BSEM – Scientific conference on the Halogens – November 2011

Some notes on the presentations


Iodine and bromide - Dr Jorge Flechas (N Carolina, USA, physician, iodine researcher)

Dr Flechas' talk focused on the severe iodine deficiency suffered by much of the world's population and the health outcomes thereof.

He pointed out that contrary to popular perception, the thyroid only contains a small fraction of the iodine used and needed in the body; it is also to be found in the oesophagus, stomach, breasts, ovaries, endometrium, prostate, in the skin (20% of the total) and muscles (32% of total). It also essential for brain growth and activity.

Iodine deficiency can therefore be implicated in:

• breast cysts which can develop into cancer
• polycystic ovaries, which can also develop into cancer
• reduced ability to sweat, also a precursor to cancer
• muscle pain / fibromyalgia
• autism, ADHD and schizophrenia
• cretinism
• lost pregnancies
• prostate cancer
• atherosclerosis

Very little iodine is absorbed through the skin, the main port of entry is the intestine but for it to be absorbed it needs the assistance of a protein known as the sodium/iodide symporter which, in turn, needs adequate amounts of Vitamins B2 and 3 to function efficiently.

Dr Flechas described some of the symptoms of iodine deficiency and hypothyroidism, including sensitivity to cold, constipation, depression, fatigue, joint pain, weight gain, brittle nails, thinning of the eyebrows, puffiness in the face and a widening of the tongue to take up too much space in the mouth.

He also described the close links between iodine/iodide and the hormone oxytocin which has been successfully used to improve the symptoms of autism and schizophrenia as it is believed to improve social memory and the ability to trust and socialise, the lack of both of which is such a marked trait in both conditions.

Dr Flechas went on to discuss the wide use of bromide in the mid 20th century as an-over-the counter sedative and headache remedy. Bromide can be toxic and replaces iodine in the body thus leading to the iodine deficiency conditions listed above. Although it is no longer used as a human remedy (it is still used in veterinary medicine), brominated oils are still widely used in sports drinks and soft drinks such as Gatorade and Mountain Dew.

If you wish to know more about iodine and Dr Flechas' researches check in at which includes a number of Dr Flechas' papers or contact him direct at


Perfluorochemicals & Plastics Additives – Professor Tamara Galloway

Dr Galloway explained how perfluorochemicals, which have been so widely used to repel water, stains, oils and flames in such products as Teflon, gortex and many flame retardant fabrics, had originally been believed to be totally inert. However, this now does not appear to be the case as they bind to transporters, receptors and carrier proteins in the body so may be associated with thyroid disease and hormone disruption in general. It now appears that they could have effects on the body at levels 100 times lower than the currently permitted 'safe' levels.

Bisphenol-A (BPA) is also made from oil and used mainly for 'throw-away' products which end up in landfill from which they can leach into ground water. BPA has now been voluntarily removed from babies' bottles but is still widely used in other household items.


Fluoride - Professor Vyvyan Howard and Dr John McLaren Howard

Professor Howard described fluoride, which has no nutritional value and is the only one of the environmental toxins that it totally avoidable, as being more toxic than lead and only slightly less toxic than arsenic. A 'safe' dosage depends on both age and size, so smaller people, especially infants and small children, are disadvantaged, as are those living in hot climates who drink more. Moreover, fluoride is a cumulative toxin so it is its lifetime uptake that it most important.

In safety terms, for most drugs the safety margin is around 100; for fluoride the margin of safety is 2–4. It is unlikely, however that fluoride has a directly toxic effect; it is more likely that its effect is indirect via thyroid disruption and hypothyroidism, and through its ability to bind to other parts of the body such as the pineal gland and to bones. (The incidence of hip fractures appears to be significantly higher in fluoridated areas.)

The toxicity of fluoride has always been known and it became clear quite early on that it did not have a protective effect on the teeth, so why was it added to water? Professor Howard suggests that the pressure came from the fertiliser and the aluminium industries who could dispose of waste from their production by turning it into fluorosilciate that could be used to fluoridate the water. This was much cheaper than the sodium fluoride that was originally used, but was heavily contaminated with heavy metals, lead etc. He suggested that sufficient pressure was brought to bear on the authorities to allow very poor, flawed and sometimes non-existent research to be used to push fluoridation through both the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) and COT (Committee on Toxicity) in the mid 1990s.

Encouragingly, although not before time, he felt that the tide was now turning and that fluoridation was starting to be gradually phased out.

Dr MacLaren Howard described his investigations with two patients with confirmed sensitivity to fluoride – one who only showed symptoms of sensitivity when she came into contact with fluoride; the other of whom always suffered symptoms which just got worse when she came into contact with fluoride.

He therefore tested the metabolic activity of both patients and found that, in patient two, there was already a highly significant inhibition of metabolic activity suggesting that patient two had had a previous exposure to, for example, an organofluoride pesticide. He also noted that, with both patients, they showed reactions to levels of fluoride very much lower than those added to water.

Dr. Howard then went on to ask (himself), if everyone using fluoridated water was subject to the same doses in their water, why did some people react to it and some, apparently did not? Did something happen in utero to either sensitise or protect against fluoride? He felt that proteins and peptides seemed the most likely key so he then looked at the protein/peptide profiles of three patients suffering from fluoride symptoms against those of three controls. To his surprise, found that the sufferers had one extra peptide that the controls did not. He had expected to find them lacking a peptide not the reverse.

He suggested that more attention should be given to short term peptides and their role in this area.


Dioxins - Dr Janna Koppe

Dr Koppe, from the Emma Children's Hospital in Amsterdam, described the follow up findings on the effect of perinatal dioxin exposure on a group of children born between 1987 and 1991.

The children came from a very healthy group of mothers and were all breast fed for a minimum of two months. The study measured the dioxins in the breast milk they were fed and then the levels in their blood at the age of 12.

Findings suggested that, at birth, there was already a disruption of the thyroid hormone, a negative effect on their innate immunity and lowered energy metabolism. Retardation of brain development was also apparent, as was delayed reaction time, especially amongst those infants who had had high levels of exposure.

It would also appear that prenatal exposure caused lowered production levels of insulin by adolescence almost to the level of a pre-diabetic, could affect the start times of ejaculation in adolescent boys and of breast development in adolescent girls.

At least partly as a result of this study, Holland has now closed down all dioxin producing incinerators and have significantly reduced dioxin levels from other sources.


PCBs & Phthalates - Dr Gavin ten Tusscher (Consultant paediatrician, Holland)

Dr Tussler explained that both dioxins and PCBs mix well with fats rather than water so an infant or small child, because of their very high fat intake, absorbs very high levels. Moreover, because their structure, dioxins and PCBs do not break down and so cannot bemetabolised and excreted. Even though they are no longer produced they are still very much around in the environment.

Studies suggest that exposure results in:
• the deregulation of the thyroid
• lower birth weight
• an increased risk of wheeze at one year and of asthma when they are older
• a higher risk of getting chicken pox
• more middle ear infections
• reduced vaccine antibodies (so vaccines do not work so well – see this study published only last week))
• more dental effects
• increased behavioural problems
• reduced iQ
• increased blood pressure in adults
• increased risk of endometriosis
• increased risk of childhood cancers

There is, effectively nothing we can do about this – but we can learn for the future – with especial reference, for example, to DEHP (Bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate) a plastic softener which is just as toxic as the PCBS but has a more open structure so that it is more easily metabolised.

However, DEHP has been widely used in hospitals (mainly single use implements which are then burnt creating dioxins) and homes, and has been shown, in a number of studies to have significant health effects.

For example, exposure appears to shorten gestation time by one and half weeks which, although of little importance for full term babies, could be crucial for very premature babies.
Moreover, babies in the first 26 weeks of life are particularly vulnerable especially if they are suffering procedures such as tube feeding when the exposure becomes 1,000 times greater than that experienced by an adult.

However, awareness of harm is now high and the use of DEHP is now banned in toys for under threes and in sex toys; its use is also heavily discouraged in neonatal units as there are now a number of good PVC and DHEP alternatives for use in healthcare.

For more on how to replace DEHP/PVC in health care see the website of Health Care with out Harm, 'an international coalition of 473 organizations in more than 50 countries, working to implement ecologically sound and healthy alternatives to health care practices that pollute the environment and contribute to disease'.

For more on the BSEM (the British Society for Ecological Medicine) see


First published in January 2012

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