You know, I get why people are sucked in by alarmist quackery. It’s just so damn convincing. A link on twitter recently led me to this article on the horrors of fluoride. As soon as I clicked the link and saw the author, world-renowned quack Dr. Joseph Mercola I groaned inwardly. Despite my instinct to automatically disregard the article on the basis of its author I decided to give it a read.
The headline: Harvard study confirms fluoride reduces children’s IQ does little to indicate the true depth of the anti-fluoride message of the article. To sum it all up: fluoride is pretty much the most toxic element known to man (okay, I may be exaggerating slightly) and the root cause of most modern-day ailments; everything from brain damage to ADHD to cancer, arthritis, and infertility.
Considering that fluoride has been added to many municipal water supplies for over half a century now, what prompted this anti-fluoride resurgence? Apparently a recent meta-analysis (which, despite sounding like the ultimate source of all scientific knowledge, can have numerous drawbacks) found that “children who live in areas with highly fluorinated water have “significantly lower” IQ scores than those who live in low fluoride areas”. If you want to read the 32-page-long report, it’s available here. The researchers used epidemiological studies. The upside of this is that they actually involved humans, rather than lab animals. The downside of this is that epidemiological studies can never prove causation. There could be many other reasons, completely unrelated to fluoride, why lower IQ scores were observed in these locations.
I would like to draw attention to one of the introductory statements in the report:
Opportunities for epidemiological studies depend on the existence of comparable population groups exposed to different levels of fluoride from drinking water. Such circumstances are difficult to find in many industrialized countries, because fluoride concentrations in community water are usually no higher than 1 mg/L, even when fluoride is added to water supplies as a public health measure to reduce tooth decay.
Maybe I’m missing something here but isn’t this statement essentially saying that most communities don’t put high enough levels of fluoride in their water to cause any detrimental neurological effects? Basically, the authors were looking for extreme circumstances, levels of fluoridation of public water that we don’t see in North America. That fact alone, even if fluoride may reduce IQ (and I’m not saying that it does) indicates to me that the entire study is essentially meaningless.
One last point: the report serving as the catalyst for Mercola’s article only looked at the relationship between fluoride and IQ in children. There was no mention of the myriad other ailments that Mercola mentioned in his article. Fluoridation of drinking water is a contentious issue; I don’t purport to have a definitive answer regarding its benefits versus its risks and I am all for continuous unbiased research on the topic. However, I believe that the risks of this sort of alarmist article definitely outweigh the benefits.