Iodine and Health

Do you feel tired and depressed? Are you often cold or has your weight gone up for no apparent reason? If you are a woman, do you have fibrocystic breasts or cycle abnormalities? Do you suffer from chronic pain? If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, your problem could be iodine deficiency.

This notion seems hard to believe because we have all been told that iodine deficiency was erased in our country with the introduction of iodized salt. However, no study was ever performed to identify an optimal intake of iodine, and it could be that iodizing salt only took care of the most severe cases of deficiency. In addition, more and more types of non-iodized salt – including sea salt – are becoming available and many people on salt-restricted diets avoid salt altogether.

Much of what we know about iodine today comes to us from Guy Abraham, MD, a former professor of endocrinology and iodine researcher who has posted much of his research – as well as other studies on the topic – on his website at

It is a well-established fact that iodine is essential for the thyroid gland. However, you don’t have to look very far to find warnings to avoid iodine, especially if you have thyroid problems. This doesn’t make a lot of sense to me and, as Dr. Abraham points out, there is no science behind these warnings, just confusion with toxic forms of iodine (like radioactive iodine) in a medical profession that pays no attention to nutrition, ultimately leading to what Dr. Abraham labels “iodophobia.”

In my practice I see many highly frustrated people who know more about every possible symptom of low thyroid than I do, and they have every one of them! To add insult to injury, their blood tests often keep showing normal thyroid levels. If they find a sympathetic doctor who agrees to prescribe thyroid medicine for them based on their symptoms alone, they may feel a little better for a while, but that’s about it. Dr. Abraham’s research indicates that a majority of these people do remarkably well with iodine supplementation. In fact, Dr. Abraham has shown that even people with clinically low thyroid who take medication for it often do better when they add iodine to their regimen and, in time, can cut back or even discontinue their thyroid medication.

But the thyroid is not the only part of the body that needs iodine; the brain needs it as well. In fact, severe iodine deficiency is described with the term “cretinism” (originally a French word that in time has become synonymous with “stupid”). If not enough iodine makes us stupid, it would only seem logical that optimal intake of iodine might sharpen our minds! This may be exactly the case, and Dr. Abraham’s research indicates that many neurological conditions respond favorably to iodine supplementation.

The female breast also needs iodine. Numerous studies have shown that fibrocystic disease of the breast (FBD), a condition characterized by multiple tender nodules, is a result of iodine deficiency and can be fully corrected in a majority of cases with iodine supplementation. Studies have also correlated the incidence of breast cancer with iodine intake. For example, Japanese women who have the highest iodine consumption in the world, primarily as a result of their taste for seaweed, also have a very low incidence of both FBD and breast cancer.

Iodine also has natural antibiotic and anti-yeast properties. Historically, iodine was used routinely to treat infections prior to the advent of antibiotics. This is still a viable option for many cases although, of course, we never hear about it. Compared to antibiotics, iodine has the distinct advantage of also treating yeast.

Few people know that iodine can be used to disinfect swimming pools in place of chlorine, and at only half the concentration of chlorine. There are studies that confirm this very fact and whenever people have been given a choice between iodine and chlorine, they always chose iodine. It doesn’t have an unpleasant odor, it doesn’t dry the skin or cause rashes, and allergies are rare. The fact that iodine is never even offered as an option is further proof of how deep this prejudice or “iodophobia” runs in our society. So much so that it has led us to choose chlorine, arguably a toxic chemical, over iodine, an essential nutrient.

Until the 1960s, iodine was also used in the process of making flour to prevent mold. A side benefit was that people could get their RDA of iodine from just one slice of bread. Because of the same prejudice, iodine was then replaced with bromine, which also keeps flour from turning moldy, but for humans it is a toxic chemical that competes with iodine in the body interfering with thyroid function and possibly increasing the risk of cancer. As Dr. Abraham reminds us, when iodine was used in flour the rate of breast cancer was 1 in 20; it is now 1 in 8 and climbing.

Another benefit of iodine is that it promotes detoxification. Dr. Abraham has used laboratory evidence to show that iodine causes the body to excrete lead, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and aluminum in variable amounts. In addition, iodine also detoxifies a class of chemicals known as goitrogens. These chemicals block absorption of iodine, eventually leading to enlargement of the thyroid (known as a goiter), but when enough iodine is taken it forces them out of the body. Goitrogens include the bromine discussed above, fluoride, found in water or toothpaste, and a long list of chemicals in the environment.

Now, before you run to the health food store to buy all the iodine you can find, consider a few facts: the RDA for iodine is 150 mcg per day. Considering that the average American consumes 10 grams of salt per day, as long as the salt is iodized, he or she takes in 750 mcg of iodine a day. Maybe not the optimal intake but still this should provide a certain margin of safety. Except that, as shown in multiple studies, when iodine is added to salt it is very poorly absorbed. Research that looked at peak levels of iodine in blood after salt consumption have concluded that out of the 750 mcg we only absorb 40 to 60, well short of the RDA.

According to Dr. Abraham’s research, ideal intake of iodine to optimize health is around 13 mg per day for adults (1 mg equals 1,000 mcg). This level of intake is very difficult to achieve in our country even with supplements available at health food stores, but it represents no more than the average consumption of iodine in Japan.

Dr. Abraham also found that when iodine-deficient people take this optimal dose of iodine every day, they remain deficient and continue to have symptoms even after one year of supplementation. To overcome deficiency an intake of close to 50 mg per day for adults is required, but this should be calibrated through a simple testing program Dr. Abraham designed. In addition, thyroid medication will need to be adjusted for some people and others will develop symptoms from detoxification, so the program should be monitored by a trained health care practitioner. Dr. Abraham designed a supplement called Iodoral that supplies optimal amounts of iodine in the ideal forms but, because of the required precautions, it is only available through practitioners.

To read in detail about iodine supplementation, find references and possibly obtain a referral in your area go to

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