If iodine were a person, I would nominate it for president for the amazing work it does to keep our body functioning beautifully. This underappreciated powerhouse of an element is essential for every system in the body. Though it’s found in abundance in ocean water, most of the soil around the planet contains very little, thereby creating large populations that are painfully deficient. According to the World Health Organization, about 72% of the world population is iodine deficient. In America, the Great Lakes region was considered the Goiter Belt in the 1920s, as many people developed this painful swelling of the neck due to the lack of iodine. Scientists discovered that a mere 150mcg of iodine could remedy goiter. Food manufacturers added it to salt, dough conditioner, and animal feed and goiter became a thing of the past. But, the body needs iodine for much more than just preventing goiter. Iodine receptors are throughout the trillions of cells in our body, but particularly in the breasts, ovaries, lymph, and thyroid. Every cell needs iodine in order to function at its best, but in today’s polluted environment the iodine receptors are competing with halogens and other toxic substances that are interfering with iodine uptake. Simple and inexpensive supplementation can restore balance in the body. Here are eight great reasons to love iodine.
1. Thyroid Function. Iodine is needed to create thyroid hormones, which regulate our metabolic rate. A lack of iodine can lead to hypothyroidism with symptoms that include low energy, weight gain and inability to lose weight, depression, brain fog, low body temperature, dry skin, brittle nails and constipation. Pregnant and breastfeeding women can become deficient as their iodine reserves transfer to their babies.
2. Fibrocystic breasts and breast cancer prevention. The precursor to most breast cancers is fibrocyctic breast tissue. Case studies show women with fibrocystic disease are also low in iodine and were able to reduce their symptoms considerably with iodine supplementation. Iodine also induces apoptosis, cellular death. This process is crucial for human growth and for the destruction of cancer cells and cells infected with viruses. There is belief that sufficient iodine in the body could reduce incidents of breast cancer considerably.
3. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). Just like fibrocystic disease, iodine deficiency is also prevalent in women with PCOS. The ovaries hold the second highest concentration of iodine after the thyroid, so it’s interesting to see the correlation between deficiency and the formation of cysts. Women who supplemented iodine for their PCOS were able to shrink cysts thereby eliminating the excess androgens that induce unwanted hair growth and acne as well as restore normal menstrual cycle and fertility.
4. Detoxification of heavy metals. Iodine is a natural chelator of aluminum, mercury, lead, and cadmium. Sufficient iodine levels will even detoxify halogens like fluoride, chlorine, bromine that occupy iodine receptors when reserves are low.
5. Radiation Protection. There is no end in sight for the Fukushima disaster which continues to pour radioactive waste into the ocean and air. The extent of damage this invisible threat is doing to the northern hemisphere won’t be known for years, but many experts predict a large rise in cancer cases. Sufficient iodine reserves in the body can prevent radioactive iodine from being absorbed into the iodine receptors and causing damage.
6. Brain Power and Higher IQ. Iodine deficiency is the number one preventable cause of mental retardation in children. Women who supplemented during their pregnancy and while breastfeeding had children with higher IQs, up to 13.5 points in one study. Iodine is essential to their cognitive development, but it’s also important for everyday brain function. In children as well as adults, iodine increases brain activity, improves memory, and reduces depression and anxiety. It helps brain function so much that taking it before bed can cause insomnia. It’s best to take morning, afternoon and no later than 3 hours before bed.
7. Hair Restoration. Iodine helps strengthen hair follicles and speeds up growth. Even sheep farmers discovered that iodine deficiency created poor wool quality and there is much evidence that men and women can restore thinning locks with iodine and a mineral rich diet. Unfortunately, for male pattern baldness, there is little proof that iodine supplementation can correct it, but my husband did grow back a few fine hairs by using an iodine tincture on his scalp for several weeks, so there could be something to it.
8. Immune System. Iodine has been used as a disinfectant in hospitals for over 100 years. It is has anti-pathogenic and anti-bacterial properties not just topically, but internally. Our white blood cells need iodine to function efficiently and it’s also needed for efficient lymphatic drainage. Iodine also helps kill candida, fungus, microbes and clears out excess mucus.
In the American diet, the best sources of iodine is from iodized salt, sea vegetables, ocean fish, and factory farmed dairy and eggs. In light of the Fukushima disaster and our polluted waters, I would not recommend eating fish and seaweed from the Pacific Ocean. Nor do I endorse iodized salt or factory farmed animal products. Sadly, 30% of vegetarians are iodine deficient while 80% of vegans are deficient. I personally believe, that in light of our poor quality food supply, that supplementation is a better way to go. But, how much?
There are studies done by world renowned iodine expert, Dr. David Brownstein, that show that therapeutic doses of iodine, 50 -100mg, can create spectacular results for people suffering from chronic iodine deficient conditions. The form that Dr. Brownstein uses is Iodoral iodine/iodide tables. I would not advise anyone to jump into taking that much iodine without the guidance of your healthcare practitioner. Only someone with a true clinical deficiency should experiment with therapeutic doses and only under supervision. Though I think supplements are great, I don’t think we should overdose on them and create another kind of imbalance.
Surprisingly, Japanese women were found to get around 13mg a day in their diets because of their high seaweed intake. On the other end of the spectrum, the RDA for adults is 150mcg . That’s a pretty big gap. I lean towards taking a smaller amount, about what I would receive from Mother Nature if I lived in an area that didn’t have depleted iodine. Many foods have trace amounts of iodine. A cup of organic strawberries will give you 13mcg, ½ cup of navy beans with give you 32mcg, a potato can give you 60mcg and 4 ounces of cranberries can give you 400mcg. Much of this will vary on the soil it was grown in, though. I believe 400mcg to 2000mcg a day is sufficient for the average healthy person that does not have signs of deficiency.
My personal favorite brand of iodine right now is Nascent Iodine from Magnetic Clay. This is an atomic, electrically charged form of iodine that is immediately bioavailable for the thyroid to use. It doesn’t have to be digested and converted like Iodoral tablets. Drops are 400mcg each and you only need 1-5 drops a day. It’s perfectly safe to take more than the recommended amount as the body actually holds 1500mg of iodine throughout the body, so overdose is highly unlikely. If you feel energized and see the benefits right away, you can increase your dosage and then return to 1-5 drops for maintenance. Remember not to take it before bed or you will be making lists in your head till 2am!
It’s also been recommended to take magnesium and selenium with iodine to help with absorption, but a nutrient rich diet with good, healthy fats should be enough to support iodine utilization and balance. If you’ve had a good (or bad) experience using iodine leave a comment below. Would love to hear some great stories on how it improved your health.