Sunday, October 25, 2009

Why Does Iodine Get a Bad Rap?

I have received many emails this week asking me to comment about a recent article claiming that taking iodine causes/exacerbates thyroid problems.     

Let’s think about it.  Thyroid problems have been increasing at epidemic rates over the last 30 years.  Hypothyroidism affects from 13 million to 45 million Americans.  Another 10-15 million Americans are affected with an autoimmune thyroid disorder.  Clearly these numbers are unacceptable and we should be searching for the underlying cause of why thyroid illness affects so many people. 

When I lecture about iodine, I describe iodine as, “The most misunderstood nutrient.”  Iodine has been vilified over the years as causing/exacerbating thyroid illnesses.  In medical school I was taught that iodine supplementation was not needed by anybody.  I can assure you that statement is incorrect.

Over the last 30 years, as the rate of thyroid disorders has been increasing at epidemic rates, iodine levels have fallen by over 50% in the U.S. (NHANES--from  If iodine were the cause of thyroid disorders wouldn’t you expect thyroid disorders to be decreasing over the last 30 years?  In fact, I believe it is iodine deficiency, coupled with the increasing exposure to toxic halides bromide and fluoride that is the driving force behind the epidemic rise of thyroid disorders. 

Let me ask you a question--what percentage of the American population has been taking iodine supplements over the last 30  years? I don’t have the exact numbers to quote here, but I would venture a guess that the number is pretty low.  So, during the last 30 years, as iodine levels have fallen over 50%, what is the problem that is causing this new epidemic of thyroid problems?  Maybe thyroid diseases have increased so dramatically because of televisions.  Americans have more televisions now than in the past.  Perhaps it is more televisions that are causing the increased thyroid problems.  (As a side note—televisions do contain large amounts of bromine which can cause thyroid problems!). 

I know the above argument is ridiculous (except for the bromine info).  But, so is the idea that iodine supplementation is responsible for exacerbating/causing all thyroid problems.  Over the last 20 years of practice, I have seen thousands of patients who have presented with hyperthyroid or hypothyroid symptoms who were not taking iodine.  What caused their symptoms?  Why does iodine always get a bad rap? 

Now, that is not to say that iodine is safe for everyone to take.  Just as drinking too much water can cause problems, iodine supplementation can also cause adverse effects in certain patients.  By far, the most common adverse effect of iodine supplementation is due to the release of toxic halides bromide and fluoride.  Iodine supplementation causes the release of bromide and fluoride from the body creating a detoxification issue for the body.   If the body is not able to effectively release these toxic halides, the patient will experience a detoxification reaction.  What are the signs of a detoxification reaction?  A detoxification reaction can include fatigue, palpitations, nervousness, anxiety, and headaches.  Sometimes you can even see elevated thyroid function tests associated with the detoxification reaction.  Most of the time, these symptoms can easily be managed by supporting the body’s detoxification pathways.

In my experience, I have found the proper use of iodine to be a safe and effective treatment for the vast majority of patients. In order to get the best results with iodine, it is important for iodine to be taken as part of a holistic treatment regimen.  This minimizes detoxification reactions.  I suggest getting your iodine levels checked before and after supplementation with iodine. More information about this can be found in my book, Iodine Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It.

Does iodine cause hypothyroidism?  No.  Iodine deficiency causes hypothyroidism.

Does iodine cause goiter?  No.  The most common cause of goiter is iodine deficiency.

Does iodine cause autoimmune thyroid disease? No.  Autoimmune thyroid diseaes is caused, in part, from iodine deficiency.

Does iodine cause thyroid cancer?  No. Iodine deficiency is related to the development of thyroid cancer.


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