought to enhance the remineralization process by speeding it up and attracting other minerals, like calcium, to help strengthen teeth. Moreover, fluoride has been shown to inhibit cariogenic (cavity-causing) bacteria.
The History of Fluoride...
Since the 1940s, the addition of fluoride to the drinking water supplies (termed, ‘fluoridation’) became widespread in the United States. This was reported to have drastically lowered the rates of tooth decay. However, over the past decade, fluoridation has come under scrutiny, as evidence emerged that the declining rates of tooth decay may not be related to widespread fluoridated water supply. For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) published data on tooth decay trends internationally, and found that tooth decay rates have ‘precipitously declined’ in all western countries regardless of whether or not the country fluoridated the water. Moreover, in countries that have abolished fluoridated drinking water, the rates of tooth decay have not increased. This led to the conclusion that topical application of fluoride, rather than ingesting it (i.e., in the form of drinking water), contributes to tooth decay prevention.
Criticism of Fluoride...
In the recent years, fluoridated drinking water has come under ethical scrutiny, as many critics argued that US populations were receiving medical treatment without consent. Additionally, the appropriate ‘dose’ of fluoride intake has been difficult to control due to the variation of fluoride levels in various water supplies, as well as its presence in a multitude of foods and products. Moreover, fluoride is not considered to be a nutrient to the human body, as there has never been a document case of ‘fluoride-deficiency.’
Health Concerns related to Fluoride...
What was more concerning was that evidence emerged that fluoride ingestion could be harmful. It was discovered that excess fluoride could lead to skeletal fluorosis - a health problem caused by excess accumulation of fluoride in bone, characterized by pain and tenderness of major joints as well as increased risk of bone fractures; dental fluorosis - tooth discoloration and pitting; and thyroid dysfunction - fluoride competitively binds to iodine and slows the production of thyroid hormones (Peckham and Awofeso, 2014). This can lead to hypothyroidism, a disorder in which the body produces too little thyroid hormone, which can lead to a multitude of symptoms, including weight gain, depression, fatigue, depression, and cognitive problems. Also, there is evidence that supports that chronic fluoride exposure is a possible cause of uterine and bladder cancer (Peckham and Awofeso, 2014).
Furthermore, there is unequivocal evidence to support that fluoride toxicity can harm the brain. Fluoride toxicity has been related to:
1. Decreased IQ and cognitive impairment in children
-A multitude of studies have been published on the harm that it can create within the developing brain of children. In 2012, Harvard published a meta-analysis of 27 different fluoride studies, and found that fluoride exposure was associated with reduced IQ in children.
-Moreover, in 26 of these studies, there was a relationship between high levels of fluoride and reduced IQ.
-A review published in the Lancet concluded that fluoride is a neurotoxin that damages the developing brain, thus increasing the risk of autism, developmental delay, ADHD, and learning disabilities.
2. Calcification of the pineal gland
-The pineal gland secretes a hormone called melatonin, which is important for regulating our sleep patterns
-Melatonin is also a potent antioxidant and neuroprotector.
-Calcification of the pineal gland leads to impaired melatonin secretion.
-Reduced melatonin can lead to insomnia.
-Reduced melatonin levels are also observed in various diseases, such as dementia, mood disorders, severe pain, cancer, and diabetes type 2 (Hardeland, 2012).
3. Poor memory and learning
-Fluoride has been shown to accumulate in the hippocampus (the structure in the brain involved in forming memories) and leads to impaired learning and memory formation in multiple animal studies (Jiang et al., 2014).
-Given its effects on the thyroid, thyroid dysfunction can lead to fatigue, depression, anxiety, brain fog / memory problems, and cognitive impairment.
HOW DO I AVOID FLUORIDE TOXICITY?
In sum, while topical fluoride has been shown to help prevent dental cavities, excess exposure can lead to harmful health consequences. How do you minimize your risk of fluoride toxicity? The best way is to limit your exposure to it. It is important to be aware of the commonly used products that contain fluoride, to carefully weigh the risks and benefits of fluoride use, and to make well-informed decisions about the products you use.
1. USE A FLUORIDE-FREE TOOTHPASTE
There are a few brands that offer this option. My favorite is Tom’s, which can be found at most grocery stores or ordered online. The toothpaste contains no artificial dyes, sweeteners or flavors, and the taste is pleasant and leaves my mouth feeling just as fresh as regular toothpaste.
UPDATE: When I first transitioned to a fluoride-free toothpaste, I was skeptical that my teeth would stay as healthy as when I used fluoride-containing toothpaste. I officially started using Tom’s one year ago (October, 2017). I am still cavity-free and my teeth and are still white as can be (current pic of my teeth on the far right)!
2. AVOID DRINKING FLUORIDATED WATER
The CDC website allows you to search your county to identify if it fluoridates the water supply. If your city fluoridates the water and you make the decision to drink non-fluoridated water, you have two options. You can:
-Purchase a water filter that filters out fluoride. Aquagear offers a cost-effective water filter pitcher that filters fluoride, as well as other toxins such as mercury, chlorine, mercury and lead. If you prefer a filter that you can install directly into your home water supply, APEC offers a 5-tier reverse osmosis filtration system that is a bit pricier, but known to be high quality, durable, and dependable.
-You can also buy bottled water. But beware! Some bottled waters are fluoridated! Here is a list that identifies the various bottled waters that are fluoridated and those that aren't. I personally have chosen to buy Primo water jugs for my family- the water is fluoride free and the jugs are BPA-free. My family and I use a Primo water dispenser that offers on-demand hot and cold water and cleans itself. If you go for this option, you can either buy primo water jugs online to be delivered, or buy it at select grocery stores that offer discount coupons for everytime you recycle an empty jug.
3. AVOID NON-STICK COOKWARE.
Most non-stick cookware contain fluoride-containing chemicals called fluoropolymers (think: Teflon and perfluorooctanoic acid/aka PFOA). While these chemicals make non-stick cookware easier to cook, they are also toxic and are released into the food we cook at high temperatures. Make sure to read product labels carefully, because products claiming to contain no Teflon can still contain PFOA. Given that the chemicals used in nonstick cookware have also been associated with female infertility, I have avoided non-stick cookware for years, and instead stick with (pun intended) ceramic, caste iron, glass, and stainless steel cookware .
2. BE CAUTIOUS OF THE TEA YOU BUY
Who doesn't enjoy a hot cup of tea on a cold winter day? That's completely ok, but it's important to make informed decisions about the tea you drink. Certain tea leaves absorb a particularly high amount of fluoride from the soil, which can lead to high fluoride levels in tea drinks. But not all teas carry the same risk. Herbal teas and white teas contain the lowest amounts of fluoride, while black, green, and oolong teas have the highest content.
AVOID BUYING TEA GROWN IN CHINA
ALSO, where the tea leaves are grown makes a difference because of the content of fluoride in soils of different areas. For instance, green tea from China contains more fluoride than the green tea grown in Japan due to lower fluoride content in Japanese soil. Other areas with high fluoride soil content include Sri Lanka, India, parts of Africa and the Middle East. Also, the age of the tea leaf makes a big difference: the younger the leaves are, the less fluoride content they have been shown to have. Older mature leaves (which also on a side note, have less of the antioxidant EGCG than younger leaves) have up to 20 times more fluoride than younger leaves! The best bet if you want to avoid fluoride and still receive the health benefits of true tea is to go with White Tea. If you are to go with black, green or oolong tea, drink teas grown in areas with low environmental fluoride (i.e. the US or Japan) or younger tea leaves.
I HOPE THIS ARTICLE HELPS YOU MAKE THE BEST INFORMED DECISIONS FOR YOUR FAMILY, AND EMPOWERS YOU TO TAKE CONTROL OF HOW MUCH FLUORIDE EXPOSURE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY ARE EXPOSED TO.
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European Commission. Critical review of any new evidence on the hazard profile, health effects, and human exposure to fluoride and the fluoridating agents of drinking water. Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER), 2011.
Hardeland, R. (2012). Neurobiology, Pathophysiology, and Treatment of Melatonin Deficiency and Dysfunction. The Scientific World Journal, 2012, 640389. http://doi.org/10.1100/2012/640389
Jiang S, Su J, Yao S, Zhang Y, Cao F. Fluoride and Arsenic Exposure Impairs Learning and Memory and Decreases mGluR5 Expression in the Hippocampus and Cortex in Rats (2014) PLOS ONE 9(4): e96041.
Peckham, S., & Awofeso, N. (2014). Water Fluoridation: A Critical Review of the Physiological Effects of Ingested Fluoride as a Public Health Intervention. The Scientific World Journal, 2014, 293019. http://doi.org/10.1155/2014/293019