Is There A Link Between Fluoride And Cancer?

Fluoride, a mineral commonly found in bottled water, drinking water supplies in cities, dental products, as well as in foods like seafood and tea, is now a suspected carcinogen. It has been known to prevent tooth decay and protects your pearly whites from damage from sugars as well as plaque bacteria. Due to these benefits, city administrations the world over began adding fluoride to their water supply several decades ago to help its citizens. Toothpaste manufacturers touted the benefits of “fluoride-fortified” toothpastes, mouthwashes, and other dental care products. Now, however, one area of research is uncovering the nexus between the seemingly harmless anion of fluorine and the big C.

Concerns Over The Fluoride–Bone Cancer Link

The movement to stop fluoridation of water supply in the United States gained momentum when statements from the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (California Environmental Protection Agency) came into the spotlight. According to one of their reports in 2011, adequate evidence from multiple quarters showed how the mineral is absorbed into the bones. Once here it “can stimulate cell division” of bone forming cells called osteoblasts.

The same report said that fluoride induces cellular and genetic changes that result in malignant transformation as well as cellular immune response. This increases the osteosarcoma risk for an individual exposed to fluoride.1

A study at the Harvard School of Public Health noted a connection between higher osteosarcoma risk among boys and comparatively higher levels of fluoride in drinking water. The researchers did not, however, find a similar increased risk among girls exposed to higher fluoride in their drinking water.2 The study was, however, later refuted by some for its limitations.3

Groups like the Fluoride Action Network have been trying to get the

mineral listed as a carcinogen. The National Toxicology Program also nominated fluoride for further investigation as part of the Report on Carcinogens this year. However, it has not yet been approved to be included for formal review.4

Not Enough Evidence?

The opposing evidence as well as strong lobbying by special interest groups supporting fluoride-based products makes this an area still up for debate. For instance, one study of under 50-year-olds in the UK between 1980 and 2005 found no evidence that higher fluoride levels in drinking water were responsible for a higher risk of Ewing sarcoma or osteosarcoma.5

In 2010, the Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks in Europe conducted its review of

water fluoridation. The committee found that the evidence of the osteosarcoma-fluoride link was “equivocal.” As such, they did not classify it as a carcinogen.6

Closer home, the US National Research Council updated its study on the subject (from 1993) in 2006. A review of data since the original research still showed mixed and tentative evidence on the role of fluoride in promoting or initiating cancers, especially bone cancer. The American Cancer Society too does not advise against consumption or support the cancer risk.7

Non-Cancerous Effects Of Fluoride

While the debate on cancerous effects of fluoride rages on, the US Environmental Protection Agency does caution that high-level consumption of fluoride over time could cause a build-up in the bones called skeletal fluorosis. The painful condition is associated with stiff joints, as well as increased risk of fractures and weak bones in older people.8 Dental fluorosis that mainly causes cosmetic alterations to tooth enamel is another health effect of prolonged exposure to high levels. It may also be linked to thyroid dysfunction.9

Why You Shouldn’t Worry – Yet

The Community Preventive Services Task Force, a non-governmental task force which operates independently, has studied all the research so far and found that there is no clear evidence that fluoridation of water causes any major negative health effects, including cancer. 10

The jury is still out on the subject, but if you are concerned you can limit the intake of fluoride from your food, bottled water, and dental products.