I still remember my first exposure to the nutty idea. I was reading an anthology of humorist P.J. O’Rourke’s early work from his National Lampoon days. There is was, dripping with satire, a flow chart about how fluoridated water was turning America’s kids into communists. I laughed out loud. I’m sure I was not alone. The thought that fluoridated water was a problem was synonymous with “tin-foil hats.” However, I have to acknowledge facts and those facts are starting to mount on the side of fluoridated tap water being far from harmless.
Earlier this year there was some media coverage about a Harvard University study which demonstrated that children who live in “high fluoridated” areas have “significantly lower” IQ scores than those who live in “low fluoride” areas. Some of the health effects found by the study include:
• Reduction in nicotinic acetylcholine receptors
• Damage to your hippocampus
• Formation of beta-amyloid plaques (the classic brain abnormality in Alzheimer’s disease)
• Reduction in lipid content
• Damage to purkinje cells
• Exacerbation of lesions induced by iodine deficiency
• Impaired antioxidant defense systems
• Increased uptake of aluminum
• Accumulation of fluoride in your pineal gland
I had only tempered interest when I first heard about the study because I know the first rule of research studies: For each study, there is an equal and opposite study. However, the debate has moved past the ivory towers of academe into a drastic real-world development.
The Supreme Court of Israel has ruled that public fluoridation of water must end in that country within one year because of potential adverse health effects. (The Court’s order is here.) That is bold news which should stir debate in this country — only the debate isn’t happening. Why? I suspect I large part is “The Emperor Has No Clothes” syndrome (what social scientists call pluralistic ignorance) where people are afraid to speak out about something which they perceive might make them look silly to the rest of society, i.e. questioning fluoridated water carries a cultural “tin-foil hat” stigma. Hopefully Harvard University and the State of Israel have cleared the way for us to have a real debate. However, if those two heavy hitters still don’t convince you that we might have been poisoning our own water supply for years, consider the fact that once upon a time many Europeans engaged in the absurdly stupid practice of drinking out of lead and pewter cups. If you find that example too antiquated, consider that around the time we started mass fluoridation of public drinking water was also a time when cigarette ads contained doctor endorsements.(Also here)
So how big a danger is our tap water? What are safe levels of fluoride? Do we really need fluoride for dental hygiene? (There is evidence to suggest world-wide cavity rates are falling even without fluoride.) I don’ think we know, and don’t think we will know short of there being litigation to help stir a national discussion. It took courageous lawyers to take on Big Tobacco and protect kids from Joe Camel. I don’t see a national debate about fluoride starting without the same type of moxy from the next generation of lawyers. Any volunteers?