Is Iodine Misunderstood and Under-utilized?
David Brownstein, M.D., wants you to know that iodine use has a bad rap in the medical community — and what we do know about iodine is mostly incorrect. During his presentation at the Integrative Health Symposium 2017, he suggested that most clinicians know that iodine imbalance can cause hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
As a foremost authority on iodine, he recognizes that most clinicians will not recommend the use of iodine or consumption of iodine-rich foods as a treatment, beyond accepted recommended dietary allowance (RDA) levels.
And he believes that is a medical travesty.
Dr. Brownstein, a board certified family physician who practices holistic, integrative medicine, asserts that “medical iodophobia is the unwarranted fear of using and recommending inorganic, non-radioactive iodine/iodide within the range known from the collective experience of generations of clinicians to be safest and most effective for treating symptoms and signs of iodine/iodide deficiency.” That basically means that doctors are afraid to treat patients with iodine therapy, despite the evidence to suggest its efficacy and safety when used properly. His book, Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It, explores the topic of iodine in depth.
His first premise is that benign and malignant thyroid nodules have LESS iodine than normal thyroid tissue. One of the first efforts in the development of Western medicine was the observation that workers in silver mines did not seem to develop goiters, so use of iodine for treating goiter was born from that observation in 1824. The doctor said that data from NHANES (1971-2012) shows a 50 percent decline in levels of iodine in the U.S. during those years, despite the use of iodized salt in most households. During this period there was also an increase in rates of hypothyroidism, autoimmune diseases, and cancers including breast, prostate, endometrium, pancreas, and ovarian. He links all these conditions to iodine deficiency and believes current RDA is too low.
Current daily RDA of iodine:
Adult male 150ug/d
Adult female 150ug/d
Pregnant female 220ug/d
Lactating female 290ug/d
When a pregnant woman is iodine deficient and develops undiagnosed hypothyroidism, it can put the pregnancy and the developing fetus at risk of congenital hypothyroidism, placenta abruption, preeclampsia, preterm delivery, or even death of the growing fetus. Dr. Brownstein is especially focused on identifying iodine deficiency in pregnancy and providing sufficient supplementation because of the dire consequences of abnormal brain development and consequently impaired intellectual development in the baby. Iodine deficiency is associated with 13.5 point lower IQ scores in kids and teens.
Worldwide, 1.9 billion individuals likely have iodine deficiency. The World Health Organization claims that iodine deficiency is the world’s greatest single cause of preventable mental retardation. Currently, the populations of 129 countries live in iodine-deficient areas. Some experts suggest that an increase in autism may be linked to the patterns of iodine level declines in the U.S. It’s also been noted in countries like the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Italy.
One (of many) important reasons to diagnose and treat hypothyroidism is because of its link to heart disease risk. Live long enough, and most of us will develop hypothyroidism. The standard of treatment for hypothyroidism and low levels of iodine is thyroid hormone, levothyroxine (Syntheroid, Levothroid). Dr. Brownstein said there is also clear evidence to suggest that maintaining sufficient iodine levels can help to modulate and intercept the typical high fat diet, helping to lower or limit risk of atherosclerotic disease. He is part of a small group of doctors using iodine/iodide to treat thyroid disease.
Iodine may help to support the formation of normal architecture of glandular tissue found in the breast, thyroid, ovary and possibly prostate gland. Soil near the ocean can be rich in iodine (so if you eat vegetables grown in this soil with this “dirt” on them, you get the benefit of iodine). Sea vegetables (seaweed) are also rich in iodine. In the typical U.S. diet, dairy products and salt are the primary sources of iodine. Vegans are at risk of iodine deficiency because they don't consume dairy or fish.
If you grew up in the 50s or 60s, your mother likely put iodine on a skinned knee or infected finger. Iodine is antibacterial. Its other properties make it an anticancer, antifungal, anti-parasitic, antiviral, and a detoxifying agent. Dr. Brownstein lists dozens of conditions on his website that he believes should be treated with iodine supplementation including attention deficit disorder, asthma, COPD, dry eyes, hypertension, ovarian cysts, and thyroid disorders.
Every cell in the body contains and utilizes iodine. The thyroid gland contains a large concentration of iodine (50mg adult saturation). The evolution of iodized salt in the U.S. was a response to a large group of goiter cases around the Great Lakes during the 1900s. Until the 1960s, baked goods were also a good source of iodine. In the 1970’s, bromine was substituted for iodine, due to some rising concerns. Dr. Brownstein suggests that bromine substitution actually lowers levels of iodine in the body, so the loss of iodine in baked goods with this addition was a double whammy. He and other experts believe that we are also being bombarded by bromine exposure in our environment, which may further exacerbate iodine deficiency.
It’s important to realize that because of the escalating prevalence of heart disease and hypertension, new guidelines recommend limited use of (iodized) table salt.
Dr. Brownstein believes that it is "impossible to balance the hormonal system without iodine sufficiency." He also said that acute iodine allergy and poisoning are rare.
Note: This discussion was based on the position of one medical expert and his presentation at the IHS2017 and is meant to inform and not to make direct recommendations. Iodine Deficiency: Clinical Implications from the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine confirms some of the information presented. Always discuss any dietary or other health change with your doctor.
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Amy Hendel, also known as The HealthGal, is a Physician Assistant, nutritionist and fitness expert. As a health media personality, she's been reporting and blogging on lifestyle issues and health news for over 20 years. Author of The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, her website offers daily health reports, links to her blogs, and a library of lifestyle video segments.