A study published in an influential medical journal has found a link between fluoride consumption during pregnancy and lower childhood IQs. This study may also answer the million dollar question. How to stop inner city violence and why are people committing senseless crime?
Many say it is because of mental health issues, lack of education, and few opportunities. The answer may likely be the water people are drinking and the air they are breathing.
“When we started in this field, we were told that fluoride is safe and effective in pregnancy,” said study co-author Christine Till of York University in Toronto. “But when we looked for the evidence to suggest that it’s safe, we didn’t find any studies done on pregnant women.”
The study – conducted with 512 pregnant women recruited from six Canadian cities – used several methods to measure exposure to fluoride; analyzing the amount of fluoride in their urine; looking at how much tap water and tea they drank; and comparing the fluoride concentration in the community drinking water, according to the Daily Beast.
In a follow-up, when the children were 3 or 4, the research team performed IQ tests to detect a correlation. In mothers whose urine contained a 1 mg per liter increase in fluoride concentration, their children’s IQ was 4.5 points lower among boys. Boys of mothers with the most fluoride in their urine had an IQ around 3 points lower than mothers with the least amount.
“We saw an association between prenatal fluoride exposure and lower IQ scores in children,” Rivky Green, co-author of the study published in JAMA Pediatrics.
Although critics of the study pointed to the different results by gender as a red flag, when the researchers measured fluoride exposure by examining the women’s fluid intake, they found lower IQs in boys and girls. A 1 mg increase per day was associated with a 3.7-point IQ deficit among both. –Daily Beast
“What we recommend is lowering fluoride ingestion during pregnancy,” said Green.
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The study’s findings blew JAMA’s editors away – whose were trained that fluoride is completely safe, and those who oppose it are dingbats. Around three quarters of the United States drinks fluoridated tap water – heralded as one of the 10 greatest public-health achievements in the 20th Century by the US Centers for Disease Control as it reduces tooth decay dramatically.
“When I first saw this title, my initial inclination was, ‘What the hell?” said JAMA Pediatrics editor in chief Dimitri Christakis, who wrote his first ever editor’s note in advance of the controversial article.
“There was concern on the journal’s editorial team about how this would play out in the public eye and what the public-health implications would be,” he added.
In fact, fluoride has been a boogeyman in conspiracy circles for decades. When water fluoridation became widespread in the U.S. in the ’50s, some claimed it was a Soviet plot to physically and mentally weaken Americans. The far-right John Birch Society, among others, accused the U.S. government of using fluoride to usher in socialism—a conspiracy theory famously satirized in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 film Doctor Strangelove. –Daily Beast
While the CDC would not discuss the study with the Beast, the very dismissive American Academy of Pediatrics said it’s looking forward to further studies “to see if they demonstrate the same results or provide more conclusive evidence.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, meanwhile, isn’t going to change their recommendation that pregnant women use fluoridated water.
“We wouldn’t change our guidelines without undertaking our thorough clinical-review process,” said ACOG spokeswoman Kate Connors.
ADA spokeswoman Brittany Seymour also pushed back, stating in response to the study “I still stand by the weight of the best available evidence, from 70 years of study, that community water fluoridation is safe and effective.” When this information is also compounded by low quality and toxic air, one can see how low IQ, anger, and poor health are a given.
Except that there are compelling studies on both sides of the argument, many of which have linked fluoride to lower IQ.
Fluoride occurs naturally in low concentrations around the world. While the CDC says artificially fluoridated water is safe, it is considered by some to be a cumulative poison. In 1997, British scientist Jennifer Luke discovered that just 50% of the daily ingested fluoride is excreted through the kidneys – with the rest accumulating in the bones, the pineal gland and other tissues. By old age, the pineal gland contains about the same amount of fluoride as teeth according to Luke’s findings.
In 2005, researchers found in a study of 210 children in China, fluoride doses over 2.0 mg/L in drinking water can cause renal damage in children. Of note, the US EPA requires that fluoride levels remain lower than 4.0 mg/L.
Fluoride has also been shown to damage DNA in both animals and humans. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (1993), certain subsets of the population may be particularly vulnerable to fluoride’s toxic effects.
These include the elderly, the diabetics, and people with poor kidney function. Also vulnerable are those who suffer from malnutrition, for example, calcium, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamin D, iodine deficiencies, and protein-poor diets. Those most likely to suffer from poor nutrition are the poor, who are precisely the people being targeted by new fluoridation programs. While being at a heightened risk, poor families are less able to afford avoidance measures, for example, bottled water or fluoride removal equipment. –nih.gov
In 2006, a National Research Council report stated that fluorides can interfere with brain and body functions, which was confirmed by a study in which groups of children exposed to 8 ppm of fluoride in the water – much higher than normal – were found to have lower average IQs.
Virginia Tech researchers are sounding new alarms about lead in Chicago’s water.
Tests they performed this summer on the South Side show that about a third of the tested homes delivered water with more lead than would be allowed in bottled water, according to results announced Monday at Nat King Cole Park in the Chatham neighborhood.
But the tests also showed another disturbing trend: Lead levels in many homes got higher as the water ran for up to three minutes.
In fact, the study found that after three minutes of running water, Chicago has more lead on average than Flint, Mich., during its 2015 water crisis. Three minutes “is about the longest we normally see consumers flush,” said Marc Edwards, who led the U.S. Water Study Research Team doing the tests for this study. “And after three minutes of flushing they were higher than in Flint during the height of the water crisis in 2015.”
A recent investigation by Reuters found that lead exposure affects kids in communities across the country — not just in high-profile cities like Flint, Michigan. This is worrisome, because elevated blood lead levels in kids have been linked to an array of developmental delays and behavioral problems. More ominously, this could also increase crime. Kevin Drum and others have argued that lead exposure caused the high crime rates during the 1980s and early 1990s. There has been suggestive evidence of such a link for decades, though it hasn’t gained much traction in research or policy circles. But the case that lead exposure causes crime recently became much stronger.
The “lead-crime hypothesis” is that (1) lead exposure at young ages leaves children with problems like learning disabilities, ADHD, and impulse control problems; and (2) those problems cause them to commit crime as adults — particularly violent crime. For many years, the major source of lead in the environment was leaded gasoline: car exhaust left lead behind to settle into dust on the roads and nearby land. When lead was removed from gasoline, lead levels in the environment fell, and kids avoided the lead exposure that caused these developmental problems. About 20 years later, when those kids became young adults, crime rates fell. This, proponents say, is what explains the mysterious and persistent decline in crime beginning in the early 1990s.
It’s an intriguing idea — particularly since we don’t have a better explanation for the big changes in crime rates during this period. Several studies have found correlations between lead exposure and crime, at varying levels of geography (from neighborhoods to nations). But correlation, as we all know by now, does not imply causation.
The main challenge in measuring the effect of lead on crime is that lead exposure is highly correlated with a variety of indicators related to poverty: poor schools, poor nutrition, poor health care, exposure to other environmental toxins, and so on. Those other factors could independently affect crime. The challenge for economists has been to separate the effect of lead exposure from the effects of all those other things that are correlated with lead exposure. A true experiment — where some kids are randomized to grow up with high lead exposure and others not — is out of the question. So economists have gone hunting for natural experiments — events or policies that divide otherwise-similar kids into comparable treatment and control groups.
And they’ve found them. Three recent papers consider the effects of lead exposure on juvenile delinquency and crime rates, using three very different empirical approaches and social contexts. All have plausible (but very different) control groups, and all point to the same conclusion: lead exposure leads to big increases in criminal behavior.
One of these papers considers the aggregate effects of lead exposure on city-level crime, using U.S. data from the early twentieth century. The authors, James Feigenbaum and Christopher Muller, noted that one of the primary ways individuals were exposed to lead during this period was by drinking water pumped through lead pipes. But not all cities had lead pipes. If a city was far from the nearest lead refinery, it would likely have pipes made from another material. Comparing places with and without lead pipes might allow us to estimate the effect of lead exposure on crime, but we’d worry that places near lead refineries are systematically different in some way that could confound our estimates: perhaps they’re subject to more pollution, or are wealthier. To address this, the authors exploit another interesting fact: lead only seeps into water when the water is acidic. This sets up a nice natural experiment that sorts otherwise-similar cities into the treatment and control groups we need. Those with lead pipes and acidic water are the treatment group (their populations were exposed to lead in the drinking water). Cities with lead pipes but non-acidic water, and cities with acidic water but non-lead pipes, are the control groups. These control groups account for the independent effects of lead pipes or acidic water — and whatever characteristics those features are correlated with. Using this experiment, the authors measure the effect of lead exposure on homicide rates lagged by 20 years (to give the kids exposed to lead time to grow up). They find that exposing populations to lead in their drinking water causes much higher homicide rates 20 years later, relative to similar places where kids avoided such exposure.
They find that exposing populations to lead in their drinking water causes much higher homicide rates 20 years later, relative to similar places where kids avoided such exposure.
This evidence on city-level violent crime is more compelling than previous correlational studies, but perhaps it would be even better to compare similar kids who live in the same community. This would allow us to control for more factors that might independently drive criminal behavior.
The next paper does just this, using data from more recent years. Anna Aizer and Janet Currie link data on preschool blood lead levels with data on school suspensions and incarceration, for children born in Rhode Island between 1990 and 2004. They note that kids who happened to live closer to busy roads within a neighborhood are more likely to have high blood lead levels, because the soil near those roads was still contaminated due to the use of leaded gasoline decades ago. This was especially true for kids born in the early 1990s, as environmental lead levels have fallen over time. They use those kids as the treatment group (high lead exposure) and similar kids who lived on other roads, as well as kids who lived on the same roads in later years, as the control group. These kids look similar in most other ways — they attend the same schools, their parents have similar incomes, and so on — so we would expect them to have similar outcomes. But Aizer and Currie find that being exposed to higher levels of lead increases kids’ likelihood of suspension from school as well as (for boys) the probability of being incarcerated as juveniles. The magnitude of their estimates suggest that the reduction in lead exposure due to the switch to unleaded gasoline may indeed explain a substantial portion of the decline in crime in the 1990s and 2000s.
The third paper comes at the lead-crime hypothesis from a different direction, and asks whether government programs that aim to reduce lead exposure can protect kids from lead’s negative effects. Stephen Billings and Kevin Schnepel measure the effect of CDC-recommended interventions for kids with elevated blood lead levels. Kids who test above a certain lead level twice in a row are provided intensive services — including lead abatement in their home and nutritional counseling to mitigate the effects of lead exposure. The reason two tests are required is that blood lead tests are extremely imprecise. There are therefore a lot of kids who test over the threshold once but not the second time, for reasons other than their actual lead exposure. Billings and Schnepel use the noise in these test results as random variation that divides kids into treatment and control groups: kids who tested over the threshold twice get these services, while kids who tested over the threshold once and then just below the threshold the second time do not. The intuition is that these kids have similar blood lead levels, but due to random noise in the test, some are treated and others are not. By comparing what happens to those two groups of kids, Billings and Schnepel are able to measure the effects of CDC-recommended interventions on kids’ outcomes.