Home / Studies Linking Fluoride In Water To Health Issues Prompt Australian Review
Studies Linking Fluoride In Water To Health Issues Prompt Australian Review
While most Australians have been regularly consuming low amounts of fluoride since it was added to drinking water in the 1960s and 1970s to prevent tooth decay, several controversial studies in recent years have suggested the mineral may be linked to lower intelligence in children and thyroid problems that can cause weight gain, fatigue and depression.
Have the health benefits of fluoride in drinking
water been overstated?
On Tuesday, the National Health and Medical Research Council revealed that a 2012 studylinking very high levels of fluoride to low IQ among some Chinese children prompted it to commission a review of the health effects of the celebrated public health intervention.
A spokesperson for the NHMRC said while the Chinese study increased concern about the safety of fluoride and potential neurotoxicity for children, it was conducted in a country with very different naturally occurring levels of fluoride that are not seen in Australia, meaning “care needs to be exercised in interpreting the results”.
Furthermore, the study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives identified drinking water with fluoride concentrations up to 11.5 mg/L in China. In Australia, the recommended level is 0.6-1.1 mg/L.
Nonetheless, the NHMRC established a fluoride reference group last year and has commissioned Sydney University researchers to assess new evidence by mid 2015. A draft statement on their findings is due by the end of the year.*
Until then, the NHMRC says its 2007 review of fluoridation stands, showing it is safe and effective for preventing tooth decay and that there is insufficient evidence to support any other “measurable harm to human health”.
“The only potential harm associated with water fluoridation is dental fluorosis [mottles or flecks on the teeth], and this can be minimised by the careful regulation of the concentration of fluoride in fluoridated water at levels aimed to prevent tooth decay,” the spokesperson said.
On Wednesday, chief executive officer of the NHMRC Warwick Anderson suggested the review was occurring in line with its commitment to regularly update statements on health matters and was unlikely to change its position on the safety of water fluoridation.
“Based on the work already conducted in the review, NHMRC is expected to maintain its support for fluoridation of water supplies as effective and safe,” Professor Anderson said in a statement. on Tuesday, British researchers called for health authorities to reconsider its water fluoridation program after a new study linked fluoride to higher rates of hypothyroidism – low thyroid function that slows the metabolism down and can cause fatigue, weight gain and depression.
The observational study published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health (a specialist journal published by the British Medical Journal group) reported that GP clinics in areas with fluoridated water were nearly twice as likely to report high rates of hypothyroidism compared with clinics in areas without water fluoridation.
While the researchers did not prove fluoride was causing the illness, they said their results should be “substantial cause for public health concern” and should prompt people to be tested for the condition.
But David Coggon, professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at University of Southampton, said the study was highly questionable.
“As epidemiological evidence goes, this is about as weak as it gets,” he said.
“It is quite possible that the observed association is a consequence of other ways in which the areas with higher fluoride differ from the rest of the country. There are substantially more rigorous epidemiological methods by which the research team could have tested their idea,” he said.
A spokesman for the Department of Health in Victoria said: “The addition of fluoride to drinking water supplies is universally supportedby all leadinghealth authorities.”
In Victoria, 90 per cent of the population has access to fluoridated drinking water supplies.
*We are not holding our breath, and we will keep using our RO water filters…
Professor Anderson said, “Based on the work already conducted in the review, NHMRC is expected to maintain its support for fluoridation of water supplies as effective and safe.”
This year, Australia captured another Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. As the nation’s long-standing source of public funding for medical research, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) aims to foster similar future achievements. In June 2006, Warwick Anderson became chief executive of the NHMRC as the institution gained new status as a fully independent agency. Anderson has overseen an almost 50% increase in staff as he steers the organization into a wider role as a source of advice for policymakers, health professionals and consumers. He talked to Simon Grose about his first three years in the job and the NHMRC’s accelerated evolution.
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