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The Iodine Story

Posted by Well Being Holistic Pharmacy on

Years ago I shared specific information about Vitamin D on my radio show, in articles and in talks that I do for the public. I was basically trying to dispel the myth that it was dangerous to supplement with Vitamin D at much higher levels than the recommended daily allowance (RDA) or amounts commonly supplemented with. The RDA was and continues to be from 400 i.u. to 800 i.u. for Vitamin D. When I stated that there was a lot of misinformation about Vitamin D’s safety, and that one should be getting up to 4,000 i.u. daily, I was castigated and accused of being irresponsible. I was told that because Vitamin D is a “fat soluble” vitamin, getting 4,000 i.u. daily would become toxic very quickly. My response was (and still is) to go get a closer look at the scientific literature. Vitamin D does not really become toxic until one is getting 40,000 i.u. on a daily basis for extended periods of time. And, more importantly, Vitamin D is vital for many important functions in the body including: proper immune function in relation to numerous cancers (especially skin cancer), optimal utilization of calcium and other minerals for building bone and maintaining structure, regulating appropriate serum levels of certain minerals, maintaining cardiac health and even helping to maintain or improve mental function as we age. Move the clock a few years forward and I find that now many physicians are routinely testing 25-hydroxycholecalcifrol levels (active Vitamin D) and prescribing up to 10,000 i.u. daily for their elderly patients to help maintain structure and general health. Far be it from me to say “I told you so” but sure enough, I did. Well, the reason I bring up all of this past history is that there is a very similar issue emerging that I want to be able to say “I told you so” about in the future. It has to do with another widely misunderstood and improperly dosed nutrient… IODINE!! The history concerning Iodine is very interesting. You should find it fascinating, and possibly even life saving, if you pay attention. Iodine is commonly known as the element necessary for thyroid hormone production. What is less readily recognized is that every single cell in your body needs Iodine to function properly. Without Iodine, there would be no life. Iodine is responsible for the production of thyroid hormones and every other hormone in the body. Proper Iodine levels are needed for the immune system to work well. Iodine contains potent antibacterial, antiparasitic, antiviral and anticancer properties. Iodine has also been shown to be effective at treating ovarian cysts and fibrocystic breasts, likely because of the hormone-modulating effect that comes from Iodine. Iodine is only the 62nd most abundant element on this planet. It is primarily found in sea water and sea vegetables or organisms that concentrate it from the sea water, like seaweed. Additionally, crops that are grown in soil near the sea tend to have higher amounts of Iodine then crops grown inland. This fact will become very important later as we discuss the health of people that live in Japan. It was in the early 1800’s that Iodine was discovered to be useful in treating goiter (swelling of the thyroid). In fact, this was the very first instance of medicine using a single item to treat a specific disease… the very birth of Western medicine… which I find tremendously ironic. In the early 1900’s it was noted that people that lived in states that bordered the Great Lakes had a high prevalence of goiter. In fact, a study conducted by the Michigan Department of Health in 1924 showed that nearly 40% of school children had enlargement of the thyroid. It was at this time that iodized salt was introduced to that area. In 4 years there was a 75% reduction in the number of people with goiter and by 1951 less than 0.5% of school-aged children had goiter. Similar results where reported in Ohio during the same time period. I can tell you that we have yet to see the prescription medicine that gets that kind of results in preventing any known disease. Because of these fantastic results, the use of iodized salt soon was adopted by the rest of the United States, thus decreasing the incidence of goiter throughout the country. Today, the World Health Organization promotes the use of iodized salt throughout the world to help prevent goiter. The RDA of Iodine is 150 mcg. On average, salt contains 77 mcg of Iodine per gram. If you are getting 2 grams of salt daily, then you are likely receiving the amount that we are told is needed for proper health. Ready to eat cereals, dairy products, fish and bread all give you between 27 mcg and 87 mcg per serving (at least they used to in the 1980s - this has decreased for the prepared products – more on that later). So, as you can see, it is not hard to get the RDA of Iodine from our diet. Unfortunately, this is the point in the story where I am obligated to show you the many ways that medicine has, and continues to, drop the ball. This is because of the complete lack of recognition of the vital role that Iodine plays in the rest of the body. The body concentrates Iodine in the thyroid to make thyroid hormones; this is known and accepted. What is missed is that because of this “body priority” usage of Iodine, other tissues in the body end up lacking in this vital nutrient… lacking to the point of potentially severe dysfunction. Do you know what part of the body concentrates Iodine the 2nd most? Breast tissue. So, let’s follow the logic here… if the intake of Iodine is deficient, most of what is available will go to the thyroid first. This will cause a functional deficiency in the rest of the body without anyone ever knowing. Why is this? Because the common way that we determine Iodine need is solely by measuring thyroid hormones. And, if you happen to have low thyroid hormones your doctor is 1000 times more likely to just try to replace those hormones (Synthroid or Levothyroxine) instead of telling you to get more Iodine. There is some interesting data showing that women with low thyroid levels and women who take thyroid medicines have a higher incidence of breast cancer. I know you’ve been waiting for me to tell you this, so here we go… the RDA of Iodine is unbelievably too low. How much too low?? How about close to the magnitude of 100 times too low?!? The problem is complicated by the fact that in the 1980’s the NIH became fearful that Americans were getting too much Iodine in their diet… without any apparent reason or scientific data to support that fear. As a result the food industry started using bromine instead of iodine in the baking process. This turned out to be a double whammy… not only are we getting less Iodine, but we also now are getting bromine which, because it is a very similar element, competes with Iodine for absorption into the body and usage on a cellular level. Add this to the low salt diets that people have been on and it is not hard to see why Iodine levels have been dropping over the past 20 years. Interestingly enough, I have noted increases in many maladies over that same 20 year period, including thyroid dysfunction, breast and uterine cancers, various auto-immune diseases and general ill health. Could there be a relationship here? If we look at the people that live in Japan, we note some interesting differences with their diet, Iodine intake and specific health issues from what we see here in the United States. The average Japanese ingests around 13.8 mg of Iodine daily… that is nearly 100 times the RDA! They get this much because of the seafood, sea vegetables and seaweed in their diet, and because of the fact that their soil is constantly replenished with Iodine from the ocean that surrounds them. The Japanese people, as a rule, have a much lower incidence of breast, endometrial and ovarian cancer than we do here. They also suffer less form goiter, thyroid disease and fibrocystic breast issues. It has been shown that Japanese women who move to the United States have higher rates of dying from the cancers that I just mentioned. This is likely due, at least in part, to falling Iodine levels as they eat the foods that we eat here. In the past, we have looked at these differences and assumed that they were caused by the soy and then lack of soy in their diets. Well, as it turns out, that may have been a faulty or premature assumption. It seems likely that Iodine levels are more responsible. Now, let’s take this interesting and compelling story and turn it into some practical information for you to use. You can get your Iodine levels checked. The proper way to do this is by taking a large dose of Iodine (50mg) and then collecting your urine for 24 hours. If most of the Iodine is excreted in your urine (90% or more) that indicates that you have all of the Iodine that you need. If less shows up in your urine than that is an indication that you are in a deficient state and your body needs more Iodine. Doing this test is especially important if you have some sort of thyroid issue… you do not want to just start taking extra Iodine without knowing that there is a need for it. In doing this very test in our office, we have yet to find the individual that gets enough Iodine. As a consequence of these results, we have gotten many patients on higher doses of Iodine. Reports from other practitioners and reports from our own patients show that people are having more energy, better sleep, feeling a general sense of well-being, and less breast pain from cysts. As time goes on we expect to see better thyroid function verified by blood test. The next step will be to retest the Iodine levels and adjust dosages as required. There is also a less expensive, easier way to test your need for Iodine at home. Go to the drug store and get yourself a little bottle of Iodine liquid. Paint on your forearm a square patch of the Iodine liquid. This should be a brownish/orange color. Your body will absorb the Iodine that you just painted on slowly over time. If the “patch” is still there after 24 hours, then your body is showing you that you have plenty of Iodine. But, as will happen with most people, if that patch disappears more quickly, that indicates that your body is in a deficiency state. Iodine supplementation is relatively inexpensive and likely very effective! There is a high potency Iodine product that I use clinically called Iodoral that you may consider. This story is a fine example of the value of paying attention to basic biochemistry without a bias towards high cost prescription medicines. Often times, the simplest answer is the best answer… and that certainly is the case with Iodine.

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