When many people hear the word iodine they immediately think of table salt that contains iodine but few understand the relationship between this essential mineral and health. For over 100 years iodine has been known as the element that is necessary for thyroid hormone production. I like to equate the thyroid as being like your body’s gas pedal, it produces hormones that tell our cells how quickly to utilize the calories that we take in from food as energy. In other words it essentially controls our metabolism. If our thyroid gland does not receive adequate iodine then a condition known as goiter (enlarged thyroid) can occur. In this country the recommended daily allowance for iodine is specified at 150 micrograms a day. This is the minimum amount required to prevent the formation of a goiter but is far below the amount needed for a properly functioning thyroid, cancer prevention, an optimal immune system and other vital functions of the body. Yes, you heard correctly, proper supplementation of iodine can help with the prevention of cancer, which I will discuss later in this article. If a patient is diagnosed with a slow or hypo-thyroid in traditional medicine, they are prescribed a synthetic thyroid replacement called Synthroid. I have never once seen a medical doctor even mention to a patient that a possible reason for their slow thyroid could be a deficiency in iodine. In my private practice, I can honestly say that almost 40% of the patients that I see have some degree of hypothyroidism and majority of them can actually be cured with proper supplementation of iodine oppose to relying on a drug for the rest of their lives. Iodine is also concentrated in the breast tissue in women, and a lack of it can lead to a condition called fibrocystic breast disease (painful breasts with nodules and cysts). 93% of American women have fibrocystic breast disease and the longer this disease exists, the higher the potential risk for development of breast cancer. My main treatment for this disease, if you haven’t already guessed is iodine, if the patient is deficient. Usually within less then 6 months this condition can be completely cured in most cases, with just iodine alone.
Much of the research on iodine and its relationship to disease comes from observations of populations of people in areas where iodine intake is the highest. For example it has been estimated that the mainland Japanese ingest approximately 13,800 micrograms of iodine per day, which is over 100 times the RDA. Japanese from the coastal areas ingest even more iodine than the average in-land Japanese consume. They receive much of their iodine from fresh seafood and seaweed, which is known to concentrate iodine. The Japanese, who consume a large amount of iodine by U.S. RDA standards, have remarkably lower levels of breast, endometrial, prostate, thyroid and ovarian cancer. In addition, there is a significantly lower amount of hypothyroidism and fibrocystic breast disease in Japanese women who consume more iodine. Animal research has also shown that in an iodine deficient state, animal breast tissue will show signs of developing breast cancer. One study showed that women who are hypothyroid (most likely due to an iodine deficiency) and are just taking thyroid hormone to correct it, are found to develop breast cancer twice as often than in women not on thyroid hormones. So after hearing all this you must be wondering “how do I find out if I’m iodine deficient?” Unfortunately there are only a few doctors including myself, in all of Massachusetts and Connecticut that will actually test for an iodine deficiency. Part of the reason is that many are unaware of much of the research and are so used to just prescribing drugs to treat disease oppose to looking for nutrient deficiencies as a cause.
Before I recommend iodine supplementation to anyone, I will run a specialized urinalysis test called an iodine-loading test. This test has been found to provide very useful information on the body’s total iodine status. For the test the patient is given a specific dose of iodine and the amount of iodine excreted in the urine over the next 24 hours is measured. If the patient has enough iodine in their body, hence not deficient, they should excrete over 90% of the iodine that was taken in, any less than that would indicate an iodine deficiency. If the patient is found to be deficient, I will typically recommend an iodine supplement with a specific dose based on the level of their deficiency. Some common symptoms that I have seen resolve in many patients after iodine supplementation include a resolution of fatigue, fibrocystic breast, water retention, headaches, ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids, bowel problems, dry skin and eyes, heartburn, weight gain, poor memory and elevated cholesterol. So if you are looking to improve your health, reduce your risk of a variety of cancers and enhance your thyroid function, find a physician (preferably a naturopathic physician) that is willing to check you for an iodine deficiency and properly treat you if you are deficient.
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