Dr. Strangelove: The Fluoridation and Hypothyroidism Debate Kicks Up
One of my favorite old movies is Dr. Strangelove, where Peter Sellers plays many parts: the mad scientist, the president, and a British Air Force captain. One of the key plot lines is that General Jack D. Ripper has gone mad and deployed his B52 nuclear bombers to Russia because of communist infiltration of American society. His case in point was that fluoridation is a “commie” plot. While neither a plot nor a conspiracy, science may now be catching up with the Rip with a research paper this week that found an association between fluoridation and hypothyroidism.
The idea behind fluoridation was noble. By placing fluoride in the drinking water we as a society could treat tooth decay with every glass of water consumed by the public. What’s not to love about this Great Society initiative? By 1960, fluoridation had become widely used in the U.S. and reached about 50 million people. By 2006, just under 70% of our public water system had fluoride added. Heck, even my granola home town of Boulder Colorado has fluoridated water (although the levels were reduced a few years back).
To understand this next part of the debate you need to know some simple facts about hypothyroidism. You have a molecule in your body known as T4, which is a protein that binds 4 iodine atoms. This is needed for normal thyroid health and when you don’t have enough of it you gain weight (despite your best efforts to shed pounds) and get quite lethargic. One of the phenomena that has concerned the natural health community for years has been that flourine molecules can out compete for those iodine slots on the T4. Hence, you end up with F4 (four flourine molecules attached to the protein) which is detected by blood tests the same as T4. Hence your thyroid is robbed of T4 and iodine causing hypothyroidism, but your blood tests seem normal.
The new study that published this week was out of the U.K. and looked at hypothyroidism diagnoses in areas with and without fluoridation. They found that medical practices located in areas were fluoride was added to the drinking water were twice as likely to report hypothyroidism than those located where fluoride wasn’t added.
The upshot? A single large study that shows an association between fluoridaton and hypothyroidism isn’t likely to change public health policy. In fact, this topic has largely been considered a fringe conspiracy theory by scientists who consider fluoridation one of the great public health achievements of the 20th century. At face value, the story that our choice to mass flouridate the water in the 50s and 60s may have lead to wide spread hypothyroidism that can’t be detected by blood tests would explain much about the ever increasing waistlines of Americans. In addition, many of our European neighbors don’t flouridate, so this should be an interesting one to watch as the science matures! First some quotes from EU health officials and then a few quotes from old General Ripper:
Austria-“Toxic fluorides have never been added to the public water supplies in Austria.”
Denmark-“We are pleased to inform you that according to the Danish Ministry of Environment and Energy, toxic fluorides have never been added to the public water supplies. Consequently, no Danish city has ever been fluoridated.”.
France-“Fluoride chemicals are not included in the list [of ‘chemicals for drinking water treatment’]. This is due to ethical as well as medical considerations.”
Norway- “In Norway we had a rather intense discussion on this subject some 20 years ago, and the conclusion was that drinking water should not be fluoridated.”
Gen. Jack D. Ripper: “Do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk, ice cream? Ice cream, Mandrake? Children’s ice cream!…You know when fluoridation began?…1946. 1946, Mandrake. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It’s incredibly obvious, isn’t it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual, and certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works.”