On the World Wide Web, there are few black holes more enticing to fall down than the great fluoride conspiracy. Some would call it the ramblings of paranoid truth gurus who spend too much time maintaining their dreads and making YouTube videos about Atlantis. Others insist that it's the largest mass control experiment of our times.
Where does the truth lie in an argument taken up by both sides with near religious conviction? It's almost impossible to decipher. Perhaps it's somewhere between the two.
The idea, in a nutshell, is that governments put fluoride in our water supply in order to negatively affect huge populations, for their own financial gains. That fluoride is actually a strong tranquilliser in disguise. That the US want their citizens to be zombies. That Kellogg's, Nestle, Crest and other food companies – known as "The Fluoride Mafia" – are all in on it. That fluoride dumping is secretly wrapped up in Illuminati interests.
If you dig into why water fluoridation began, you find a convoluted, suspicious mess. According to the conspiracy theory, the name of the company with the biggest profit to be made from water fluoridation was ALCOA. The ALCOA Company had an unlimited supply of toxic waste – a byproduct of aluminium, AKA fluoride. At their lab, an ALCOA-sponsored biochemist did a test on rats that showed cavities were reduced with the fluoridated water and concluded that: "The case should be regarded as proved." In this historic moment in 1939, so the story goes, the first public proposal that the US should fluoridate its water supplies wasn't made by a doctor or a dentist, but an industry scientist working for a company that was also threatened by fluoride damage claims.
Another part of the theory is that, during the Second World War, industrial fluoride pollution increased because of the production and extensive use of ALCOA aluminium in aircraft manufacturing. It was after the Second World War that many governments began to put fluoride in our water supplies to protect people against cavities. Coincidence!?
Currently, about 372 million people (around 5.7 percent of the world's population) receive artificially fluoridated water in about 24 countries, including Australia, Canada, Ireland, the US and the UK. Since the 1950s, there has been relentless debate over whether there's any real reason to do this. Early conspiracy theorists declared that it was a communist plot to weaken American public health. Many have argued from a moral and ethical view that the public haven't chosen to be consuming it and so it's against individual will. From an economic standpoint, public money is being used on something without definitive proof of benefits. Some dentists and medical professionals have even said fluoridation of water isn't the best way to reduce tooth decay.
The tangled conspiracy gets even darker with comments on Reddit threads such as "Hitler used fluoride first!!" and "They got this from the Nazis! Illuminati scum." The so-called "fact" that Hitler gave people in concentration camps fluoride water to keep them docile and unable to resist Nazi power is used often by the anti-fluoridation brigade. Many say this treatment was then repeated in Russian gulags.
Ian E Stephens, a writer for the Australian "alternative news" magazine Nexus (which covers "health breakthroughs, future science and technology, suppressed news, free energy, religious revisionism, conspiracy, the environment, history and ancient mysteries, the mind, UFOs, paranormal and the unexplained") claims he was told by chemist and researcher Charles E Perkins, who wrote the book The Truth About Water Fluoridation, that the Nazis envisioned a far-reaching plan of mass control and reduced population by using a medication in water that could cause sterility in women.
"Repeated doses of infinitesimal amounts of fluoride will in time reduce an individual's power to resist domination, by slowly poisoning and narcotising a certain area of the brain, thus making him submissive to the will of those who wish to govern him," Perkins wrote. He goes on to say: "I say this with all the earnestness and sincerity of a scientist who has spent nearly 20 years' research into the chemistry, biochemistry, physiology and pathology of fluorine – any person who drinks artificially fluorinated water for a period of one year or more will never again be the same person mentally or physically." There is no trace of a credible living source on Nazi history coming out in support of this theory.
To many in the new age community, this doesn't matter. They believe fluoride is instrumental in mind control because, they insist, it blocks the "third eye". Mystics and spiritual masters have concluded that the pineal gland, situated in the centre of the brain, is a connection between the body and the soul. They say: wake up, sheeple, the government-slash-Illuminati-slash-powers-that-be want us to stay on this spiritual plane. It's not in their best interests that we are conscious. If people get conscious, they'll stop turning up to their horrible jobs, eating meat and wasting food, and they'll live in collectives and spoil their ballot papers.
This might sound ridiculous to some, but it has a degree of basis in science. In the 1990s, a British scientist, Jennifer Luke, discovered that by old age, the pineal gland contains about the same amount of fluoride as teeth, and we now know that calcification of the pineal gland gets worse with age and can occur in children as young as two. This gland is in the brain – it maintains the body's sleep-wake cycle, regulates the onset of puberty in females and helps protect the body from cell damage. A huge review on fluoride toxicity published by the National Research Council in 2006 reported a range of negative side effects from fluoride, including "decreased melatonin production" and "other effects on normal pineal function, which in turn could contribute to a variety of effects in humans".
Go on YouTube and you'll find plenty of people sharing "knowledge" of the spiritual dangers of fluoride and how to reverse the effects of a "calcified" pineal gland (many say you can't; it's too late). They say stop drinking tap water. Stop using regular toothpaste and find a fluoride-free one. Get a shower filter to cut the fluoride from your shower. Cut out meat because you can be sure as heck they've been guzzling the fluoride water, too. Tell your dentist you don't want fluoride-based products used. And after all that, detox.
However, there are more serious scientific objections to fluoride, and many are far removed from the assertions of David Icke disciples. Numerous studies researched by Harvard and China Medical University in Shanghai have shown that fluoride may be linked to reduced IQ in children, and even suggest that it could be toxic to a developing brain. Fluoride at high levels has been shown to destroy the male reproductive system in rabbits. Fluoride lowers the thyroid function. One study linked it to bone cancer in boys. A 2007 Nuffield Council on Bioethics report reached a conclusion that the benefit-to-risk ratio on water fluoridation is unclear due to lack of good evidence, that alternatives to water fluoridation exist and that the role of consent gets priority when there are potential harms.
Professors doing this research have been met with numerous attempts to discredit them. Stephen Peckham – director of the Centre for Health Services at the University of Kent, and professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine at the University of Toronto – has had his research of water fluoridation rejected from dental health journals. He's spoken out about being accused of "statistics-hacking" and for research that made the link between fluoride and hypothyroidism. Catherine Carstairs, a professor who wrote about the history of water fluoridation, was attacked and the Journal of Public Heath had to defend itself for publishing "strong… research even when [it does] not fit well with our preconceived ideas".
Why are efforts to uncover the effects of fluoride so vilified, and why is the atmosphere so toxic?
In fact, there has been a sea change in attitudes towards water fluoridation. About 10 years ago, York University found that tooth decay in children across Europe had fallen, regardless of whether or not there was fluoride in the water. The countries showing the biggest decrease – Sweden, Netherlands, Finland and Denmark – don't fluoridate their supplies.
Increasingly, water fluoridation is being rejected in local British areas. In 2014, Bolton refused to add fluoride to their water supply, with David Crausby, MP for Bolton North East, likening it to "mass medication". That same year, Public Health England had to drop plans to fluoridate water in Southampton and parts of Hampshire because of fierce opposition from Southampton City Council. But still, Public Health England encourages fluoridation and the NHS website states that fluoride provides no significant health risk. Millions around the country still drink fluoridated water.
But what do the water companies think? I called United Utilities, who said that most water companies have to have a "neutral position" on fluoridation. "The water company is just obliged to fluoridate where asked," a spokesperson said. "We're just a contractor." But have they heard the conspiracies? I asked a Severn Trent Water spokesperson, who laughed and said: "Oooh yes, don't worry, we've heard all sides of the story very loudly, but to be honest we try and stay out of it. We don't want to get involved because then it makes it much too complicated." Complicated indeed.
In countries like Brazil, China and, unsurprisingly, the US, fluoridation still has a stronghold. Significantly, 194 million Americans are supplied with this water, including those who live in 43 of its 47 largest cities. It's there that the "truth" is being spread with most fervour.
Despite various claims by "truth gurus" being torn down – it's unlikely that Margaret Thatcher pumped fluoride into Northern Ireland to control the rebels or that pharmaceutical companies are pumping us full of fluoride via Prozac – the conspiracy rages ahead, while science slowly erodes fluoride's reputation. Will this be the next formaldehyde? The next lead? Don't forget that dentists and doctors once promoted cigarettes. Should we listen to YouTubers? What if this became the greatest public health conspiracy of our time – of all times?
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