“It’s like having a scarlet ‘AF’ letter on you,” one researcher who studies fluoride said.
Conspiracy theorists have railed for seven decades against fluoride, suggesting that water fluoridation was a government mind-control trick or communist plot.
Now, an August study published by a well-regarded medical journal, JAMA Pediatrics, has re-ignited debate about fluoride, both from harsh critics of fluoridation and harsh critics of the study. The authors observed a link between fluoride, pregnant women and the IQ of their children. It stopped short of recommending cancelling fluoridation programs, but did warn expecting mothers to watch how much fluoride they consumed while the link was checked out.
“Maternal exposure to higher levels of fluoride during pregnancy was associated with lower IQ scores in children aged 3 to 4 years,” concluded the study.
The study authors and independent experts told BuzzFeed News that the finding raises questions about unknown effects that fluoride could have on vulnerable people, such as extremely young kids and expecting mothers. However, they also braced themselves for their concerns to be co-opted by the anti-fluoride camp.
“I think that it is highly likely that it will stoke conspiracy theories, even though it is not merited at this point,” Adam Spanier, professor of pediatrics at the University of Maryland School of Medicine told BuzzFeed News by email ahead of the study’s launch. Tracey Woodruff, a professor of reproductive health at the University of San Francisco who was not involved with the study, told BuzzFeed News that publishing on fluoride “is like touching a third rail in public health,” anticipating that the paper would stir controversy. “I think this message could be easily misconstrued as us saying, don’t drink fluoridated water — we’re not saying that,” study author Christine Till, professor of psychology at York University in Toronto, told BuzzFeed News.
Sure enough, the Fluoride Action Network (FAN), a noted anti-fluoride group, posted links to more than a dozen media reports of the study on its website. And it issued its own press release two days after the study ran, claiming that “pro-fluoridation” critiques of the study were “unfounded.” On Facebook, the group has posted nearly daily about the study since Aug. 19, the day it was published online. “To ignore brain health and continue fluoridation in name of dental health is a huge disservice to the children of this country,” the group wrote on Twitter.