Iodine for Health

by Steven Carney on May 6, 2013

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Iodine isn’t in the news much, but it’s an important nutrient for health, especially women’s health. Iodine is mainly known for it’s role in thyroid function, a key organ for a healthy metabolism. And about 70% of the iodine in your body will be found in the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped organ located at the base of the throat. The thyroid converts dietary iodine into the iodide form for its use in making thyroid hormones.

But iodine also plays a role in many other bodily functions, including immune health, mineral and metal detox, cancer prevention, breast health, mood problems, cholesterol levels, antioxidant activity, etc.

Many experts say that the iodine in our modern soil has been significantly depleted (although the oceans have always been a better source of iodine). But for those who don’t eat lots of fish, shellfish and sea veggies, your diet probably has less iodine then it used to. Some experts say that iodine intake has dropped by up to 50% in recent decades.

Although experts estimate that iodine deficiency affects about 15% of U.S. adults, the research I’ve seen indicates that iodine deficiency and insufficiency (borderline for thyroid function and too low for optimum health in other areas) is probably much higher, perhaps 30-50%.

Deficiency common?

Because many people have cut back on adding table salt (tied to high BP), and because processed foods rarely use iodized salt, many people get less iodine through their diets now. Plus, for those who eat lots of veggies (as I do), it turns out that cruciferous veggies, such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, may interfere with the conversion of iodine to iodide, the form the thyroid needs. Yet those veggies are very healthy so cutting back on them is not the answer to better thyroid function (cooking those veggies helps)!

I encountered both of these issues (lower salt intake and cruciferous veggies) several years ago when my TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) blood test moved just above the normal range, meaning it was subclinical. Rather than see a doctor and end up on a thyroid replacement drug like Synthroid, I did some research. When I found the details about table salt and veggies, I started taking kelp tablets/capsules because they have several hundred additional mcg (micrograms) of iodine in a food/supplement form.

Sure enough, when I got an additional TSH test in about 3 months (they say it can often take 90 days or more to raise iodine levels and thyroid function), my TSH was back in the normal range! More iodine is indeed what I needed. BTW, TSH is an early (and somewhat indirect) way of checking thyroid function because TSH is the hormone released by the pituitary gland when the thyroid is not putting out enough thyroid hormones T3 and T4. I still take the kelp caps now and will have more blood tests again, but I feel fine (I wasn’t feeling badly before, this was an early catch, the best kind)!

Common deficiency symptoms

When iodine levels fall too low, the thyroid gland, along with other organs, will suffer. Some common symptoms of low thyroid/possible iodine deficiency are:

  • Slower metabolism
  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Heart disease/athero
  • Feeling too cold or too hot
  • Neck goiter (swelling of lower throat area)
  • Dry skin/dry hair/hair loss
  • Rising levels of lead, mercury, fluoride, chlorine, bromide, etc.
  • Mood/depression issues
  • Higher stress/frustration

Iodine myths abound

Dietary iodine levels, like many other nutrients, are set by agencies and boards. As usual, they are set at a level just high enough to avoid disease for the general population. For iodine, that’s avoiding a neck goiter, a more common problem from many decades ago (especially in the Midwest, far from the coasts). But those levels ignore the other important functions of iodine, so the level is often too low for optimum health (in the same way that vitamin C is set at a level to avoid scurvy and vitamin D is set to just avoid rickets, but neither is set for optimum health).

For an iodine supplement, I focus on a dietary source like kelp tablets or capsules, rather than a single iodine supplement (a multivitamin source is okay if taken with food). That’s because digesting a kelp supplement is closer to a whole food, and it includes a range of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. It digests more slowly (compared to taking iodine drops or tablets) so the iodine is also absorbed and released gradually, along with the other minerals. That’s important for keeping the system of micro-nutrients in better balance.

And I do think the 150 mcg standard level for iodine is probably too low for optimum health and disease prevention. We probably need more like 500-1,000 mcg daily which is .5 to 1 mg. Although that’s a relatively low amount compared to other vitamins, it’s also well above the minimal 150 mcg level.

As mentioned, the government recommended daily intake is a low 150 mcg (micrograms), with an upper intake of about 1,000 mcg daily (or about 1 mg). But consider this: Some coastal Japanese take in much higher amounts (even hundreds of times more) than our daily intake because their diet has far more seafood and sea veggies (like kelp). Not only do they not have problems with iodine excess/toxicity, but they also have fewer cancers, especially breast cancer (also known to take up high levels of iodine, making it available for nursing babies).

While it’s probably true that the Japanese get used to higher amounts of dietary iodine throughout life, and I wouldn’t suggest that people take mega doses of iodine (or other supplements), our standards are often too low, and for iodine, focused narrowly on the thyroid, ignoring other important areas.

In any case, taking large amounts of supplements without a thorough health assessment and professional supervision/blood screening is not a good idea because you can upset the healthy balance of nutrients (balance is important for these metabolic and hormonal systems to function correctly). Plus, everyone is an individual so blanket recommendations don’t always work for everyone. The point is not to guess or assume!

In recent years, many health experts, including Dr. Abraham, Dr. Brownstein, Dr. Wright and others, say that iodine intakes above the government recommended amount of 150 mcg can help to improve overall health, while lowering the risk for cancers and other diseases. There are various cancers and health conditions thought to be helped or treated by higher iodine amounts (these cancers and health problems affect many millions of adults):

  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Fibrocystic breast disease
  • Fibromyalgia

Iodine scare tactics

As is often the case with supplements, the medical industry is full of myths and misinformation about iodine, just like many other alternative health treatments and people they routinely demonize. The origin of their iodine fear and distrust?

There was some early research done using iodide (not iodine) in the late 1940s. They gave rats the iodide by injection (at 5X the normal need for rats), putting it directly into their bloodstream, bypassing normal digestion, thyroid uptake and conversion. It appeared to show that those higher iodine levels caused hypothyroidism (a slow thyroid), the opposite effect of what would be expected if someone had levels too low. But I don’t know anyone who injects iodide into their blood! The leap of logic should have been obvious!

Ever since that research was done using injectable iodide in rats (then unscientifically extrapolated to humans, a big leap to be sure, as most animal research does not translate to humans), there has been a phobia about adding iodine or iodine-containing supplements (like kelp), based on that early, very questionable research.

In fact, that research has been debunked by many health and medical experts over the years (I included many links below). Still, the “Wolff-Chaikoff effect” as it’s called, is widely believed and embraced by those in our medical industry. The result is that when your TSH is too high, or you have low thyroid hormone outputs (T3/4), most MDs will put you on a thyroid drug of some kind, making you dependent on them.

This early research, like that 1950s research into dietary fat cholesterol as the cause of heart disease (not!), has been misrepresented for decades and seen as dogma by many in our gullible medical community. They believe that increased iodine intake is dangerous! It’s typical of the absolute thinking many medical people have about nutrients and supplements.

Over time, more qualified health experts (and some MDs) have said the iodine fears are exaggerated, and they have studied iodine and health more extensively than simply accepting a single rat study from 60 years ago (and one with methodological errors).

I’d also add that I approach each client holistically, meaning I look at all their health status, nutrition, activity and a range of habits and tests. And I do know that other minerals and vitamins can play a role in thyroid health, and that iodine intake needs to be balanced with other nutrients to avoid imbalances. Again, everyone’s unique and generic guidelines don’t always work.

Examples of important minerals and vitamins for a healthy thyroid (and good health) are selenium (selenium seems to play a critical role with iodine), zinc, magnesium, calcium, vitamins A, C, D (key for immune function and many people with Hashimoto’s have low vitamin D levels), fish oil and others. It’s another reason I work with clients to get the whole picture, not just a narrow treatment for specific body part (I run into that narrow, dissected medical view almost daily).

In fact, that Western approach is, and always be a falsehood! You are a total being; every system in your body, including emotions and beliefs are integrated into an incredible organism and living person! There is no such thing as a problem in a single body part that exists in a separate universe from all the other parts. That bogus, Western perspective is destructive to your health!

Diseases or immune problems?

There also some thyroid problems based on autoimmune problems like Hashimoto’s or Graves’ but these can sometimes be improved by lifestyle changes and nutrient re-balancing, including iodine. I know many medical people will swear that someone with Hashimoto’s can’t have more iodine but that’s more simplistic dogma! Remember, Hashimoto’s and Graves’ are both auto-immune problems, not thyroid diseases per se.

I look for systemic inflammation and possible sources (often visceral fat and other lifestyle issues like diet (especially sugar and wheat), vitamin, mineral and antioxidant deficiencies, digestive problems, etc.). Overall inflammation and autoimmune problems can be measured by a CRP test and checking your vitamin D levels. So the typical medical dogma to never give iodine or kelp for thyroid conditions is overly simplistic, ignores many other immune and hormonal functions, and can be harmful to your health and longevity.

BTW, there is a blood test to check for how much iodine passes through you after taking an iodine tablet. If you excrete more than 90% of the iodine in the tablet, you should have enough iodine in your body (less than 90% indicates some deficiency), but I also look at TSH and other tests (CRP, minerals, vitamin D, etc.), and client info to get a more complete picture.

So if you have had some negative screening tests or your TSH is climbing too high, drop me a line and we can gather some info and see where things stand with your overall health and lifestyle, not just looking at a single gland. Again, I focus on holistic health and the total you! I’m here to help you feel better, live better and prevent disease! You can reach 100 if you want!

Helpful links (I included extra for this post, as many people are unaware of all the details of this mineral and related issues): (overall review showing higher intakes)

This study came out on 5/22/13 and shows that deficiencies are a concern:

A new 2014 study shows that indeed, seaweed is an effective source of iodine:

This 2015 article with studies explores the importance of vitamin C for thyroid health:

© 2013 by Steve Carney/End Sickness Now


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