In a startling new development, scientists have found a potential link between high fluoride levels in drinking water and lower IQ in children. A study conducted by Tulane University has ignited fresh debate over the safety of fluoride in our water supply. 

By examining children in Ethiopia exposed to significantly high fluoride concentrations, researchers discovered troubling signs of cognitive impairment, adding a new layer of complexity to the ongoing controversy surrounding fluoride’s impact on health. As this new evidence emerges, it raises critical questions about the long-term effects of fluoride exposure and whether current safety standards are adequate.

When scientists reviewed all the evidence on the links between high fluoride and neurological problems, they found that damage to mental ability might exist for communities using water with fluoride above recommended values. However, it was not possible to show that it directly caused neurological disorders.

According to the research by Tulane University, there is a link between high fluoride levels in water and cognitive impairment in children.

The study, published in the journal “Neurotoxicology and Teratology,” was based on 74 children in Ethiopia who were exposed to high fluoride in drinking water, averaging 7.6 mg per liter. This is well above the World Health Organisation’s recommended limit of 1.5 mg per liter.

In England, some local authorities adjust the level of fluoride to 1 mg per liter of water. In the US, the maximum permitted amount in tap water is 4 mg per liter of water.

Higher levels of fluoride are already known to stain people’s teeth and cause brittle bones (called fluorosis). This latest study found that children drinking water with high levels of fluoride performed worse in tests designed to evaluate new learning and memory.

Rural communities in this part of Ethiopia, as well as in other developing countries, mostly rely on groundwater from a hand-pumped supply. Most families in this study have similar living conditions and culture. This provided researchers with a setting with restricted socioeconomic differences between children, but with a range of water supply fluoride between 0.4 and 15.5 mg per liter.

The researchers tested memory and new learning in two ways. Children were asked to make three drawings from memory and worked with programs on tablet computers that test the way the brain manages learning and memory. The results were then compared with fluoride levels and other potential contaminants such as arsenic and lead. Only fluoride was substantially above existing recommended levels.

The graphs in the paper show data scattered without a clear linear relationship between fluoride in drinking water and children’s abilities.

After detailed statistical analysis and adjustments for demographics, health status, and other likely influences, there were some tests where lower scores could be due to fluoride effects on cognitive abilities. However, most of the tests did not have consistent, statistically significant results.

The researchers advise that new advanced studies are urgently needed to better understand the links between mental development and fluoride exposure from the womb to adulthood.

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