Fluoride in drinking water linked to brain issues in young children

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Nearly three-quarters of the U.S. population drinks water that has been fluoridated to help prevent tooth decay.

This practice, which started back in 1945, is now facing scrutiny due to concerns about its effects on young children’s brain development when consumed by pregnant women.

Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine of USC have conducted a new study, examining over 220 mother-child pairs to assess the impact of fluoride consumption during pregnancy on early childhood behavior.

They discovered that even a small increase in fluoride exposure—0.68 milligrams per liter—during pregnancy nearly doubled the likelihood of children exhibiting neurobehavioral issues by age three.

These findings, published in JAMA Network Open, highlight potential risks associated with prenatal fluoride exposure.

Children exposed to higher levels of fluoride were more likely to exhibit a range of behavioral problems, including emotional reactivity, anxiety, and physical complaints like headaches and stomachaches. These issues are close to or at the level of needing clinical intervention.

Tracy Bastain, Ph.D., a senior author of the study and an associate professor at USC, noted that higher fluoride levels during pregnancy correlated with more severe neurobehavioral problems in children.

This adds to a growing body of research, including animal studies and investigations from Canada and Mexico, suggesting that fluoride can disrupt neurodevelopment and lead to lower IQ scores in early childhood.

Ashley Malin, Ph.D., the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Florida, emphasized the significance of these findings, particularly since they relate to fluoride levels typical in North American fluoridated areas.

This research, which Malin undertook during her postdoctoral tenure at the Keck School of Medicine, is among the first U.S.-based studies to explore this association.

The study used data from the Maternal and Developmental Risks from Environmental and Social Stressors (MADRES) Center for Environmental Health Disparities at USC.

MADRES primarily follows Hispanic families in Los Angeles from pregnancy through childhood, aiming to mitigate the health impacts of environmental contaminants on marginalized communities.

For this study, researchers measured fluoride exposure from urine samples collected during the third trimester of pregnancy. Most samples were from fasting women, which enhances the accuracy of the measurements.

When the children reached three years old, their behavior was assessed using the Preschool Child Behavior Checklist, a tool that relies on parent reports to gauge social and emotional functioning.

The study found that children with higher prenatal fluoride exposure were significantly more likely to display behaviors that are often associated with clinical diagnoses, such as autism spectrum behaviors, though no link was found with other types of behaviors like aggression or attention issues.

Despite these concerning findings, there are currently no official guidelines in the U.S. to limit fluoride intake during pregnancy.

The researchers hope that their work will lead to policy changes and increased awareness among healthcare providers and the public about the potential risks of fluoride consumption during this critical period of brain development.

Looking ahead, the research team plans to further explore how fluoride exposure affects infant brain development within the MADRES study group. Additional research in different regions could also help define the scope of this issue and guide public health decisions.

If you care about brain health ,please read studies about Vitamin B9 deficiency linked to higher dementia risk, and cranberries could help boost memory.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about heartburn drugs that could increase risk of dementia, and results showing this MIND diet may protect your cognitive function, prevent dementia.

The research findings can be found in JAMA Network Open.

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