Neurobehavioral Issues Tied to Prenatal Fluoride

Pregnant women with higher fluoride levels linked to increased neurobehavioral issues in children, according to a University of Florida study.
RESEARCH: University of Florida study finds higher fluoride levels in pregnant women associated with increased risk of neurobehavioral issues in their children.

In brief: According to a recent study, Pregnant women who take more fluoride supplements had a higher chance of having their third-child children experience neurobehavioral issues.

Anxiety, trouble controlling emotions, and physical issues like headaches and stomachaches are among these issues. Researchers implore decision-makers to take these results into account and develop detailed guidelines for fluoride intake during pregnancy.

Important Details:

The likelihood of neurobehavioral problems in children is doubled when there is an increase in fluoride in the urine of pregnant mothers.

This is the first study of its kind conducted in the United States.

Fluoride has no proven advantages for growing fetuses.

The University of Florida

According to a recent study headed by a researcher at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions, pregnant women with higher fluoride levels had a higher chance of their children displaying neurobehavioral issues by the time they were three years old.

The results are published in the journal JAMA Network Open on May 20. They are based on an investigation of 229 mother-child pairs who lived in a U.S. community with average fluoride exposure levels for pregnant women in fluoridated regions of North America.

This study, which is thought to be the first in the United States, looks at the relationships between prenatal fluoride exposure and parent-reported neurobehavioral problems in their children. These problems include anxiety symptoms, trouble controlling emotions, and other complaints including headaches and stomachaches.

Since the 1940s, municipal water systems have included fluoride, a mineral, to help prevent dental cavities in both adults and children. The majority of Americans have access to fluoridated tap water. Both the good and negative effects of fluoride on human health have been the focus of intense contemporary discussion and continuous scientific investigation.

In conjunction with other recent studies on the effects of fluoride on young children’s IQ conducted in Canada and Mexico, the lead investigator of the study, Ashley Malin, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and UF College of Medicine, stated that the results suggest fluoride may negatively affect fetal brain development.

“There is no known benefit of fluoride consumption to the developing fetus,” Malin said, “but we do know that there is possibly a risk to their developing brain.

“We found that each 0.68 milligram per liter increase in fluoride levels in the pregnant women’s urine was associated with nearly double the odds of children scoring in the clinical or borderline clinical range for neurobehavioral problems at age 3, based on their mother’s reporting.”

According to the researchers, the fluoride levels in the study participants’ samples are normal for those who reside in areas where the water supply is fluoridated. More research is necessary to answer the topic of whether the findings reported in this study are nationally representative or generalizable to other U.S. populations, as stated in the paper.

Variations in dietary consumption, such as using tap water for cooking and drinking instead of filtered water, or consuming foods and beverages that are naturally high in fluoride, such as green and black tea, specific seafood, and foods sprayed with fluoride-containing pesticides, can all contribute to an individual’s differences in fluoride exposure.

Data from the Maternal and Developmental Risks from Environmental and Social Stressors, or MADRES, study carried out at USC’s Keck School of Medicine were used in the new investigation. Lead investigators for MADRES are Carrie Breton, Sc.D., a professor of population and public health sciences, and Tracy Bastain, Ph.D., an associate professor of clinical population and public health sciences and senior author of the current fluoride study. The MADRES project tracks a group of low-income, mostly Hispanic mothers residing in Los Angeles County from the time of pregnancy through infancy. 

During the third trimester of pregnancy, MADRES participants provided urine samples to researchers. When it comes to epidemiological research that evaluates the effects of fluoride on prenatal brain development, urinary fluoride is the most commonly utilized indicator of individual fluoride intake.

Since fluoride and disinfectants can cause lead to leak from lead-containing water pipes, the researchers performed several analyses to make sure lead was not the cause of any neurobehavioral consequences.

Study moms filled out the Preschool Child Behavior Checklist, which evaluates kids’ behavior and emotions when their kids become three years old. Researchers discovered that mothers who were exposed to greater levels of fluoride throughout their pregnancies also tended to report more general neurobehavioral issues in their offspring.

The goal of the study team is to influence policymakers to develop guidelines about the ingestion of fluoride during pregnancy based on their findings.

“I think this is important evidence, given that it’s the first U.S.-based study and findings are quite consistent with the other studies published in North America with comparable fluoride exposure levels,” Malin said.

“Conducting a nationwide U.S. study on this topic would be important, but I think the findings of the current study and recent studies from Canada and Mexico suggest that there is a real concern here.”

 The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences of the National Institutes of Health funds Malin’s research.

Funding: The Environmental Protection Agency provides funding for the MADRES project.

For more information: Maternal Urinary Fluoride and Child Neurobehavior at Age 36 Months, JAMA Network Open, doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2024.11987 

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