Cognitive problems in children linked to excess fluoride

A study shows a link between drinking fluoride and children's cognitive deficits.

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A recent pilot study from Tulane University suggests that if children drink water with high levels of fluoride for a long time, it might affect their thinking and memory. The study was done in rural Ethiopia, where they have wells with different levels of natural fluoride, much higher than the World Health Organization suggests.

They tested 74 school-aged children to see how well they could draw everyday things like a house or a donkey. They also used a computer test to check their memory, independent of language or culture.

The study discovered that when kids were exposed to more fluoride in their drinking water, they made more mistakes on drawing and memory tests. While the link between fluoride and brain issues is not yet fully understood, the lead author, Tewodros Godebo, hopes these initial findings will encourage more research on how fluoride might affect our thinking.

Tewodros Godebo emphasized that further studies are necessary to confirm these results. However, the findings raise concerns about the potential impact of fluoride on the brain, especially in children. While fluoride helps prevent tooth decay, too much of it has been associated with lower IQ in previous studies in rural areas of China and India.

Past animal studies have shown that fluoride can get into the developing baby’s brain, potentially affecting it. In places where there’s no other source of drinking water, too much fluoride exposure could be a long-term problem starting from when a child is conceived.

More than 200 million people worldwide are believed to have high fluoride levels in their drinking water. This study in the Ethiopian Rift Valley is helpful because the people there have consistent exposure to fluoride, making it an excellent place to research potential effects without too many other factors getting in the way.

The researcher, Godebo, wants to do a more extensive study with more kids in Ethiopia to confirm these findings. He also wants to check the thinking abilities of kids in places with low fluoride to see if there are any signs of cognitive impact.

Godebo said, “We have a unique opportunity to study low fluoride communities in the same setting as high fluoride communities to determine if fluoride is a neurotoxicant at low levels. Such studies are important to the public and government agencies to determine the safety and risk of water fluoridation in drinking water supply systems.”

This study highlights a strong connection between high fluoride exposure and cognitive issues in children. Although the exact reasons aren’t fully understood yet, it underscores the need for more research on how excessive fluoride affects children’s thinking. This is especially worrying in areas with few water options, where kids can be exposed to high fluoride levels for a long time.

This study adds to the growing evidence, and further research is vital for understanding the cognitive impact and shaping public health policies to safeguard children’s mental development.

Journal reference:

  1. Tewodros Rango Godebo, Marc Jeuland, et al., Association between fluoride exposure in drinking water and cognitive deficits in children: A pilot study. Neurotoxicology and Teratology. DOI: 10.1016/j.ntt.2023.107293.