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Saturday, May 18, 2013

GMO-free Salt and Fluoride

Recently, I came across a blog with a face-palm entry about "GMO-free" pink Himalayan salt.  Coincidentally, I was engaged in a conversation with friends who are apparently concerned about a government conspiracy to poison us with fluoride. Putting the two thoughts together sparked my curiosity.  How much fluoride is in natural salts such as Himalayan Pink Rock Salt, and is it too much?

Genetically Modified Organisms in Salt

Salt is a mineral. It is not an organism. It does not have genes; it does not have DNA. If you read the comments on Shea Gunther's post, the company responds and more-or-less admits that its target customers are not informed enough to know the difference.

It is true that some salts have dextrose (d-glucose), or corn sugar, added. The sugar itself is not an organism and does not have DNA, but it is possible that the corn it came from could be genetically modified. There would be zero difference in the dextrose extracted, however. Dextrose is dextrose.

Hazards of Fluoride

Some parts of the world have very high levels of naturally occurring fluoride. Fluoride at very high levels is known to have detrimental health effects. Overexposure at lower levels can cause dental fluorosis, a disturbance in the tooth enamel. The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence is that fluoridation of water between 700 ppb and 1.2 ppm is safe. 700 ppb is the new recommendation for fluoridation since most Americans have access to other sources of fluoride such as their toothpaste.

GMOs and Fluoride

My unsubstantiated but reasonable hunch is that many people who are worried about GMOs in their food are also overly concerned about exposure to fluoride. So it made me wonder if they are concerned about the fluoride in natural sources of salt such as Himalayan Pink Rock Salt. The irony is that refined salt is very pure sodium chloride and has very little fluoride, whereas natural sources of salt are likely to have fluoride.

Fluoride in Pink Rock Salt?

Undoubtedly there is fluoride in most naturally occurring salts. The pertinent question is: how much? Many substances that are beneficial at low concentrations can be detrimental at higher concentrations. The Internet is full of speculation and unsupported claims about how much fluoride is in Himalayan Pink Rock Salt. To get a good answer, one should review analysis in the peer-reviewed literature.

I did, however find one site on the Internet that purports to provide a chemical analysis of this salt. The original source is from Water & Salt: The Essence of Life, by Peter Ferreira and Dr. Barbara Hendel, M.D. 

The analysis only shows that the amount of fluoride is less than their detection limit of 100 mg/kg. According to such an analysis, there could be far less fluoride than that level. It does not tell us how much fluoride is actually present. If I have time and I'm still interested, I may do a literature search in the future to see if I can find better data. In the meantime, if someone beats me to the punch, please comment below.

A Thought Experiment

One gram of table salt  is equal to 0.18 tsp. So what is the mass of one tsp of salt?

     1 tsp x  1 g / 0.18 tsp = 5.6 g

Natural salts do not have exactly the same as density as pure sodium chloride; so applying this number to those salts is approximate, but it is not far off.

100 mg/kg is equal to 100 micrograms (μg)/g.  So if we assume the salt could have as much as 100 mg/kg of fluoride, it would have 560 μg fluoride per teaspoon.

Compare that to the drinking water recommendation of 700 ppb (700  μg/liter). So consuming 1 tsp of salt with the aforementioned amount of fluoride is equivalent to drinking a little less than a liter of water at the recommended fluoridation level.

More precisely, it would be equivalent to drinking 570/700 or 814 milliliters (mL).

Should You Worry?

In a word, no, but you should not worry about fluoride in your water either, or GMOs for that matter, but that's another story. Having said that, natural salts can have a lot of other minerals in them too and they are not all necessarily good for you, but I would not particularly worry about that.

What If I Want To Worry About Something

Worry about arsenic in your water supply. The EPA recently lowered the standard to 10 ppb, and many communities do not meet that level. Worry about bacteria in your water supply. Worry about food-born pathogens. These are real problems that actually kill people, a lot of people. Worry about people who do not vaccinate their children. Worry about photochemical smog and respiratory disease. Worry about toxic cigarette smoke. Worry about the repercussions of global warming.

I worry about the repercussions of scientific illiteracy. I worry that people have opinions because of something they once read on the Internet, or because they want to fit in with people who share their views. I worry that people do not understand how to evaluate evidence, how to think about it, and how to weigh risks against each other. Don't listen to me, however; I am part of the global conspiracy.

Postscript (5/20/2013)

After writing this post, I found a blog called the Progressive Contrarian that cites the chemical analysis to make a similar point, but unfortunately, they compounded the problem by responding to scientific illiteracy with scientific illiteracy:
A visit to the site has a chemical breakdown of all  the natural elements in this purest of pure salts. Among those are fluoride, arsenic, lead, plutonium, uranium, and polonium.
The chemical study that they cited (the same one that I cited) shows that the concentrations of fluoride, arsenic, lead, plutonium, uranium, and polonium are all less than a given value, presumably the method-detection limit of the analytic procedure. It does not mean that these elements are present.  It means that they failed to detect these elements with the sensitivity of their methods.

Post-Postscript (5/22/2013)

Amazon sells gmo-free pink salt with "no chemicals." I left a helpful review.



Julie Kay said...

Nice job! I laughed out loud when I saw the GMO free Himalayan Salt in a store a few months ago. I also live in a city (Portland) that has voted down fluoridated water for years and years now and it's currently on the ballot again! People have always thought it was some sort of "commy plot".

Bernie Mooney said...

I feel obligated to sort of defend myself here with the same comment I wrote to you on my blog.

I think you might have missed my attempt at humor. My attempted point was that that even if all those elements were present, the fact they are were at such low levels it didn’t matter. As I wrote in the post: “These trace amounts aren’t harmful to humans. As they say, the dose makes the poison. Imagine if any of the elements were in gmo foods? The frightened anti-gmo villagers would be jumping and hollering and pointing… “Look! Look! Poisons!”

It was a jab at the anti-gmo, natural folks who would have freaked if gmos contained any one of those things.”

Frasier Linde said...

The science against fluoridation is overwhelming. Check out this article if you aren't convinced.

Rich said...

A friend of mine has debunked this quackery at:

See also:

Anonymous said...

maby you sould do some research in the GMO thing, GMO WIL KILLL YOU SLOW AND PEANFULY,

+ Floride does not have a Recommended dose, is just poison for the body, amarica is one of the contrys that tel u its good for touth decay, BULLSHITT, we all know its toxic we dont eat radpoison do we...? and if the tel you its good for you dont beleve it, it basic chemistry Tooth are calcium phosphate add some Sodium Floride to ist and you wil make Calcium Floride from your teeth... this will be a part of your body,, and if u drink it you wil just poison yourself it only works topical... here is de MSDS Sheet for Sodium Fluoride read it...!!,d.d2k&cad=rja

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but your math is very misleading.

100mg/1kg is the same as 100 parts per million of Fluoride.

NYC fluoridates its water supply between 0.7 and 1.2 PPM of Fluoride.

The Himalayan salt you reference has approx. 100 times the fluoride levels as fluoridated water.

You're entitled to your opinions but you should refrain from making sweeping generalizations such as there is nothing to worry about unless you have the mathematics and science to back up your claims.

Rich said...

Anonymous, you've made two errors:

1)No one would eat an entire kg of salt. It's the mass of fluoride consumed that my math was calculating. Comparing concentration in water to concentration in salt is not an apples to apples comparison.

2) They failed to detect fluoride in the salt.

Anonymous said...

You are recognized as good life. Berserkers will reward you with sterilization and you will be allowed to live as all others perish.

Scientifically Literate said...

I'm guessing, Rich, you're either heavily influenced by astroturfing logic, or perhaps work in such a PR capacity. Either way, you disseminate the message and use all the requisite buzzwords to boot (rebranding allegations of corruption as "global conspiracy," and so on).

Nonetheless, for any curious reader, two links.

Pretty extensive history of research into fluoride's endocrine disrupting effects. The literature on the subject is exhaustive:

Toward the same end, you might also check out a story published recently in Newsweek:


Rich said...

Yes, I am part of the conspiracy and just an industry shill. Good use of logic.

beachbirdie said...

I realize this is a very old post and not likely to draw many readers. But I will leave this little crumb for anyone stumbling in here who might be misled by the seemingly authoritative dismissal of the idea that (gasp) fluoride might truly be harmful.

Using Stephen Barrett and his Quackwatch to discredit fluoride critics severely weakens the author's fluoride premise. Barrett has been discredited many times over. I don't have time to dig up all the cases but this is an interesting read:

There is indeed a strong body of evidence proving harmful effects from fluoride. Environmental and health damage are very real. Seriously, since when does it make sense to dose an enture population with an uncontrolled amount of medicine, regardless of body weight, age, or health condition? That is what water fluoridation does.

Search this site and you will find many credible references:

Brian Osterhout said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brian Osterhout said...

Wow sir with due respect you are tremendously off base. GMO's are horrific, chemical fluoride is horrific. Plain and simple. I am sure you have good intentions but you looking at the wrong data with the wrong base assumptions. Science to prove what you believe-or want to believe-isn't science. You did not look for actual data for the other side of very valid concerns nor did you consider just pointing out natural fluoride from chemical waste by-product fluoride. And a thing like salt can be labeled non GMO because it doesn't have disgusting GMO preservatives and additives which DO HAVE DNA. You are simply off here from start to finish.

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