Elders, youth, and the dangers of fluoride

“Xie xie” (“Thank you” in Mandarin) and a favourable client evaluation was all they wanted, but I wasn’t prepared for what the University of Waterloo Environment & Business 402 students gave me in return. Anyone who’s ever worked with youth from mainland China will probably tell you that they’re extremely polite, but this went so far beyond basic courtesy that I didn’t even recognize it at first, it just made me feel old… but in a good way.

Respect is not something that we see a lot of these days in North America, especially not in the sciences. When commercial value matters more than sacred instructions or respect for life, you’ve got a problem on your hands.

This story is about the little things that matter a lot. This story is also about stories, only these days they’re often called “social media marketing strategies”. The Asian students signed on to help me tell a story in Mandarin about a smartphone app that would magically make the most dangerous “blind spot” in the World Health Organization’s Drinking Water Standards visible to the ordinary mortals who care for very young children.

So why am I telling the story here? Because it’s really a story about the Spirit of the Two Row Treaty and I imagine that 400 years ago, First Nations and the settlers shared their stories as they travelled down the river side-by-side. We don’t do enough of that any more and no one is happy, especially not the river.

Traditionally, teaching, caring for and sharing stories with young children has been the domain of the elders in a community. They have abundant patience and life experience, a wealth of stories to pass onto the next generation and an often “convenient” loss of hearing and smell that turns them into a kind of childcare superhero during their Thunder Stage.

It also requires physical stamina and knowledge of how to make good decisions at all stages of the game so that the body stays in good shape over the long haul. But broken treaties, residential schools, dysfunctional healthcare systems and the rapid pace of environmental change means that our elders could use a technological edge if they are to successfully guide us through to the Eighth Fire of extended friendship, respect and peace between settlers and First Nations.

A good place to show how combining traditional knowledge and modern technology can help us make better decision is the 9th spot on Dmitri Mendeleev’s periodic table and a medical geologist’s favourite element, fluorine (commonly called by its ionic form, fluoride) and has the symbol “F”.

Fluoride is a pale yellow gas that has no taste or odour. When bound with calcium, it’s called fluorite, which is good for carving (4 on Mohs hardness scale) and is often a clear wampum purple in colour. When bound with aluminum and silica, it gets harder and changes into the yellow-brown colour of the gemstone for November, topaz. It loves to travel in water where it is so energetic and influential that it’s more properly classified as a verb, not a noun.

Fluoride is the 14th most abundant element on Earth and wherever it is, deep underground, in the surface environment or in your body, it will put some things together and split others apart that otherwise would remain stable and inert. This is why industry became so addicted to it after it came into mainstream use in the 1940s during the Manhattan Project and the race to build the atomic bomb.

Fluoride is now everywhere in the environment and will interact with other chemicals like prescription medication and your body’s neurotransmitters and hormones in unpredictable ways, so recognizing and managing fluoride toxicity during each life stage has never been more important.

In this way, fluoride behaves like coyote in the traditional stories. He’s not really a “bad” guy but he is a trickster who’s always up to something, so it’s a mistake to turn your back on him. In natural waters, the company of other elements that he keeps is often medicinal and therapeutic (like the water from the Sour Springs) but it’s not for every day.

It would be a mistake to get too hung up on avoiding all fluoride. A certain amount is tolerable but the safe amount will depend on who you are (male or female, well-fed or malnourished), where you are (hot climate or cold climate) and when you are (child, youth, adult or elder). It’s like the Goldilocks & the Three Bears story, only the “just right” zone shifts throughout your life experience. This is why I developed the smartphone app that ties into a familiar children’s story with the same basic concept embedded in the plot.

But since the original intentions of corporations and governments were not good in its use of fluoride, it has been generally misused and disrespected commercially for the last 70 years with many negative effects that we can see in the environment, society and the economy if we know where and how to look.

In short, western scientists made the mistake of allowing the power of fluoride to be used to fuel the greed, laziness and fear of those who didn’t know what they were dealing with. We don’t know how to get back to a place of balance with the Earth and we don’t want to admit it.

For non-scientists, the marketing surrounding fluoride is so one-sided, persuasive and “sciency-sounding” here in North America that I needed Asian students who understood respect, were good at math and whose minds hadn’t been contaminated with propaganda.

So how do you know if you or someone you know might be suffering from fluoride toxicity? Biologically, aside from the classic tooth enamel discolouration called “dental fluorosis”, fluoride over-exposure will accelerate the aging process by “stealing” electrons, creating free radicals and causing premature cell death. The brain takes the biggest hit from fluoride because those cells take the longest to repair when they’re damaged.

Fluoride is the key ingredient in kidney stones that block the healthy flow of water in the body. It will also attack the thyroid gland, slowing down metabolism and cause a calcification of the joints that’s a dead ringer for osteoarthritis. Add together the fluid retention, constant tiredness and sore joints and it’s a recipe for obesity.

In a nutshell, if you want to age in a good way, you need to watch your fluoride exposures, although this can be difficult in modern times because there are no labelling requirements for product manufacturers and no meaningful enforcement of environmental fluoride pollution laws.

More to come in part two of this article next week.

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1 Comment

  1. Something to think about in relation to the above article.

    The Fluoride ion put into the water by fluoridation is a known protoplasmic poison, as admitted in
    the Journal of the American Dental Association, Volume 23, page 568, April, 1936, titled “Fluorine in relation to bone and tooth development” by Floyd DeEds, Phd.,
    and in
    the Journal of the American Medical Association, Sept 18, 1943, Editorial. “Fluorides are general protoplasmic poisons”

    The nature of the Fluoride ion has not changed since then, only our perception of it from powerful, cunning and ingenious marketing campaigns paid for by fluoride polluting industries and their lobbying partners.

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