Ronit Mor, ND
Of all the elements known so far to be essential for human health, iodine is the most complex, under-appreciated, misunderstood, and feared nutrient in all of clinical nutrition.
Iodine is an essential trace mineral that plays a crucial role in maintaining and restoring good health. In fact, without adequate iodine levels, life itself is not possible!
Our bodies do not make iodine and modern agricultural methods have depleted iodine levels in our soil, so it is difficult to get adequate intake from diet alone.
One Of the Most Widespread Nutrient Deficiencies In the World
A new peer-reviewed study, published in Nutrients Journal in August 2022, reports that 35 to 45% of the world population is deficient in iodine.
Back in 2008, researchers concerned about the growing threat of iodine deficiency analyzed 88 samples of iodized table salt—the main supply of this critical micronutrient for most people. They found that less than half of the samples contained amounts of iodine sufficient for optimal health. Coupled with the trend of reduced salt consumption, rates of iodine deficiency have been reaching epidemic levels.
Iodine deficiency manifests itself through many uncomfortable and sometimes severe symptoms, such as memory issues, hair loss, weight gain, and chronic fatigue. Anyone can develop an iodine deficiency, although pregnant women, vegetarians, vegans, and those who live in areas with low levels of iodine in the soil are the most likely to develop this condition.
The reason why iodine deficiencies are closely-associated with pregnancy and children is that iodine levels play an important role in brain development and physical growth. Low levels of this mineral can lead to developmental issues in infants and children.
Still, anyone can experience iodine deficiency symptoms, especially if you’re not a fan of seafood and fish and you avoid consuming iodized salt.
Every Cell in Your Body Uses Iodine
For over 100 years, iodine has been known as the element that is necessary for thyroid hormone production. However, it is also found in each of the trillions of cells in the body and is responsible for the production of all of the other hormones in the body. Iodine is an essential micronutrient with every cell in the body requiring iodine to function optimally. It is especially vital for the thyroid which uses the most iodine.
In men, the reproductive system and the prostate also contain large amounts of iodine. In women, after the thyroid it is found most in the ovaries, followed by the breasts and uterus.
All hormone-producing glands in both men and women contain significant amount of iodine. This is why for years iodine was used as a “hormonal tonic.” For women, it was used for conditions such as amenorrhea and easing the transition into menopause. For men, it was used for helping with prostate conditions.
How Iodine Impacts Your Health
Iodine is critical to many systems and functions in our body:
Iodine has also been shown to relieve mood swings, depression, and ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder).
The endocrine system cannot function without it! When iodine is deficient, your hormones will be imbalanced. The adrenals rely on this trace mineral to function well during stress, and for recovery from stress.
Iodine plays a key role in the cardiovascular, immune and reproductive systems. Studies have indicated that it helps prevent obesity, diabetes, menopausal symptoms and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. It also improves brain function.
"Iodine has many positive therapeutic actions. It is a potent anti-infective agent. No virus, bacteria or parasite has been shown to be resistant to iodine therapy" Dr. David Brownstein
Iodine and Your Thyroid
Iodine is needed for the production of thyroid hormones. The two main thyroid hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), both contain iodine:
Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) worldwide. Insufficient iodine intake is also a risk factor for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Not getting enough iodine can also result in:
The recommended intake of iodine for adults to ensure your thyroid works properly is 150 micrograms (mcg) a day. Pregnant women need 220 micrograms per day and breastfeeding women 290 micrograms per day.
The scientific consensus is that more than 1,100 micrograms per day of iodine isn’t recommended under any normal circumstances and may result in thyroid dysfunction.
Signs Of Possible Iodine Deficiency
The Iodine Project - a Serious Challenge to Conventional Wisdom, or not… You Decide
Back in 1997, Dr. Guy Abraham, a former professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA, mounted what he calls “The Iodine Project” when he became aware of the many benefits of treating patients with iodine using doses far beyond the 2 mg a day, which most physicians consider to be potentially toxic.
He had his company, Optimox Corp., make Iodoral, the tablet form of Lugol's solution, and he engaged two family practice physicians, Dr. Jorge Flechas (in 2000) in North Carolina and Dr. David Brownstein (in 2003) in Michigan to carry out clinical studies with it.
The project's hypothesis was that maintaining whole body sufficiency of iodine requires 12.5 mg a day, an amount similar to what the Japanese consume.
He noted that starting in the 1820s, the French physician Jean Lugol used these higher doses to treat a wide variety of conditions. Dr. Lugol combined elemental iodine (5%) and potassium iodide (10%) with 85% water. Since iodine kills infectious agents, Dr. Lugol successfully treated many infectious conditions with this solution, which became known as Lugol’s solution, and which is still available today by prescription.
Prior to World War II, many American and European physicians used Lugol’s solution to treat thyroid conditions, using doses higher than 2 mg daily without apparent significant adverse effects.
Dr. Abraham's research revealed that many tissues, organs and glands use iodine. The only organ which contains more iodine than the ovaries is the thyroid gland. Iodine has been demonstrated to decrease the rate of fibrocystic breast disease. It also creates a soothing effect on the heart by assisting the electrical conduction of its beats. Studies show that when iodine is consumed, breast tissue competes equally with the thyroid gland to absorb it.
Preliminary research by Dr. Abraham also indicated that iodine may protect against cancer of the breast, ovaries, prostate, uterus and thyroid gland.
Dr. Abraham proposed that most of the controversy over iodine toxicity has been due to a 1948 landmark study, led by Drs. Wolff and Chaikoff that determined that iodine can be harmful to the thyroid.
A fierce controversy erupted (and is still going on to this day) in the scientific community following Dr. Abraham’s statements such as the following from a paper he wrote titled “The Wolff-Chaikoff Effect: Crying wolf?”:
“Shortly after the Axis powers capitulated and World War II came to an end, UC Berkeley dropped a bombshell in 1948, which became known as the Wolff-Chaikoff (W-C) effect. Where the swords of many nations failed, the pens of two men succeeded. The W-C effect resulted in the removal of iodine from the food supply, and most likely caused a lot of misery and death in the US due to its negative impact on iodine consumption by the population and on the use of inorganic, non-radioactive iodine in medical practice…
To the disgrace and stupidity of the medical profession, US physicians swallowed the W-C forgery uncritically, which resulted in a moratorium on the clinical use of inorganic non-radioactive iodine in effective amounts. However, this moratorium did not include toxic organic iodine-containing drugs and radioiodide.
The iodophobic mentality prevented further research on the requirement for inorganic, non-radioactive iodine by the whole human body, which turns out to be 100-400 times the very recently established RDA. Prior to World War II and the W-C publication, US physicians used Lugol solution safely, effectively and extensively in both hypo- and hyperthyroidism. Wolff and Chaikoff acknowledged the excellent and dramatic results achieved consistently with the use of Lugol solution in hyperthyroidism. But they postulated erroneously that these results were due to the fictitious W-C effect.”
The Iodine Project’s proposes the following:
As you can imagine by now, the mega amounts of iodine that Dr. Abraham recommended and their impact on human health are the main issues that are stirring up much controversy and strong emotions in the scientific community.
The debate that has been raging on ever since Dr. Abraham and his team published their results is well documented in the Townsend Letter for Doctors & Patients and also in A Perspective on High Dose Iodine Supplementation (a 12-part series) by Dr. Jeffrey Moss.
I highly recommend for anyone interested in making a truly informed decision on how to proceed with iodine supplementation to read and contemplate Dr Moss’ article series. It is the most balanced, comprehensive, and compelling analysis I have read on the topics of iodine deficiency, iodine therapy, and Dr Abraham’s body of research!
So, what to do next…
As you just learned, more is definitely not better and high levels of iodine can harm your thyroid health just as much as too little. If you’re interested in optimizing your thyroid function and overall body health with iodine, but are concerned about overdoing it, food sources and a high quality iodine supplement are probably the best way to go.
When it comes to iodine supplementation, two popular options are Nascent Iodine and Lugol’s iodine. Both are known for their potential health benefits, but they differ in terms of their composition, effectiveness, and usage.
These two options are compared in an article called Nascent Iodine Vs Lugol's: Which is the Better Choice for Your Health? published by MedicalHealthAuthority.com. This article may help you make an informed decision about which one is the right choice for your health needs.
In essence, Nascent Iodine is a form of iodine that is highly bioavailable and easily absorbed by the body. It is typically in the form of atomic iodine, which means it is in its purest and most elemental state. This form of iodine is believed to be more effective in supporting thyroid function, boosting energy levels, and promoting overall well-being.
The quality that separates nascent iodine from all other iodine products is that the diatomic bond is broken with each atom keeping one of the two electrons that had made up the covalent bond. This atomic state and large electromagnetic charge is held by the atom until diluted in water where it then rapidly looses its charge.
Lugol's Iodine (the form used by Dr. Abraham and his research team), on the other hand, is a solution of iodine and potassium iodide. It was developed in the 19th century by French physician Jean Lugol and has been used for various health purposes ever since. Lugol's solution is known for its antiseptic properties and is commonly used as a disinfectant. It is also used as a supplement to support thyroid health and iodine deficiency. It has lower bioavailability compared to Nascent Iodine and has high potential for allergic reactions and adverse events.
Ultimately, the choice between Nascent Iodine and Lugol's depends on your individual health needs and preferences. If you suspect you are deficient in this critical mineral, it may be beneficial for you to contact your doctor to find out about how you can test your iodine levels and determine the type and ideal supplementation for your unique needs.