Iodine Supplementation - Who needs it?

With the recent radiation leak scare in Asia, interest in iodine supplementation has been on the rise.  Thanks to the works of physicians such as Dr. Broda Barnes, Dr. David Brownstein and others, much light has been shed on this trace mineral which, at one time, was plentiful in our soil.  But still the question remains: does everyone need to supplement with iodine?  If so, how much?

In recent years, we have become aware of a worldwide deficiency in iodine due to the depletion of trace minerals in our soil.  This is because of industrialized farming practices which began in the 1950’s.   We are beginning to understand that this deficiency affects more than just thyroid function.  Iodine is an important trace element in every cell of the body, including the developing brain, and it is actually concentrated in every gland of the body.

It has long been known that iodine has powerful antiviral, antibacterial and immune-supporting properties.  But, recently, it has been theorized that iodine can have a protective effect against cancer of both the breast and prostate.  Since iodine has it’s greatest concentrations in the thyroid, breast and prostate, it is not hard to understand why the generations born in the mid 1900’s and later are seeing increases in breast and prostate cancer.

The environment we live in and the food we eat helps explain the problem further.  Not only do contemporary farming practices severely deplete the soil, but we are also routinely exposed to chemicals and pollutants that compete with iodine in our bodies, worsening the deficiency.  For you chemistry buffs, the problems are with the other halogens in our environment: bromine, chlorine, and fluorine. Because the chemistry of these halogens is so similar to that of iodine, they will bind to cells in places where iodine should.  For example, iodine was once used as a stabilizing agent in flour but was replaced by bromide over forty years ago.  So, not only do we no longer have bread as a dietary source of iodine, but the bromide which is now used as the stabilizer competes with iodine at the cell level and blocks the cell’s ability to receive iodine.  A double whammy!

Iodine has been commonly known for being involved in proper thyroid function. In fact, it was discovered that drinking water near iodine-rich salt mines helped to prevent goiter and cretinism.  This was a monumental moment in medical history and considered by some to be the birth of western medicine.  It is what triggered the iodization of salt. 

Despite the successful decline of both goiter and cretinism since implementing iodized salt, the fact remains that most Americans test deficient in iodine when using a 24-hour urine test, pre-loading with a high dose of iodine.  When running this test, most are found to be excreting only 30-60% of the pre-loaded iodine.  If the body is fully saturated with iodine, the pre-loading dose should be almost completely excreted (at least in the 90% range). 

Iodine is also widely feared and misunderstood as potentially being toxic.  This may be the reason iodine was replaced in flour with bromide.  Iodine is actually the safest of the essential trace minerals, and can be administered safely for long periods of time in large therapeutic doses when administered in its natural form.   This natural iodine should be distinguished from radioactive iodine, which is used in many medical procedures and is known to be toxic and actually perpetuate an iodine deficiency.  Unfortunately, natural, non-radioactive iodine gets painted with the same brush – it is no more toxic than any other essential trace mineral when administered appropriately. 

How much daily iodine intake is enough? The current RDA (recommended daily allowance, or otherwise known as “really dumb amount”) ranges between 150-220 mcg (that’s MICROgrams).  However, optimal ranges are estimated to be at approximately 12.5 mg. (that’s MILLIgrams) per day.  Therefore, the RDA falls drastically short for most people, especially since this small amount is established as the minimum only to prevent goiter and cretinism.  It will not, and has not, helped the many other chronic diseases we see on the rise in the US.  Many people around the world, including the Japanese, safely consume over 100 times the US RDA and exhibit markedly lower incidences of breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancers.  Supplementing with kelp is usually not nearly enough for the American population as kelp does not approach the iodine concentrations necessary for repletion of this much needed trace mineral.

Now that we have established the need for iodine supplementation, there are a few precautions.  First, especially if starting to dose iodine at the optimal 12.5 mg per day, a detoxification reaction can occur.  This reaction is usually caused by the displacement of toxic chemicals such as bromide or fluorine in the cells by the iodine.  Avoiding chemical halogens such as bromide (used in textile manufacturing), fluoride (in drinking water and toothpaste), and chlorine (used in swimming pools and household cleaners) whenever possible is recommended.  Being sure the natural detoxification pathways are functioning well is of prime concern to physicians practicing holistic natural medicine.

Next, allergy to iodine is not uncommon. People allergic to shellfish are likely allergic to iodine as well.  There are techniques in natural medicine that can desensitize a person to iodine.  

Third, we are seeing a dramatic rise in autoimmune diseases (a topic for another article).  Many of these have gone undiagnosed for years.  Autoimmune thyroid disease (Hashimoto’s and Grave’s Diseases) should be ruled out before pursuing any iodine repletion therapies.  People with these diseases need iodine badly, but the inflammation in the organ and the autoimmunity must be subdued first.  This can be accomplished with natural medicine.

Because of these possible detoxification reactions, allergy, or unknown presence of autoimmune disease, an appropriately licensed physician practicing holistic natural medicine should always guide supplementation.

Article by Dr. Janice M. Piro, DC, DABCI & Dr. Natalie Regalado, DC


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