American ingest four times as much fluoride as we did in the 1940s, when the government first started adding the trace mineral to water supplies to prevent cavities. Today, it’s added to 70 percent of the country’s water supply. Fluoride can also be found in soda, soups, tea, and other foods, which may explain why, according to the CDC, nearly 200 million Americans are exposed to high levels of the mineral. And all this exposure is wreaking havoc on the thyroid, asserts thyroid expert Richard Shames, MD, author co-author of Thyroid Mind Power ($18.99, Amazon).
“Fluoride is a hormone disruptor that negatively affects thyroid function,” says Dr. Shames. “When this happens, the first problem people tend to notice is fatigue, but everything form how fast the brain works to how well the muscles work depends on thyroid function.”
Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of From Fatigued to Fantastic! ($13.94, Amazon) observes, “Fluoride overload contributes to as many as three out of four female fatigue cases I treat.” And according to research in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, high rates of hypothyroidism (and the fatigue, brain fog, and weight gain it typically causes) are nearly twice as common in areas where fluoride is added to the water.
Fluoride saps energy by competing with iodine, a nutrient that’s crucial to the thyroid’s ability to produce metabolism-revving hormones. “Iodine is the key that turns on the thyroid’s ‘energy engine,’ but when fluoride intakes are high, thyroid cells pick up fluoride instead,” says Dr. Teitelbaum. “That’s a problem, because fluoride acts like a miscut key that fits in the ignition, but jams it so your engine can’t turn on.” As fluoride builds up in the body, it depletes iodine stores, causing the thyroid to become sluggish.
What’s more, many healthcare providers aren’t aware of the link between fluoride and thyroid health, so they attribute the symptoms of a sluggish thyroid, like irritability, weight gain, and depression, to aging or other health problems like fibromyalgia.
Doctor’s don’t usually test for fluoride, but an iodine-loading urine test can identify iodine deficits that indicate fluoride overload, notes Ronald Hoffman, MD, who advises also asking your doctor for blood tests to check your thyroid function.
Is a mineral overload slowing your thyroid?
If you suffer from fatigue and any of the following symptoms, a thyroid-slowing fluoride overload could be to blame:
- Blue moods
- Stubborn weight gain
- Muscle and/or joint aches
- Hair loss or thinning
- Sensitivity to cold
- mental fuzziness or memory problems
- Dry skin or brittle nails
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, following the steps below may help you feel better.
Reduce Your Fluoride Intake
If your water supply is fluoridated (you can find out by reaching out to your local water provider or visiting the CDC’s My Water Fluoride map), consider installing a reverse osmosis filter, like the iSpring Reverse Osmosis Drinking Water Filter System ($214.99, Amazon), in your home to to remove fluoride from tap water. (Household filters like Brita and PUR don’t remove fluoride.) You can also drink bottled water, but make sure the fluoride content is .2 parts per million or less. Arrowhead and Crystal Geyser are fluoride-free. Dr. Shames advises looking for the words de-ionized, purified, or distilled on the label of bottled water — these terms indicate that the product contains only trace amounts of fluoride.
Another smart strategy: Switch to fluoride-free toothpaste. According to the CDC, only 2 mg. of fluoride a day is needed to prevent tooth decay. Most of us get about three times that amount, so cutting back won’t damage your teeth. To reduce exposure, brush with fluoride-free paste, like Tom’s of Maine Botanically Fresh ($13.54, Amazon).
Boost Your Iodine
We consume 50 percent less iodine than we did 50 years ago, due largely to food processing and low intakes of iodized salt. But increasing your intake of iodine will help flush fluoride out of the body. Dr. Teitelbaum recommends supplementing every day with 6.25 mg. of Tri-iodine, like Terry Naturally Tri-Iodine ($21.56, Amazon), but he notes that it’s important to see your health-care provider before you start supplementing since excess iodine levels can also be problematic. Once you’ve gotten your doctor’s OK, he recommends sticking to that 6.25 mg. daily dose for six months before switching to a multivitamin that contains 200 mcg. of iodine. Also smart: Flavor your food with iodized sea salt and consume three to four weekly servings of iodine-rich seafood (like shrimp and cod) and two to three weekly servings of seaweed. Other foods that contain iodine include eggs and potatoes.
Swap Your Tea Sip
If you typically quench your thirst with tea, consider this: Tea plants pick up fluoride from soil, then concentrate high amounts in their leaves. In fact, studies have found that home-brewed tea can deliver 113 percent more fluoride than the CDC recommends in drinking water — and some commercial iced tea mixes can exceed recommended levels by as much as 225 percent. To avoid a thyroid-sapping excess, Fred Pescatore, MD, medical director of Medicine 369 in New York City, advises sipping herbal teas, which are up to 185 times lower in fluoride. For an energizing option, try peppermint tea. Research reveals that the herb’s taste and aroma boosts brainpower and alertness while decreasing fatigue.
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This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Heal Your Thyroid.