Published January 2 2018
Fluoride, bromide, and chloride are a part of the halide family on the periodic table. All three elements are found in nature, but they are also toxic byproducts of industry. These halides are closely related to thyroid function because all three elements are chemically related to iodine. In fact, your thyroid gland can treat them as though they are iodine, as these halides can bind to the thyroid gland’s iodine receptors, which can cause or contribute to an iodine deficiency. In this article I’m going to discuss these halides, where they’re found today, their benefits and risks, how to avoid them, how to test for them, and how to minimize your exposure to them.
As many reading this already know, iodine is essential for optimal thyroid function, as the thyroid gland utilizes iodine for the production of T3 and T4. An iodine deficiency has been known to cause hypothyroidism, along with an enlarged thyroid gland, also known as a goiter. It is essential to make sure you are doing your best to avoid exposure to fluoride and bromide, minimizing your exposure to chlorine, and are getting enough iodine for proper thyroid function.
Fluoride was first discovered as an anti-cavity agent back in the early 1900’s. Colorado natives had significant brown staining on their teeth, and their teeth were also surprisingly resistant to cavities. They found out that the source of the staining was the water supply which was rich in fluoride due to natural deposits. We now know this brown staining as fluorosis, and it is considered a negative side effect of fluoride today.
Eventually local water municipalities began adding fluoride to the water supply to decrease cavities in the general public. But it’s important to understand that water municipalities and toothpaste manufacturers aren’t using naturally occurring fluoride. Instead they’re using the toxic chemical compounds that are byproducts of industry.
Different types of fluoride
Calcium Fluoride: Exists naturally in the Earth and is found mostly in limestone. This naturally occurring fluoride is not what’s in toothpaste or added to the water supply.
Sodium Fluoride: This is a man-made, toxic byproduct of the aluminum industry. This was once used as roach and rat poison (1), it is an ingredient in nerve gas (2), and it is also used in some anti-depressants (3). Sodium fluoride was also used in the past as a treatment for hyperthyroidism due to its anti-thyroid effects, and so this gives you an idea of the negative effect it can have on the body. Sodium fluoride is commonly used as an anti-cavity ingredient in toothpastes & mouthwashes, antidepressants, and it’s also added to the water supply.
Fluorosilicic Acid: This is a man-made, toxic byproduct of fertilizer manufacturing. This is commonly added to the water supply.
Sodium Hexafluorosilicate: Made by neutralizing fluorosilicic acid with sodium chloride or sodium sulfate. This is also commonly added to the water supply.
Research does show that fluoride can be beneficial at preventing cavities if applied topically (4), and there is evidence that fluoride does decrease the incidence of cavities (5). However, we must also consider the risks of fluoride as well before ingesting or applying large quantities of it.
Here are some of the risks of fluoride:
- Fluoride has been shown to lower IQ, and it delays neurobehavioral development in children (6)
- It has neurotoxic effects (7)
- It can cause hypothyroidism (8) (9)
- Can cause a goiter if someone is iodine deficient (10)
- High concentrations of fluoride in the drinking water can decrease fertility (11)
- Causes fluorosis of teeth and bones (12)
Essentially, fluoride has the potential to cause major adverse human health problems, while having only a modest dental decay prevention benefit (13).
Because fluoride is added to tap water, the amount we are exposed to varies from person to person, as this of course depends on how much tap water a person drinks, bathes in, brushes their teeth with, etc. The opportunity for fluoride overexposure is most certainly a cause for concern.
Another cause for concern is the high likelihood of contamination of chemically-made fluoride with other toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, barium and aluminum (14). The reason for this is because fluoride is made in chemical plants. Unfortunately I find high levels of heavy metals in a lot of my patients. While we can’t necessarily blame fluoride for this, it’s possible that in some cases the fluoride ingested contributed to their high levels of heavy metals, and the research shows that certain heavy metals can be a trigger of conditions such as Graves’ Disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.
A Fluoride Conspiracy Theory
You may have heard of a “conspiracy theory” about how Nazis added fluoride to the water in concentration camps to make the Jews docile. I usually try to stick with the research in my articles, but I found the following information to be interesting, and so I decided to include it.
As the story goes, Charles Eliot Perkins was sent to Germany after WW2 to take charge of the IG Farben chemical plants. Here he learned how German scientists were medicating the water with fluoride in concentration camps. Later on, Major George Racey Jordan of Great Falls, Montana confirmed Perkins’ findings. Major Racey oversaw shipments of fluoride to Russia, and when he asked them, the Russians told him that yes, fluoride was added to the water in concentration camps to take away their inhabitants’ will to resist.
America first rejected and was highly opposed to the addition of fluoride to the water supply. But in 1945, Oscar Ewing, a former attorney for Alcoa (Aluminum Company of America – and remember, sodium fluoride is a toxic byproduct of aluminum production) took the administrator position of the US Public Health Service (USPHS). It stands to reason that Oscar had ties to the aluminum industry, saw an opportunity for Alcoa to make money off sodium fluoride (which they had a lot of, and had a hard time disposing it, as it’s toxic), and what better way to increase Alcoa’s profits than to begin to require water municipalities to purchase sodium fluoride to add to the water supply?
Most Common Sources of Exposure To Fluoride:
- Tap water (drinking, bathing, cooking with, etc.)
- Fluoridated toothpastes, mouthwashes and dental treatments
- Certain fluorinated drugs
How To Reduce Your Exposure To Fluoride:
- Try not to drink tap water
- Don’t cook with tap water
- Limit time in baths & showers (unless if you have a whole-house water filter)
- Use only fluoride-free toothpastes and mouthwashes
- Avoid fluorinated drugs
Bromide is found naturally in the Earth’s crust and seawater. Bromide is also added to processed foods and beverages, as I’m about to discuss.
Different Types of Bromide
Next time you are in the grocery store, check the labels on breads and citrus-flavored soft drinks. You are looking out for the following ingredients:
Potassium bromate. This is a chemical manufactured in a plant that is added to flours and baked goods to strengthen dough and increase rising height. It is common in processed baked goods.
Brominated vegetable oil (BVO). This is also a chemical made in a plant, and it is used to help emulsify citrus-flavored soft drinks, keeping them from separating during distribution. It can be found in beverages such as Mountain Dew, Gatorade, Sun Drop, Squirt, Fresca, and others.
Methyl bromide. This is a pesticide, and has restricted uses set by the EPA. Even with the restrictions, exemptions are for strawberry crops, and dry cured pork producers also use it to fumigate their facilities.
Other Sources of Bromide Exposure
I already mentioned flours and baked goods, citrus-flavored soft drinks, and certain pesticides as possible sources of bromide, but here are a few others:
- Pools and hot tubs. Bromide is commonly used as an antibacterial agent. I once had a patient whose bromide levels were very high, and I’m pretty sure in his case it was due to using bromide for cleaning his pool.
- Flame retardants. I’ve spoke about Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) in past articles and blog posts, as they are commonly used in furniture, electronics, plastics, and even children’s pajamas.
- Certain medications. Ipratropium bromide, also known as Combivent and Atrovent, is used by some people with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to help open up the airways. Some of the side effects of this drug are the same as the side effects of a bromide toxicity. Of course everything comes down to risks vs. benefits, and so I’m not suggesting that those with asthma should never take prescription drugs, but we also can’t ignore the potential side effects.
- Personal care products. Cetrimonium Bromide is added to certain hair conditions, hair dyes, and other hair products. According to the Skin Deep website this chemical has a low overall hazard, although allergies and immunotoxicity are possible, and there is a moderate concern of organ system toxicity.
Does Bromide Offer Any Health Benefits?
Bromide was used in the past as a sedative and to help those suffering from insomnia. However, that stopped when safer alternatives became available.
Health Conditions Impacted By Bromide:
Kidney and thyroid tumors. Bromide is a well-known carcinogen, and there is evidence that it can lead to the development of kidney and thyroid tumors (15).
Cardiovascular disease. Brominated vegetable oil has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease (16).
Increased oxidative stress and possibly a leaky gut. There is evidence that potassium bromate can cause an increase in oxidative stress (17), and this might alter the tight junction proteins (17), which in turn can cause a leaky gut.
Bromide Toxicity Signs and Symptoms
According to Hakala Labs, which is the lab I use for iodine testing, the following are some of the side effects of a bromide toxicity:
- Acne type skin eruptions
- Body odor
- Brain fog
- Dream changes
- Dry mouth
- Eyelid twitching
- Foot twitching
- Hair loss
- Hormone changes
- Increased salivation
- Kidney pain
- Leg and hip ache
- Metallic taste
- Mouth and tongue sores and cuts
- Odd swallowing sensation
- Runny nose
- Sinus ache
- Skin “cuts”
- Tingling in hands or feet
- Unusual urine odor
- Urethral spasm
- Vision changes
How To Reduce Your Exposure To Bromide:
- Cease consumption of processed baked goods containing potassium bromide (read labels!)
- Discontinue drinking beverages containing BVO
- Avoid non-organic strawberries
Chloride is an ion of chlorine. Chlorine is another halide, and it is commonly used as a disinfectant. It is added to tap water, it’s used in swimming pools, and it’s included in many cleaning products for its antibacterial and whitening properties.
Different types of chlorine:
- Sodium hypochlorite. This is a chemical compound that is also known as bleach (when it’s dissolved in water) and is used in homes and water treatment facilities as a disinfectant.
- Calcium hypochlorite. This is a chemical compound that is granular in texture and is commonly used to disinfect water, and is also used in swimming pools as a “shock”, but can be a main disinfectant in pools as well.
- Lithium hypochlorite. This is a chemical compound most often used as a disinfectant in swimming pools.
- Cyanuric acid is added to a hypochlorite and is solid in form, and used to disinfect outdoor swimming pools. The cyanuric acid stabilizes the chlorine, which means that less of it evaporates due to UV rays.
- Trichlor. This is also a cyanuric acid molecule used to disinfect outdoor swimming pools and is slightly more concentrated than dichlor.
Health Conditions Impacted By Chlorine:
Respiratory symptoms and lung damage. One study looked at the assessment of chlorine exposure in swimmers, and found that chlorine might be responsible for producing respiratory symptoms (20). I also came across a study which showed that acute exposure to chlorine can cause lung damage (21), although it’s important to note that the latter study was caused by malfunction of the water chlorinating system.
Acute kidney injury. This seems to be rare, although I did come across a report of chlorine dioxide poisoning which resulted in acute kidney injury (22).
Thyroid Health. Just as is the case with fluoride and bromide, chlorine has antithyroid properties, as studies show that it can cause low serum thyroxine (T4) levels (23) (24) (25), and it can also depress T3 levels (26).
Should You Avoid Chlorinated Swimming Pools?
As you know, chlorination is commonly used for disinfecting swimming pools. However, the concern is exposure to toxic compounds, specifically something called disinfection by-products (DBPs). Thomas Lachocki is the head of the National Swimming Pool Foundation of USA, and he has emphasized that the health benefits from swimming must be weighed against the risks of chemical exposure (27).
HClO is the active ingredient of chlorination disinfectants, and this is what’s responsible for disinfecting the water. However, HClO is also what produces certain DBPs, which in turn can be inhaled and ingested while swimming. These can also be absorbed through the skin. Two classes of DBPs include chloroform and chloramines. Let’s take a look at both of these:
Chloroform. This is also known as trichloromethane or methyltrichloride. Chloroform is mainly metabolized in the liver, but it can also occur in other tissues of the body, including the kidneys. Chloroform metabolism leads to the production of COCl2, which is highly toxic to cells. According to the EPA, short-term exposure to chloroform through inhalation can cause depression of the central nervous system, while long-term exposure can cause hepatitis, jaundice, and depression (28).
Chloramines. These can change into HClO and NH3, which are also toxic to cells. According to the EPA, more than one in five Americans uses drinking water treated with chloramines (29). Not only do you want to use a filter that removes both chlorine and chloramines so that you can avoid drinking these chemicals, but you also want a shower filter (or whole house filter) that gets rid of these.
There are conflicting findings with regards to the association of chlorination with the development of health conditions. A meta-analysis that looked at the association between asthma and swimming showed that only competitive swimmers were at risk since they spend much more time in the pool over a period of years (30). This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any risks of swimming in chlorinated pools on an occasional basis, as I mentioned the concerns associated with DBPs. The truth is that we live in a toxic world, and it is impossible to completely eliminate your exposure to all chemicals. Although I don’t regularly swim in chlorinated pools, I can’t say that I completely avoid them, as there are times when I swim in them.
How To Reduce Your Exposure To Chlorine:
- Avoid drinking tap water
- Invest in a chlorine filter for your shower, or get a whole house filter
- Use only natural cleaning products
- Limit time spent in swimming pools
Testing for Fluoride, Bromide & Chloride:
Testing these levels is relatively easy, and can be done through the urine. Hakala Labs is a lab I have used when recommending iodine testing, but they can also test for fluoride, bromide, and chloride.
Detoxification Strategies For Fluoride, Bromide and Chloride
Here are some things you can do to help lower your toxic load with regards to these halogens:
- Avoid exposure and consumption. Of course this is the case with any environmental toxin, as you want to do everything you can to minimize your exposure to these halides.
- Supplement with iodine and unrefined salt. Since iodine competes with these other halides, you want to make sure you’re not iodine deficient. Iodine is controversial in the world of thyroid health, and while I’m not suggesting that everyone with a thyroid or autoimmune thyroid condition should supplement with iodine, an iodine deficiency eventually should be corrected. For more information please read the article I wrote entitled “An Update on Iodine and Thyroid Health”.
- Supplement with taurine for high chlorine levels. One study showed that taurine can help with the excretion of chlorine by increasing the production of intracellular glutathione (31). Even though this study specifically mentioned taurine, increasing glutathione levels through other means (i.e. diet, supplementation with NAC) should also help with the excretion of chlorine, along with the other halides discussed.
What Type of Water Should You Drink?
A common question I receive from patients is, “What is the best type of water to drink?”
I’ve spoken about this in other articles and blog posts, but I will mention here that you want to try not to drink out of plastic water bottles on a regular basis. First of all, many times bottled water is simply bottled tap water. Not only is it over-priced tap water, but the water is sitting surrounded by plastic, and so there is the concern of xenoestrogens. Who knows how long it sat in a factory or storage facility at what temperature? Also, let’s not forget about the harm to the environment all those plastic bottles cause.
With regards to over-the-counter filters, a lot of people use a Brita water filter. While using a Brita filter is better than using no filter, it’s not filtering out the halides from drinking water if that’s what you are looking for. The company Natural News tested different over-the-counter filters, and they found that Brita was the worst performing one.
I typically recommend drinking either reverse osmosis water, or spring water out of a glass bottle. I’ve also heard a lot of good things about Berkey water filters. For myself and my family, we have a reverse osmosis filter under the kitchen sink for drinking and cooking, and we have a few shower filters. You can find both items on Amazon, very reasonably priced. I also drink a few cups of Mountain Valley Spring water each day.
Most shower filters do a good job of eliminating chlorine from tap water, but they don’t remove other halides and other contaminants. In this case limit your showering and bathing times, or consider getting a whole house filter. Another option is a whole house reverse osmosis system, although they tend to be very costly, and not everyone can afford them.
Some individuals are concerned with reverse osmosis water because it removes all of the minerals from the water. If this is a concern for you, one option is to purchase trace minerals to add back into the water. As I mentioned earlier, I drink a few glasses of Mountain Valley Springs water each morning, and then the rest of the water I drink is reverse osmosis. Also keep in mind that you aren’t getting most of your minerals from the water, but instead are getting them from the food you eat.
The bottom line is to avoid fluoride, bromide, and chloride as much as possible,and detox them from the body if they are present in high levels. These three halides are detrimental to thyroid health, and they wreak havoc on the whole body. Elimination of exposure to these halides can be helpful in recovering and maintaining thyroid health.