The messy science of fluoridation and its impact on older adults
In gerontology there are many divisive issues. Surprisingly, fluoridation is one of them. When more than a quarter of older adults do not have their teeth—in some parts of the country like the fluoridated states of Kentucky and West Virginia four out of ten older adults do not have their own teeth—but when they are still made to drink water that has been fluoridated, there is a clear disregard for older adult health.
There are many reasons for fluoridation. However, scientific studies are inconclusive, of poor quality, and in all cases disregard older adults—especially those without teeth. In addition, there is the evangelical fervor from both sides of the argument—public health versus personal choice—which muddy an already complex scientific issue.
The link between fluoridation and ill health is not a direct one but involves the uptake of a known nerve toxic aluminum. Correlational studies linking aluminum with Alzheimer’s disease have been published since 1965. Half a century ago injecting aluminum in rat brains, three independent studies produced the tangle-like structures that characterize Alzheimer’s disease. Subsequently numerous international studies have found more Alzheimer’s disease in areas with high aluminum levels in drinking water.
In 2011, the Japanese researchers Masahiro Kawahara and Midori Kato-Negishi made a forceful argument between aluminum and Alzheimer’s disease. After decades of attempts to discredit this link, the authors point to strong evidence that aluminum as a culprit in forming the amyloid plaques in the brain. This and other studies continue to support the clinical studies done in rats that identify aluminum as toxic for the brain. The only problem was that aluminum does not naturally enter the brain.
There is a barrier between the body and the brain that stops metals reaching the brain. In 2013 Akinrinade ID and his colleagues from Bingham University in Nigeria, showed that the relationship between fluoride and aluminum is important in escaping this barrier. Fluoride combines with aluminum to form aluminum fluoride, which is then absorbed by the body where it eventually combines with oxygen to form aluminum oxide or alumina. Alumina is the compound of aluminum that is found in the brains of Alzheimer’s disease.
Fluorine attaches to aluminum and influences its absorption. Li Fucheng and his colleagues from Beijing, China, described high incidences of osteoporosis, osteomalacia, spontaneous bone fractures and dementia in villages in Guizhou Province, China where they were eating maize which had been baked in fires of coal mixed with kaoline. Kaoline contains aluminum and fluorides. These diseases are very similar to those occurring in European dialysis patients, unwittingly treated with water and gels containing aluminum.
The implications of this fluoride-aluminum relationship to Alzheimer’s disease are not linear. The solubility of aluminum and probably the ease with which it is absorbed varies markedly with the high acidity and alkalinity of water. In general, however, aluminum is most soluble in acidic water, especially if it contains fluorides
The public health argument for fluoridation has never been made for older adults. Such institutional ageism is bad science and much worse this is bad public health.
Mario Garrett, Ph.D., is a professor at the school of social work, San Diego State University.
© USA Copyrighted 2014 Mario D. Garrett