A mineral that is used by every hormone, organ and cell in our body, iodine is an important nutrient that the body requires but cannot make on its own, so we must get it from our diet. While most nutrients that the body needs are readily available in food, iodine is harder to find unless it has been added during the manufacturing process. Most iodine is found in the ocean where it is concentrated, especially in seaweed.
The entire body depends upon iodine for the critical roles it plays in energy production, healthy metabolism, and overall health, and consequently, iodine deficiency can lead to the development of many adverse health conditions and symptoms.
Before the 1920s, iodine deficiency was common in certain geographic areas of North America, especially around the Great Lakes, the Appalachian, and Northwestern regions, and in most of Canada. Treatment of iodine deficiency via the introduction of iodized salt virtually eliminated the “goiter belt” in these areas; however, other issues arise from the use of iodized salt and iodine deficiency continues to be an important public health problem around the world.
While the manufacturing decision to add iodine to table salt may have helped the population’s iodine levels as a whole, it contributed to other health problems. Common table salt has little in common with natural mineral salt. Iodized salt is "chemically cleaned" sodium chloride, an other-than-natural chemical form of salt that your body recognizes as something very foreign. Table salt is dried at over 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, and this excessive heat alters the salt’s natural chemical structure. After this intense heat, additives are combined with the salt, some of which can be quite toxic. These additives usually include fluoride, magnesium carbonate, calcium carbonate, and aluminum hydroxide to improve the ability of table salt to pour. Ingesting large amounts of sodium chloride in table salt can contribute to multiple health problems.
While iodine is added to processed salt, the form of iodine that is used is not the most assimilable form. Mineral salts that are unprocessed, including Celtic and Himalayan salts are not denatured by heating, contain a full spectrum of natural minerals, and are not bleached using toxic chemicals. It is clear that table salt is not the best way to increase dietary iodine.
Since 1940’s there has been an 80% reduction in iodine consumption, mostly due to changes in the food supply. In the 1960s, iodine was added to breads and baked goods, but in the 1980s, bromine replaced iodine due to the false belief that iodine fortification could lead to hyperthyroidism. Bromine is a toxic halide that offers no nutritional value, and which competes with iodine for uptake in the body. The substitution of bromine for iodine offers a double whammy by reducing the availability of iodine in foods and simultaneously blocking the assimilation of iodine by competing for uptake on receptor sites.
Today, it is estimated that up to 90% of Americans suffer from a deficiency of iodine. There are many causes for this widespread deficiency. Some significant factors include a diet lacking in sea vegetables or fish, high intake of bromine, and vegetarian or vegan diets, all of which may contribute to lower than optimal levels. Moreover, it is known that toxic halides (chlorine, fluorine, and bromine) compete with iodine for uptake in the body, thereby contributing to iodine deficiency.
In his book, Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without it (Rev. 2008) Dr. David Brownstein states that optimal iodine intake is the best solution to detoxification of toxic halides. He also directly correlates an overload of toxic halides with tumors, specifically of the breast and prostate. The combination of an overload of toxic halides that compete with iodine for receptor sites, and decreasing availability of iodine itself contributes to a scenario in which the body no longer has the resources either to optimize healthy tissues, or to detoxify toxic halides that contribute to the problem. In a study, 100% of cancer patients tested registered severe iodine deficiency (96-100%). It is virtually impossible to avoid these toxic halides completely, so consuming supplemental iodine can help to build and maintain your iodine status and a healthy body.
Why does the body need iodine?
Iodine is critical for thyroid health. The thyroid requires iodine to make thyroid hormones. If there is not enough iodine present for the thyroid to do its job, the body makes the thyroid gland work harder which can cause an enlarged thyroid gland (goiter).
Iodine deficiency and the low levels of thyroid hormone that may result can cause women to stop ovulating, leading to reduced fertility. Some researchers also theorize that iodine deficiency may increase the risk of certain forms of cancer.
Iodine deficiency during pregnancy is particularly problematic. This may lead to high blood pressure for the mother and reduced mental capacity for the baby, since iodine plays an important role in the development of the central nervous system. It may also contribute to stunted growth and delayed sexual development. A deficiency of iodine is recognized worldwide as the most common preventable cause of mental retardation.
Detoxification processes supported by iodine include detoxification of heavy metals and toxic chemicals, which can compete with iodine for uptake by receptors in the thyroid and elsewhere. Such iodine deficiencies can contribute to the development of many seemingly unrelated health difficulties, including those involving the thyroid gland, metabolism, and other conditions of the endocrine system. Less severe iodine deficiency can cause below average IQ scores in infants and children, and decrease the ability of adults to work and think clearly.
As well as being useful in preventing many conditions due to iodine deficiency, such as goiter, iodine has possibly been found to be useful in treating fibrocystic breast disease, heart disease, and other serious challenges to health. Iodine is often applied to the skin to kill germs, prevent soreness inside the mouth caused by chemotherapy, and to treat ulcers due to diabetes.
Iodine kills every pathogenic organism on contact. Iodine surveys all the cells in body, looking for abnormal cells, it sends message to initiate cell apoptosis (cell death).
Moreover, and perhaps something we should all be increasingly aware of, iodine is commonly used for radiation emergencies. Because radioactive iodides take up residence in the thyroid gland where there are available receptors, during a radiation emergency, it is crucial that any radioactive iodides get displaced as soon as possible.
Can you take too much iodine?
If you get too much iodine, you may experience some of the same symptoms as iodine deficiency, so extremely high doses of iodine are not usually recommended. Iodine may cause side effects like nausea, stomach pain, headache, runny nose, metallic taste, and diarrhea in some people. People with autoimmune thyroid disease or other thyroid disorders may be sensitive to the side effects of iodine.
Iodine supplements may interact with prescription medication so always consult your healthcare practitioner before changing your supplement routine.
What are the best sources of iodine?
Iodine is present naturally in soil and seawater. Various regions of the world offer different levels of iodine in their food supply. In the United States, individuals can maintain adequate iodine by eating foods high in iodine such as sea vegetables. Iodine is also found in dairy products, eggs, seafood, meat, some breads, and eggs, and by taking supplements containing iodine. The amount of iodine in foods is not listed on nutritional panels on packaging in the U.S., and so it can be difficult to identify good sources of iodine in foods.
In plant foods, iodine content depends on the iodine content in the soil. Food grown near the ocean tends to be higher in iodine. Typical vegetarian or vegan diets often provide lower levels of iodine, particularly if sea vegetables (and sea salt) are not included as a regular part of the diet. Other food sources of iodine include leafy greens and raw sunflower seeds. However, these sources may not provide optimal levels needed for healthy thyroid support and metabolic homeostasis.
Women who are pregnant need about 50% more iodine than other women to provide enough iodine for both themselves and their baby to grow and develop properly. Surveys show that many pregnant women in the United States may not get quite enough. Breastfed infants get iodine from breast milk, and if the mother does not have enough iodine, her breast milk also will be deficient.
People who get marginal amounts of iodine and who eat foods containing goitrogens should also be concerned about their iodine intake. Goitrogens are substances that interfere with the way the body uses iodine. They are present in some plant-based foods such as cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and brussel sprouts) and soy. For most people in the United States who get adequate amounts of iodine, eating moderate amounts of foods containing goitrogens is not a concern.
How is iodine deficiency treated?
When iodine deficiency is seen in an entire population, it probably means that the local soil is deficient and it would be good to supplement or source foods that have a higher iodine content. An unofficial “test” you can try at home is to rub some liquid iodine onto a patch of skin. If the iodine is absorbed quickly (within an hour or two) it means your body is absorbing it rapidly. If the iodine color is still present on your skin after many hours, it is likely that your body has adequate amounts of iodine and is therefore absorbing it at a slower rate. As with many conditions, prevention is better than cure so it is easier to protect against a problem rather than have to treat it after the fact.
With improved levels of iodine, you may expect to see positive health results such as better insulin sensitivity and healthier blood sugar levels. Iodine is a broad anti-microbial, and it can boost your ability to think more clearly. When you take iodine, your very next urinary elimination should show elevated levels of toxic halides. Additionally, you will likely also see improved immune function and experience the support of healthy DNA.
What kinds of iodine dietary supplements are available?
The best types of iodine supplements are made without combining other minerals onto it like sodium, potassium, or calcium. When you add certain minerals to already pure iodine, it makes you only able to absorb a small amount of the actual iodine. Less absorption means fewer benefits. When you take supplemental iodine, it will first be used to saturate the thyroid gland, and then it will go to other organs for added protection. It is a good idea to start with a low dose and build gradually over time.
Usually the liquid form is assimilated the best. Potassium iodide tablets that are sold may be toxic at higher levels. Nascent iodine is a popular liquid form that is readily absorbable by the thyroid gland.