Iodine is an extremely important element yet iodine deficiency is becoming increasingly prevalent because of low levels in the soil and the move away from iodised table salt. Many of us are severely deficient and don’t know it. Some problems caused by iodine deficiency include
- Without sufficient iodine, the thyroid gland is unable to make thyroid hormones in adequate amounts. Iodine deficiency can therefore lead to hypothyroidism and goiter formation (the thyroid enlarges in an attempt to make more thyroid hormone).
- Iodine deficiency also increases the incidence of autoimmune thyroid disease such as Hashimoto’s disease and Graves disease. Some clinicians suspect the marked increase in the incidence of autoimmune thyroid disease is actually due to iodine deficiency. Other possible factors include subclinical infections, gluten intolerance, mercury and food allergies. Studies have shown that people who are iodine deficient have an increased incidence of antithyroid antibodies.
- Fatigue – iodine deficiency may lead to an abnormal pituitary-adrenal function in addition to low thyroid function.
- Poor Digestion – many people exhibit impaired production of stomach acid as they age which may be as a result of iodine deficiency as iodine promotes stomach acidity.
- Iodine is one of a group of similar elements known as halogens also including bromine, chlorine and fluorine. Because they are all of a similar shape, they compete with iodine for binding in the body, particularly the thyroid gland. Unfortunately the other elements are toxic to the body and worsen an iodine deficient problem. They can all therefore cause hypothyroidism. Bromine is used as an antibacterial agent for pools, as a fumigant in agriculture, as a pesticide, in some pharmaceuticals (atrovent), in some bakery products, and in some carbonated drinks (check to see if they contain “brominated vegetable oils”). Fluoride is added to many water supplies, toothpaste and some common medications and causes more harm than good. The benefit of fluoride to teeth is now being questioned while it has been linked to behavioural disorders, hypothyroidism, hip fractures, bone cancer and kidney damage. Chlorine is added to drinking water and has been linked to heart disease and cancer. Most of us are deficient in iodine and in a constant state of toxicity from the other halogens. The good news is that if iodine is present in sufficient amounts, the other halogens cannot affect the thyroid and are excreted from the body. Iodine has also been shown to increase the secretion of other toxic heavy metals such as mercury and lead.
- It appears that iodine deficiency is a risk factor for both breast cancer and fibrocystic breast disease. Fibrocystic disease often reverses with sufficient iodine replacement. Iodine is also very effective at eliminating ovarian cysts. It works for fibrocystic breast disease and ovarian cysts because of its effect on estrogens. It actually helps metabolise estrone (an estrogen which promotes breast cancer cell growth) and its dangerous metabolite 16-alpha-hydroxyoestrone to estriol which is an anti-carcinogenic estrogen.
- Lipoprotein (a) is an important substance as it produces plaques in arteries because it is very sticky and collects platelets, calcium and fibrin from the blood circulating inside our arteries. Excessive clotting and vascular disease resulting from high levels of lipoprotein (a) may be reversed by iodine treatment.
Testing for an Iodine Deficiency
An accurate test for diagnosing iodine deficiency was developed by Dr. Abrahams, a prominent iodine researcher. It involves taking an iodine challenge using 4 iodine tablets (12.5 mg each) or 8 drops of lugols solution followed by a 24 hour iodine urine excretion test. If there is sufficient iodine in the individual the excess iodine is excreted in the urine in the next 24 hours. A person with adequate iodine stores who takes 50 mg will excrete 90% of the iodine in their urine. If iodine is lacking the body retains most of the iodine with little iodine appearing in the urine.There is a risk that if the patient is experiencing a thyroid storm (excess thyroid hormones) the iodine challenge could possibly make it worse so some doctors recommend an initial baseline urine test without the iodine challenge and if iodine replacement is indicated retest after 3 months using the iodine challenge. This would appear to be the safest option however urinary testing does suffer from significant day to day variability in specific individuals so therefore is not generally used or recommended.
Another simple and inexpensive way to test is an iodine skin patch test. This test may indicate if an iodine deficiency exists however it not considered as accurate as the iodine loaded urine test. It involves painting a 5 by 5 cm patch of iodine tincture onto your inner arm or thigh. If the stain remains or only slightly lightens after 24 hours then your levels are considered normal. If the stain disappears, or almost disappears, in under 24 hours then there is a possibility you are deficient, if it disappears, or nearly disappears, under 10 hours then are likely to be deficient and should consider supplementation. Please note that an iodine tincture is required for this test which is iodine dissolved in ethanol. A water based preparation such as lugols is not suitable.
Some practitioners recommend to re-test using the skin patch test every 2 weeks to determine when your iodine dose can be reduced.
Prominent thyroid researcher, Dr. Benjamin Eskin, has shown that the thyroid gland and skin prefer to concentrate the iodide form of iodine while the breasts concentrate iodine. His research suggested that the body in general needs both the iodide and iodine form of iodine. This can be accomplished by using Lugols solution which contains a mixture of 10% potassium iodide and 5% iodine in water.
Dr. Abrahams recommends taking 50 mg of Iodine/Iodide (Lugol’s solution 8 drops daily) for 3 months as a loading dose. Then this dose should be gradually reduced to the 12.5 mg (2 drops) maintenance dosage under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care professional. Dr Abraham feels that 14 to 15 mg. of iodine/iodide daily is the upper maximum of safety. This is close to Dr. James Howenstine’s (a prominent iodine advocate) recommended dose of 12.5 mg daily (2 drops of Lugol’s). A major problem with Lugols solution is the bitter taste and its ability stain anything it touches.
Another valuable iodine preparation is a saturated solution of potassium iodide (SSKI drops) which is also available from our on line pharmacy. SSKI contains 100g of potassium iodide per 100ml dissolved in water. This only contains the iodide form and thus does not have the correct ratio of iodine/iodide recommended by Dr.Abrahams for correcting general iodine deficiency. It does however have a multitude of valuable healing properties for specific problems and is useful for thyroid and skin conditions as the iodide form accumulates in these organs. We also use it extensively to help promote the conversion of estrone and it bad metabolite into estriol with great effect. It may also help open up blocked arteries, disinfect water, cure bladder infections, reduce or eliminate ovarian cysts, diminish unsightly keloids, loosen thick bronchial secretions, even reduce or eliminate Peyronie’s Disease.
Food Sources of Iodine
Iodine from fish should be limited because of mercury problems. However sardines are a good option as they only have a short life span and do not get contaminated with mercury. Brown and red seaweeds contain the most iodine of all sea vegetables. You may still need supplemental iodine to get an adequate dose unless you are eating lots of seaweeds.
Things to note about iodine therapy and thyroid function:
(1) Iodine supplements can reduce the size of the thyroid gland. This is exactly what you would expect when supplementing with iodine. In fact, a decreased thyroid size is a good sign as iodine helps improves the architecture of the thyroid gland. Many iodine users have been scared off by this effect being lead to believe it is a bad thing.
(2) Iodine supplements cause the TSH to rise. It is well known, or should be well known, that iodine is transported into the cell by a transport molecule known as sodium-iodide symporter (NIS). NIS is stimulated by TSH (AJCN. Published online ahead of print December 28, 2011 as doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.028001) Therefore, when iodine supplementation is begun, one of the first effects seen is a slight elevation of TSH as the body is trying to produce transport molecules (NIS) to move iodine into the cell. Many doctors who only measure TSH then conclude that iodine causes hypothyroid and scare people off using it. This is another reason why we feel the TSH test is of very limited value – click here for details. If T3 and T4 (the thyroid hormones themselves) had been tested for it would have been found that they were normal and thus thyroid function had NOT been affected by iodine supplementation.