Arthritis and Common Chemicals

arthritisMerely because something is hereditary doesn’t mean it has to be inherited unless it’s a defined, overt physical characteristic, such as eye color or hairline. Disease or propensity for disease does not have to telegraph itself through gene expression. In the belief that genetic activity can be turned on and off, more than a handful of scientists are convinced that arthritis, in this case, does not have to pass from seed to seed along the family tree. Arthritis, the osteo- kind, can be spawned from unseen environmental assaults, namely perfluorinated chemicals, which are fluorocarbon derivatives. You remember fluorocarbons. They’re part of the chlorofluorocarbons (CFC’s) once used as propellants in spray cans and in refrigerant fluids. Although they aren’t used for aerosol sprays any more, they’re still in the marketplace. When released into the atmosphere, CFC’s affect stratospheric ozone, the depletion of which is implicated in the rise of skin diseases and climate change, not to mention depressed growth in plants and interrupted photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is important only to those of us who need to eat. Fluorocarbons are bioaccumulative—they are stored in the body.

Of special concern are perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS). (Aren’t abbreviations great?) What in the world are these things used for? If what you own resists stains and water, it probably contains one of these. Ever hear of Scotchgard? How about stone or tile sealers? Got your new sofa treated against kids’ spillage? Fast food wrappers don’t leak grease, do they? Gunk doesn’t stick to dental floss, does it? Ever do any plumbing and use Teflon tape to help seal a joint? Oh, yeah, got Teflon? The oxygen atoms on these chemicals help them to bind proteins to fatty acids or hormone substrates such as albumin, and to nuclear receptors that regulate genes, such as PPAR’s (Anitole, 2007) (Cheng, 2008). Their half-life is about three years. Production of these nifty chemicals has declined for safety reasons, ahem, but exposure remains widespread.

PFOA, especially, is associated with infertility (Fei, 2009) (Joensen, 2009) and ADD/ADHD in young adolescents (Hoffman, 2010). But its association with osteoarthritis concerns us at this time. Fluorine (chemical symbol F) is a corrosive gas that reacts with practically everything else in the periodic table except the noble gases, which happen to be so noble that they don’t mix with anything. If fluorine mixes with something else, it’s now a fluoride. On teeth, from the outside, fluoride is O.K. From inside the body, it’s not. That’s why the toothpaste label says not to swallow it. Fluoride usually enters the body either by inhalation or ingestion. (Did you know that tea contains fluoride? We’ll get to that in a minute.)

F reacts with hydrochloric acid in the stomach to form hydrofluoric acid (HF), which just so happens to be the precursor to Prozac. This acid passes to the liver, but evades phase 1 detoxification, where the liver uses O2 and enzymes to oxidize toxins to make them water-soluble. This short circuit occurs because fluorine is the strongest oxidizer currently known. At this point, hydrofluoric acid passes into the bloodstream and is distributed to all body parts, including bones. Now, bones are made from calcium compounds, particularly carbonated hydroxyapatite. When an acid and a base combine, they form a salt. Hydrofluoric acid mixes with the calcium (alkaline) to form CaF2, an insoluble salt. That increases density of bone, but lowers strength. The bone is less elastic and more prone to fractures. As bone thickens, it restricts mobility. To compound matters, factors that acidify the urine increase the retention of fluoride. However, happily, the opposite is also true. Absorption of fluoride is reduced by calcium (Whitford, 1994).

Tea may pose problems for heavy tea drinkers. Being labeled a heavy tea drinker is not common in the United States unless you earn membership in the gallon-a-day club. Tea plants readily absorb fluoride—and aluminum—from soil. Therefore, the beverage will contain various levels of fluoride, depending on soil levels. Brewed black tea in the States contains about 3 to 4 parts per million (which is practically identical to milligrams per liter); commercial iced tea has between 1 and 4 (Whyte, 2006) (Whitford, 1994) (Izuora, 2011). The number of skeletal fluorosis reports has grown in recent years, but that has been seen mostly in people who consumed 20 milligrams of fluoride a day for decades. In the mean time, 5 milligrams a day (That would be about a quart a day.) can present preclinical stages of fluorosis, so what has been diagnosed as arthritis may actually be skeletal fluorosis. Though this problem is more extensive in the tea cultures of Asia, it’s still a good idea to drink tea in moderation.

Getting back to PFOA and PFOS, levels in humans vary widely. Certain occupations can increase exposure thousands of times, especially for those working in chemical, metal refining and power plants. Drinking water contaminated with these chemicals contributes to human misery as much as direct exposure. Some American states have ground water that contains either naturally occurring fluoride compounds or the wastes from industrial sources. Ohio and West Virginia are two. In areas such as these, osteoarthritis prevalence exceeds that in other regions. Though a terrible affliction for anyone, women seem to be affected more than men. Cartilage damage and inflammatory responses are part of the spectrum (Uhl, 2013).

If you start to feel aches and pains that are new to you, take a look at what you’re been wearing, where you’ve been, and what you ate and drank. Stain resistant trousers and shirts, high intake of black and green teas, and the wrappers from the fast-food joint might be the cause. (See  Global production of these substances has been on the wane, but leftovers still occupy the environment. Substitute compounds are no doubt in the future, but now we have to be concerned about their long-term effects. Although research is sketchy, iodine, calcium, magnesium and boron are being studied as antidotes to fluoride toxicity (Kao, 2004) (Heard, 2001).


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Preventive Medicine Tribune. Volume 12, No. 1;  January 2006:  pp. 57-58 ·57·

*These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA.
These products are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease.

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