Iodine—Are You Getting Enough? Many Americans Aren’t

Friday Dec 21 | BY |
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Iodine 2If you’re not getting enough iodine, you may have symptoms
similar to those that come with thyroid disorders.

Have you ever wondered what nutrient you’re most lacking? Vitamins D3, B12, folate, and iron get the most media and clinical attention. They’re easy to measure, inexpensive to take, and overdosing causes few problems. But now, iodine is gaining more attention, and rightfully so.

Iodine is one of the most beautiful of all elements. When solid, it is a heavy, gray metallic material. When heated, it does not melt. Instead, it sublimes. Sublimation is the process by which a solid turns directly to a gas without first melting. When iodine sublimes, its vapor has a violet color.

The consequences of iodine deficiencies are well known by scientists. The Internet hype around iodine is rampant, and most of it is not scientific. Not enough is bad for you, but too much causes big problems. So why don’t we know more about iodine deficiencies? Why are we slammed with misinformation, which when followed blindly, might harm us? Let’s take a critical look.

Iodine Deficiency

Iodine is critical to healthy thyroid function. Iodine deficiency can cause weight gain, low energy, depression, cardiovascular disease, and cognitive decline, and is associated with a variety of cancers. These are all health risks also associated with low thyroid hormone. Yet despite this knowledge, rates of iodine deficiency have reached epidemic levels, increasing fourfold over the past 40 years. A startling 74% of normal, “healthy” adults not get enough iodine to prevent low thyroid function.

When iodine deficiency is severe, it causes goiter and cretinism, mental retardation, decreased fertility rate, increased perinatal death, and increased infant mortality. Iodine deficiency remains a significant global public health problem, and can undermine your personal wellness.

What Happened To Our Iodine Supply?

There are two main reasons why iodine deficiency is making a comeback:

  1. lack in the food chain, and
  2. interference by toxic chemicals.

Until recently, about 25% of the iodine in the diet was from wheat, because iodine was used in the processing of flour. But now, a lot of flour in the U.S. is processed with a chemical cousin of iodine, bromide (potassium bromate), which helps makes flour doughier, rise higher, and gives the loaf a better appearance. However, bromide has its own problems: not only has it replaced iodine, it can block the activity of iodine.

Sources of Bromine:

  • Baked goods
  • Citrus-flavored soft drinks
  • Fabric fire retardants
  • Hair dyes
  • Prescription medicines
  • Pesticides used on strawberries
  • Plastics
  • Toothpaste and mouthwashes

This is also true for two more of iodine’s chemical cousins: chlorine and fluoride, both of which are found in tap water. Fluoride is by far the worst iodine disrupter. Found in commercial toothpaste and in most of our public water supply, every time you take a shower, brush your teeth, or drink from the tap, the body gets a little fluoride, leeching out good iodine.

If you are on a wheat-free diet and don’t drink tap water, you avoid bromide, chlorine, and fluoride, but you may not get enough iodine unless you eat seaweed or take iodine supplements.

Women’s Health and Iodine Deficiency

Women need more iodine during pregnancy and while nursing, due to increased thyroid hormone production, increased iodine loss in urine, and higher fetal iodine requirements. Adverse effects of iodine deficiency in pregnancy include enlarged thyroid in mother and fetus, and in the infant it can cause cretinism, intellectual impairments, and low thyroid activity. Dietary iodine requirements are also higher when nursing due to the concentration of iodine in breast milk.

Breast health also requires sufficient iodine. The link between breast cancer and thyroid disease revels that there is an increased prevalence of autoimmune thyroid disease like Hashimoto’s in patients with breast cancer.

One area in which thyroid and breast functions overlap is in the uptake and utilization of dietary iodide. Researchers found that iodine supplements or iodine-rich seaweed inhibits breast tumor development. This is not surprising because Japanese women, who consume a diet containing iodine-rich seaweed, have much lower incidence of breast cancer than American women.

Iodine Synergy

Scientists and doctors know that thyroid hormone metabolism depends on getting enough iodine. What’s not on your doctor’s clinical radar is that iodine deficiency may produce conditions of oxidative stress creating toxicity in the cells. Healing cytotoxic effects depends on enough antioxidant enzymes and correcting selenium deficiency.

There is not enough known about the synergy between iodine and other micronutrients, but like many things in nature, and in human biology, several factors play a synergistic role – we need enough selenium for iodine to work best.

How Much Iodine Do You Need?

The recommended dietary allowances of iodine are 100 micrograms/day for adults and adolescents, 60-100 micrograms/day for children aged 1 to 10 years, and 35-40 micrograms/day in infants aged less than 1 year.

Table 1

Common Sources of Dietary Iodine:

  • Dairy products
  • Eggs Iodine-containing multivitamins
  • Iodized table salt
  • Saltwater fish
  • Seaweed (including kelp, dulce, nori)
  • Shellfish
  • Soy products

Low iodine might also contribute to chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia, both associated with low thyroid function. One study showed that people with low body temperature and fatigue felt better and had more energy when they took a daily supplement of 1,500 micrograms (mcg) of iodine (the RDA is 100).

Most integrative medicine physicians agree that it’s reasonable for those with CFS or fibromyalgia to take between 6-12 mg of iodine daily for three months to see if it helps. If iodine deficiency is the source of the problem, you’ll feel an increase in energy within the first month.

Symptoms and Conditions Associated with Low Iodine

  • Breast cysts or tenderness, or breast cancer
  • CFS
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Thyroid disease or thyroid cancer
  • Low body temperature under 98 degrees Fahrenheit

The RDA for iodine may be too low. I think it’s a good idea for everyone to take at least 150 mcg of potassium iodide daily. Some people need more, but never take over 500 mcg without your doctor’s supervision. Some iodine supplements come in higher dosages of 12.5 mg (12,500 mcg) per tablet. If you are truly iodine deficient, this dosage will help you feel better quickly, but if you are just experimenting, it is too much.

High Potency Iodine/Potassium Iodide Supplements

Iodoral® is a tablet form of Lugol solution available in 2 strengths: 12.5mg and 50mg. One 12.5 mg. tablet of Iodoral supplies an amount of total elemental iodine that is comparable to the average daily intake of Japanese, a population with a very low prevalence of fibrocystic disease of the breast and breast cancer.

To avoid the risk of excess body burden of too much iodine, which occurs even among Japanese, such high dosages are considered orthomolecular and should only be administered by a physician knowledgeable in iodine supplementation.

Best Source of Iodine: The Sea

Earth’s oceans are the main repositories of iodine, and nowhere is iodine as highly concentrated as in seaweed. Seaweeds such as kelp and bladderwrack can concentrate and store iodine at astonishing levels. Scientists speculate that these primitive plants accumulate iodine to protect themselves from oxidative stress in the open ocean.

When consuming seaweed regularly, humans reap the benefits of this natural process, because the iodine in these seaweeds is in the most biologically available forms. For iodine health, I recommend the regular addition of small amounts of edible seaweed in the daily diet.

How Do You Know If You Need More?

Because there are no readily available and accurate tests, iodine deficiency is diagnosed across populations and not specifically in individuals. Most doctors don’t routinely test for iodine. However, since iodine is released form the body in urine, the best way to determine iodine deficiency is to measure the amount of iodine in urine samples. Iodine deficiency is defined as a median urinary iodine concentration less than 50 ?g/L.

Table 2

Can You Take Too Much?

Like all trace minerals, too little causes health problems, but too much is toxic. Acute iodine poisoning is rare and usually occurs only with doses of many grams. Symptoms of acute iodine poisoning include burning of the mouth, throat, and stomach; fever; nausea; vomiting; diarrhea; a weak pulse; and coma.

Symptoms Caused by Iodine Excess:

  • Acne
  • Stomach pain
  • Burning mouth and tongue
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

A Note on Radiation-Induced Thyroid Cancer

Radioactive iodine is released into the environment as a result of nuclear reactor accidents. Thyroid accumulation of radioactive iodine increases the risk of developing thyroid cancer, especially in children.

The increased iodine trapping activity of the thyroid gland in iodine deficiency results in increased thyroid accumulation of radioactive iodine. Thus, iodine-deficient individuals are at increased risk of developing radiation-induced thyroid cancer because they will accumulate greater amounts of radioactive iodine.

Potassium iodide administered in pharmacologic doses of 50-100 mg for adults within 48 hours before or eight hours after radiation exposure from a nuclear reactor accident can significantly reduce thyroid uptake radioactive iodine and decrease the risk of radiation-induced thyroid cancer.

Learn More

Dr. J. E. Williams


Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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  1. Rachel says:

    Just wondering, but is seaweed doused with MSG often or is it naturally salty? Also, unferminted soy is so detrimental to health that I’m curious as to why it was listed here.

  2. beth Meyer says:

    My Granddaughter was diagnosed with Graves Diease is there anything we can do to get her off medicine and reverse the size of the gord the medicine has been changed several times but the gord is not shrinking anymore. The doctor is talking about surgery. What can we do?

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