In 1945, Grand Rapids, Michigan became the first US city to fluoridate the public water supply.
The idea quickly caught on, and the controversy began soon after: in growing numbers, a vocal minority has raised concerns about fluoride’s role in a broad range of health problems.
Fluoridation critics suggest fluoride exposure may be implicated in physical symptoms spanning gastrointestinal problems, low fertility, thyroid disease, endocrine disruption, arthritis, and cancer.
Government health advisors disagree, arguing the benefits to developing teeth outweigh any established risks. Irrefutable evidence is hard to come by, due to the nature of the debate: in all major public health research, so many factors overlap that it can be impossible to either prove or disprove a condition’s cause. And a controlled study (deliberately administering high doses of fluoride on selected humans for decades) would of course be unethical.
Recently, however, Harvard researchers were able to study health data for communities in China where high levels of fluoride are present in the groundwater.
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The results give cause for unease: “the children living in high-fluoride areas had significantly lower IQ scores than those who lived in low-fluoride areas.” The average difference was 7 points, and researcher Philippe Grandjean concluded that fluoride belongs among lead, mercury, and other poisons as a known neurotoxin and “chemical brain drain.” Grandjean suggested the developing brain may be irreversibly damaged by fluoride exposure, and the exact “safe” thresholds, if any, are unknown.
More and more of us are ready to opt out of fluoridation. But how can we take out these minuscule, tasteless molecules added at the treatment plant? If you’re serious about going fluoride-free, here are a few things to consider.
1. Stop Drinking Fluoridated Water
Tap water consumption is, on average, the largest daily source of fluoride exposure for people who live in areas that add fluoride to the water. If you live in such an area, you can avoid drinking the fluoride in one of three ways.
Water Filters: One way of avoiding the fluoride from tap water is to purchase a water filter. Not all water filters, however, remove fluoride. The three types of filters that can remove fluoride are reverse osmosis, deionizers (which use ion-exchange resins), and activated alumina. Each of these filters should be able to remove about 90% of the fluoride. By contrast, “activated carbon” filters (e.g., Brita & Pur) do not remove fluoride.
Spring Water: Another way to avoid fluoride from tap water is to purchase spring water. Most brands of spring water contain very low levels of fluoride. Some brands, however, do contain high levels (e.g., Trinity Springs). Before consuming any bottled water on a consistent basis, therefore, you should verify that the fluoride content is less than 0.2 ppm, and ideally less than 0.1 ppm. You can find out the level of fluoride level in some of the popular brands here. You can also find out the fluoride level by calling the number on the water label. (Most companies have this information readily available.)
Water Distillation: A third way to avoid fluoride from the tap is to purchase a distillation unit. Water distillation will remove most, if not all, of the fluoride. The price for a distillation units varies widely depending on the size. Small counter-top units cost as little as $200, while large units can exceed $1,000.
If you don’t know if your area is fluoridated, you can find out by contacting your local water department. If you live in the U.S., you can also find out by going to this State Fluoride Database.
2. Don’t Let Your Child Swallow Fluoride Toothpaste
Fluoride toothpaste is often the largest single source of fluoride intake for young children. Research has shown that it is not uncommon for young children to swallow more fluoride from toothpaste alone than is recommended as an entire day’s ingestion from all sources. Ingestion of excessive fluoride toothpaste is a major risk factor for dental fluorosis, and can cause symptoms of acute fluoride toxicity (e.g., stomach pain, nausea, etc).
In short, if you do use fluoride toothpaste, it’s very important that you supervise your children while they brush to make sure they use no more than a “pea-sized amount” of paste, and that they fully rinse and spit after they finish. And, lastly, for obvious reasons do not purchase candy flavored toothpaste (e.g., bubble-gum and watermelon).
3. Eat More Fresh Food, Less Processed Food
When water is fluoridated, it is not just the water that is fluoridated, but all beverages and foods that are made with the water. As a general rule, therefore, the more processed a food is, the more fluoride it has.
The good news is that the naturally occurring levels of fluoride in most fresh water (e.g., spring water) and most fresh food (e.g., fruits, vegetables eggs) is very low. Use this fact to your advantage by trying to shift as much as you can from processed foods to fresh.
Also, since processed beverages (e.g., sodas, reconstituted juices, sports drinks) contribute far more to fluoride intake than processed foods, it is most important to focus on reducing your consumption of processed beverages.
4. Buy Organic Grape Juice and Wine
In the United States, many vinyards use a fluoride pesticide called cryolite. As a result, the levels of fluoride in U.S. grape juice and wine (particularly white grape juice and white wine) are consistently elevated.
Indeed, in 2005, the USDA reported that the average level of fluoride exceeded 2 ppm for both white wine and white grape. The levels of fluoride in red wine are also elevated (1 ppm), and so are raisins (2.3 ppm).
If you buy grape juice and wine, or if you are a heavy consumer of raisins, buy organic. In the case of wine, if don’t want to spend the extra money on organic, consider purchasing a European brand, as Europe uses far less cryolite than the U.S.
5. Avoid Cooking with Non-Stick (Teflon) Pans
Some research has found that cooking with Teflon-coated pans (i.e., stick-free pans) can significantly increase the fluoride content of food. If you have Teflon pans, therefore, consider switching to stainless steel.
6. Don’t Take Cipro and Be Mindful of Other Fluorinated Pharmaceuticals
Many pharmaceuticals are fluorinated, which means they contain something called a “carbon-fluorine bond.” Although the carbon-fluorine bond is strong enough to resist breaking down within the body, this is not always the case.
Some fluorinated drugs have been found to metabolize into fluoride within the body and this greatly increases a person’s exposure to fluoride. The most notable example is Cipro. Other fluorinated chemicals that are currently known to break down into fluoride include fluorinated anesthetics (Isoflurane & Sevoflurane), Niflumic acid, Flecainide, and Voriconazole. If you are taking any of these drugs, find out if there are any safer alternatives available.
7. Avoid Fluoridated Salt
If you live in a country which allows fluoridated salt to be sold, make sure that the salt you buy is unfluoridated. Consumption of fluoridated salt can greatly increase a person’s fluoride exposure.
It’s getting harder and harder to take a cool drink of water for granted. Across the country, battles continue to rage in communities large and small over whether adding fluoride to the public water supply is a safe, common-sense public service, or a sinister act of government-sponsored health endangerment. In Portland, Oregon, the impassioned debate centered around issues of personal choice and responsibility: if the facts are in question, who gets to decide what’s in their water?
Ultimately, Portlanders voted “no” to fluoride. It’s a decision each family must make based on available information. If your municipal water supply or private well contains unwanted fluoride, you have options to exercise your informed choice in your own home.