Fluoridation of public water supplies is a topic which I notice arise quite often in my circle, which mostly includes groups and individuals that I would loosely describe as naturalists, or, depending on the individual or occasion, activists, liberals, non-conventionalist, hippies, and/or conspiracy theorists. In this mixed group of non-conventionally opinioned folk I have heard many arguments against the addition of fluoride to drinking water by public utilities. But, there is also the conflicting opinion which is held by the large group of regulatory agencies and supporting bodies that not only say it’s safe, but say it’s beneficial for cavity prevention. This is demonstrated by the fact that, as reported by the Center for Disease Control, 74.6% of the U.S. population was receiving fluoridated water from their public utility in 2012 (CDC statistics page). So, what supports these two conflicting viewpoints?
It’s quite possible that many people aren’t aware that fluoride is added by most public utilities, often by law, to public water supplies. The reason given is that certain levels of daily fluoride intake have been shown to be beneficial in preventing tooth decay and cavities, so in turn, most cities have chosen to put it into the water supply to aid in this cause.
So, here’s the debate. Fluoride is considered to be a toxic chemical, but, like all toxic chemicals, toxicity is determined by dose. So, let’s look at the doses. The CDC recommends fluoridation at a level of 0.7–1.2 mg/L, so let’s use the top end to be safe, 1.2 mg/L. A terminal dose of fluoride is estimated to be from 32 – 64 mg/kg of body weight, so, once again, to be safe, let’s use the lower end, 32 mg/kg of body weight. This would mean that a 50 lb child would have to drink at least 480 L (127 gal.) of fluoridated water, in one sitting, to die. So, obviously nobody is going to drink a terminal dose of “optimally” fluoridated water, so that’s not our concern here. The main concern of fluoridation opponents is the long-term, low-dose ingestion of fluoride over time.
Fluoride is a compound that naturally exists in many water supplies throughout the world, and, depending on the level, can cause major human health concerns. Sever cases can be found in African, eastern, and middle eastern countries, and is seen as a major water sanitation and health issue by the World health Organization (World Health Organization).
The pictures shown above are sever examples of long-term, high-dose exposure to fluoride, possibly coupled with nutrient intake issues. Some water supplies studied have fluoride content levels over 9 mg/L, over seven times the CDC’s recommended levels.
Bone development issues and tooth enamel dotting and discoloration are well known symptoms of chronic high dose fluoride intake, but these are rarely the points that I have encountered through discussion with fluoridation opponents. The main point that have been brought up to me are the potentially adverse neurological and cognitive effects which may be caused by fluoride.
There has been activism and controversy since the original introduction of fluoride into water supplies beginning in 1945 that fluoride can cause decreases in cognitive development and functioning. This concern was elevated when the Harvard School of Public Health performed a study in which they state that they, “found strong indications that fluoride may adversely affect cognitive development in children” (Harvard Study). However, a study was done a few years later, by University of Otago, New Zealand’s oldest university, in which they claimed to have far exceeded the scientific rigors of the Harvard study, and concluded that, “Our analysis showed no significant differences in IQ by fluoride exposure” (Otago study).
It is very much worth noting that the Harvard research involved reviewing former studies, mostly from China, where risks from fluoride are well established, so the availability of information on other possible contributing factors to IQ levels of test population was inherently limited. The Otago study on the other hand pulled from comprehensive data on a relatively controlled population of people within the city where the university is located. In the Otago study they were able to account for socioeconomic position, education of father, whether the subjects were breast fed, and any number of other possible contributing factors. The other major difference in the two studies were the levels of fluoride to which the subjects were exposed. The Harvard study focused on much higher dose exposure than the Otago study.
So, where are we at? Well, it seems that, at higher than recommended doses, according to Harvard study, there seems to be an inverse correlation between fluoride intake and IQ, though subject IQ also could have been effected by other socioeconomic issues and possible exposure of other toxins. It also seems that, from the Otago study, using more precise information, there seems to be no significant correlation between IQ and long-term, low-dose fluoride ingestion.
So now what? Well, there were also some other studies done which I found through the the Official Website of the European Union, here in section 3.4 of their informational page on fluoridation. I won’t go through all the studies individually, but the high points were two cited studies that surveyed across a range of long term fluoride exposure levels and were adjusted for relevant confounding variables. Both of these studies showed significant correlation between fluoride intake and IQ with high-dose intake.
From these studies, I see reasonable cause for concern about long-term ingestion of fluoride in moderate to high doses. For me, it is worth noting, that IQ was the only test measure used in these studies, which it may have some effect on, depending on dose. This leads me to wonder what effects it may have on other, untested, cognitive function (intuition, motor skills, sense of well-being, social sense, etc) or any other subtle ways in which we interact with our surroundings.
Let’s get to a conclusion here. So, will I drink the fluoridated water here in Orlando, FL? If I’m thirsty enough, yeah, sure. Will I keep a jug of non-fluoridated water with me so I don’t have to make a habit of it? Yes, I will likely continue to do that, but keep in mind, I drink herbal infusions daily, eat nutrient dense superfoods, spend a half hour a day meditating, grow my own food, and the list goes on. Is any of this stuff necessary? Nope. I’ve seen people survive on McDonald’s value meals. The body is a badass – it can make do. I mean, depending on what you choose to do with your life, a little lowered cognitive function might help you get along with your boss better. For me though, I have to be at peak cognitive performance to keep up with the rockstars, so it’s not worth the risk, and that crap tastes like chlorine anyway. Peace out!!!