Expert Nutrition

Fluoride (F)

The body contains approximately 2.5g of fluoride, most of which is found within our bones and teeth. Small amounts of fluoride are also found within the blood and soft tissues but comparatively these concentrations are almost 10 000 times smaller than those found within calcified structures such as bone. Although the biological functions of fluoride are not clearly established its incorporation into tissues is believed to increases the degree of crystallinity of mineral structures.

Fluoride is best known for its role in decreasing the incidence of tooth decay, where its incorporation into dental enamel causes hardening and increased resistance against acids and carcinogenic bacteria found within the oral cavity. It was because of its role in the prevention of dental caries that fluoride was originally classified as essential to health, however more recently it has also been shown to be a necessary mineral in the maintaining of strong bones and future studies might prove it to be a beneficial in the treatment of osteoporosis.

The absorption of fluoride varies however water that has been fortified with fluoride has been shown to be almost 100% absorbed. In many developed countries, water is now fortified with small amounts of fluoride (~1mg/litre) to reduce the incidence of dental caries, this concentration is considered by the World Health Organisation as strong enough to have a protective effect against dental caries without increasing the incidence of negative side effects such as fluorosis. Although adding fluoride to water has met some opposition, numerous studies have consistently shown that children that grow up in areas with optimal levels of ingested fluoride have up to 70% less caries than those not exposed to fluoride.

Excessive fluoride intakes can be toxic and lead to fluorosis, a disease that negatively impacts on our bones and teeth. So, in summary although fluoride added to water is designed to help protect bones and teeth, too much fluoride can have the opposite effect. It is due to the negative implications associated fluoride toxicity that has lead some people to argue against the addition of fluoride to drinking water. In our opinion however, we strongly believe that this resistance is more due to fear than actual scientific evidence.

Acute high-level exposure to fluoride is rare and is usually due to accidental contamination of drinking water. More commonly people affected by fluorosis are generally exposed to multiple sources of fluoride, such as that found in food, water, air (due to gaseous industrial waste), and excessive use of toothpaste.

With the exception of seafood and tea most foods contain only very small amounts of fluoride.


References:
1. Wahlqvist, M.L., et al. Australia and New Zealand: Food and Nutrition. 2nd Ed. Allen and Unwin, Sydney; 2002, pp274.
2. National Health and Medical Research Council. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. Department of Health and Ageing; 2006, pp 175-180.
3. World Health Organisation: www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/diseases/fluorosis/en/

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