One of the great things about being a health care practitioner for more than three decades is that I get to see exciting new research and development emerge –- and also witness the medical and scientific communities retract mistakes and give credence to things that were dismissed years ago. Remember when butter was “bad” and margarine was “good” for you? We now know that margarine contains trans fats that can contribute to heart disease and that butter can be a healthy part of a balanced diet, but it took quite some time to undo all the biased research.
These days, there’s another chemical that’s been getting a lot of media attention: flouride. Why is this important? The idea that chemicals can have a negative impact on our body functions was something much of the scientific world did not want to admit for many years. But now, more and more research is being done to show the effects of drugs, chemicals and endocrine disruptors on our bodies — and to identify all of the many health conditions they can cause or exacerbate. We’re thrilled to see this because we’ve been talking about it for decades.
Fluoride was first added to the water supply in Michigan after World War II when it was heard that in some areas of the world where water fluoride levels were naturally higher, people had better dental health. Soon after, many communities jumped on the bandwagon. Despite the fact that manufactured fluoride should never be swallowed (just read the poison warning label on a tube of toothpaste) somehow it was believed that adding it to water and drinking it would improve our dental health, and it actually did seem to decrease dental caries. But years ago the literature was compelling enough that I worked hard when my children were young to make sure they didn’t have fluoride treatments when they went to the dentist.
Today it’s estimated that about 70% of Americans have fluoridated water. Elsewhere in the world this practice is not prevalent and, in fact, countries that have naturally high fluoride levels in their water are taking steps to remove that natural fluoride and bring the levels down.
Here in Maine, we have some communities on well water but almost all of the towns with public water supplies add fluoride to the water. My patients often ask me if they should be concerned about fluoride and whether they should filter their water or buy bottled water instead.
Let’s talk about fluoride and thyroid – plus, important information about water and dental health.
What Is Fluoride?
Fluoride is a chemical ion of the element flouride, the 13th most abundant mineral on the earth’s crust. It has one extra electron, giving it a negative charge and it is found naturally in water, soil, foods and other minerals. Fluoride is also synthesized in labs and put into water, toothpaste, mouthwash, and chemical products and it is found in foods that are processed using fluoridated water.
As with vitamins and minerals, we know that when they are lab-created, they are not as readily absorbed as when they are found naturally. In the case of fluoride, while it may not be harmful, and in fact may even be beneficial in small doses from natural sources, in its lab created form, it can cause harm in the body because the body sees it not as a natural substance but as a toxin.
Fluoride and Thyroid: How Fluoride Effects Your Thyroid
In its natural form, fluoride is found in seawater at about 1.3 parts per million (or ppm) and in natural water, fluoride levels are typically .01 to .3 ppm. Some places such as China can have areas where the fluoride levels in natural water are high enough that it has been traced to health conditions and efforts are being made to remove it from the water.
That’s so different from here, where we are adding a lab-created chemical to our water in the name of better health. Recently we shared with you some shocking results from a British study about fluoride’s impact on the thyroid. This study looked at different areas in England, some of which fluoridated and some of which did not.
The study found that the rates of hypothyroidism, which is an underactive thyroid, were double in the areas where fluoride was put in the water versus the non-fluoridated areas. We are seeing hypothyroidism rates increase dramatically in the U.S., so it may well be connected to our water practices. The connection between fluoride and thyroid health was being uncovered. It was great to see a study prove what I’ve suspected for some time.
In addition, the study found that whenever the concentration of fluoride was above 0.3 ppm, the rates of hypothyroidism were as much as 30% higher. We just saw that the high end of natural fluoride levels is exactly that same level, but that is for natural fluoride. What could much higher levels of synthetic fluoride do?
EPA Announces Fluoride Rates Are Too High
Until now, the acceptable rate of (synthetic) fluoridation levels in US water has been agreed to fall within the range of 0.7 and 1.2 ppm even though health concerns were noted in the study above 0.3. (And to be clear that is a range of samplings, there is no way to know what the level is in the water that comes from your tap, as it will vary.)
To put it in perspective, studies have shown that in a healthy 154-pound person, 3.5 mg of fluoride was found to disrupt thyroid function. If water fluoridation is allowed up to 1.2 ppm and you drink water regularly, you can easily exceed that rate. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that the average American ingests 3 mgs a day but that many of us consume more than 6 mg a day! That’s almost double the level that was proven to impair thyroid function.
Even more concerning is that if you are iodine deficient, as many of us are, as little as .07 mg a day could damage thyroid function. That could be a glass or two of water a day! So it was good news when the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it was changing the maximum level to 0.7: at least it is the beginning of acknowledging that there is a problem.
At my practice, we’ve been concerned about this for some time, as we know too much fluoride can impact not just the thyroid but also many other body functions. We wish the announcement came because they were connecting the dots to all of the health concerns associated with excess fluoride.
But instead the announcement was made because the CDC has revealed that 40% of Americans have dental fluorosis, a condition that changes the appearance of your tooth enamel. It can cause chalky-like lines, pitting and staining on your teeth. That means that 2 out of 5 of us are experiencing permanent damage to our teeth from the chemical that was supposed to keep them healthy. But many say the unsightly stains and blotches on your teeth are not the biggest concern.
If your teeth are seeing the damage then most likely, fluoride is having an impact in other areas of your body as well. That’s because once fluoride is swallowed, it accumulates in your body’s bones and tissues. Teeth fluorosis may also mean you have skeletal fluorosis; it is very hard to distinguish from arthritis and can result in fatigue, muscle weakness, gastrointestinal disorders and ultimately stiff joints, calcification of tendons and ribs, and osteoporosis.
Despite the good intentions around fluoride, neither the CDC nor the World Health Organization have been able to identify any differences in tooth decay and dental health between countries that fluoridate versus countries that do not follow that practice. Beyond the less than stellar dental results and the direct link to thyroid dysfunction, fluoride has also been identified as an endocrine disruptor that can lead to reproductive problems and cancers as well as many other health concerns.
So with little good and a host of concerns, I find myself asking why do we continue?
I suspect some day we will look back and call this one of the great medical experiments that did not end well. There is already so much fluoride in foods processed with fluoride-rich waters that we can be taking in more than we should without even realizing it, let alone what is found in water, toothpaste and other dental products.
Tips to Avoid Fluoride Exposure
So what can we do about too much fluoride? We can’t avoid it completely but we can be aware of its presence and try to reduce our exposure to it.
- Avoid bottled water as it often contains hidden fluoride as well as BPA and other concerns.
- If you have fluoridated tap water, look into a filter that is proven to remove fluoride.
- Be extra careful not to swallow any toothpaste or dental rinse.
- Eat more iodine-rich foods such as sea vegetables, saltwater fish and other seafood, or iodized sea salt to offset the impact to your thyroid.
- Get your thyroid tested. This is especially true for women during perimenopause, but if you’ve been exposed to fluoridated water all your life or you are seeing any dental spotting or staining, you should definitely get your thyroid tested.
- Take a high quality multi-vitamin to support your body’s healthy response to exposure and elimination of toxins.
Final Thoughts on Fluoride and Thyroid
We cannot change the world but we can change our response to it. If you are experiencing perimenopausal or PMS symptoms and struggle to feel good, it may be your thyroid or it may be your body’s need to rebalance from toxic exposures so that your hormones can realign. We’ve helped thousands of women to reclaim their health and feel like themselves again. We can help you too.