Iodine All Boxed Up
As far as most of the medical community is concerned, iodine has been boxed up in its cylindrical Morton’s salt-box (with that cute umbrella girl on it) and shelved–as if there is nothing further to know or learn about it. Not so.
For iodine, I want you to be aware of three ideas:
1. Iodine deficiency is insidiously on the rise in developed countries and putting people, particularly women and children at HUGE risk. (Pregnant or pregnancy-eligible women need to take note.) Many US doctors are not aware yet of this re-emerging problem. We took care of “severe” iodine deficiency, and now years later, mild iodine deficiency is invisibly in our midst, wreaking its damage without our awareness.
2. It’s not just the thyroid that needs iodine, but brains, immune systems, prostates, and breasts, too. (Ahem, you got some of those, don’t you?) I know my knowledge-base had a huge gap here regarding iodine, and therefore, I assume other medical doctors (I’ve asked a few too) and people in general may be lacking information in this area as well.
3. There is a fear of iodine supplementation and excessive iodine intake because of the risk of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. There are different camps of thought. Who is right? Who does know yet? Debatable. Regardless, many people aren’t even getting the bare minimum amount.
Could I be iodine deficient?
A resounding, “Yes.” Iodine deficiency was believed to be a resolved health issue in the US, but as I research, I see an insidious re-emergence of iodine deficiency in places such as the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. And I also see a lack of knowledge in standard health-care providers about the re-emerging deficiency. In pharmacy school and medical school we were taught that iodine deficiency was remedied in the United States by the implementation of iodizing salt back in the 1920s. Job accomplished! No more goiters! No more cretins (infants who are severely affected by iodine deficiency)! Celebrate and no more worries, right? Not so fast…
Apparently, somewhere in the realm of 38% of the world’s population is still deficient in iodine. Thirty-eight percent seems awful high to me, especially considering the nefarious effects on unborn fetuses. Looking at a few developed countries, the United States, Australia (New Zealand included in one of the citations), and the United Kingdom, each has pockets of iodine deficient populations (1, 2, 3, 4, 5). Increasingly, studies are showing iodine deficiency in modernized countries where iodine deficiency was presumed to be eradicated, yet I hear little hubbub about it, despite the potential gravity of the consequences! This bothers me. Apparently and quite sadly, iodine deficiency hasn’t yet made the consciousness of mainstream practicing medical doctors, like deficiencies of vitamin D and folate have. Why? I think because we rested on the laurels of “curing” severe iodine deficiency maladies. But laurels shrivel and decay, and the world changes and moves on. Changes in our food sources and practices greatly affect our iodine levels.
Why would a problem that we had “taken care of” be re-emerging?
Why is iodine deficiency re-emerging? As with almost all things, it’s due to multiple hits in our iodine intake. Take a look! Do any apply to you and your family?
1. Cutting down on salt use for health and also cutting down on other iodine-rich foods. People are following medical advice to cut down on salt, and therefore using less iodized salt. Also, egg yolks contain some iodine, but people have been told to cut down on those, too, due to cholesterol concerns. Seafood contains iodine, but we’re told to limit seafood due to mercury concerns.
2. We eat out lots more and we eat more processed foods–and iodized salt is not used in these foods. The commercial-grade salt used in processed foods and in restaurants is usually not iodized. I repeat: the salty foods you eat from a box or at a restaurant are (most likely) not iodized. So none of the salt in Ruffles potato chips or from McDonald’s French fries counts toward your necessary iodine intake.
3. Switching to sea salt and shunning iodized salt. Sea salt does not contain enough natural iodine to prevent iodine deficiency. It may have traces of iodine, but not nearly enough! Sea salt, unless specifically stated to be enhanced with iodine or seaweed, does not provide you with enough iodine. It is not a good source of iodine.
4. Iodine deprived soils. Some soils have always been low in iodine content (plants don’t need iodine to survive but they take it up if it’s in the soil), especially in areas away from the sea or under cover of mountain ranges. Some soils have become depleted of iodine with use and lack of iodine restoration. Plants grown in coastal areas should theoretically have more iodine in them, but lately there is a huge emphasis on eating locally so this could contribute to iodine deficiency, as well.
5. Changing from iodine based dough conditioners to bromine based dough conditioners. Iodine used to be used (specifically iodate) when making bread products. Now a form of bromine, bromate, is used, although its use is being discouraged. (6) Not only does this provide LESS iodine, but if you look at your periodic table, you’ll see that iodine and bromine are in the same group of the periodic table (halides). So bromine will actually compete with iodine in the body and “displace” iodine from necessary body reactions. I will try to explain this concept in more depth later because it is so intriguing. The same holds true for fluorine and iodine competition. (7)
6. The iodine amount in iodized salt is not uniform. The amount of iodine in a carton of iodized salt is not uniform. Sometimes the top of the carton of salt has less iodine than the bottom of the carton. Some brands do not contain as much iodine as others. The amount of iodine in a box may wane over time. These idiosyncrasies often have to do with the chemical properties of iodine which will allow it to “leach” out of the carton. (7)
7. Changing dairy-farming practices. Dairy is touted as a good source of iodine because the cows are frequently given iodine-supplemented feed and their teats are washed prior to milking with an iodine antiseptic to kill bacteria. However farming practices are changing and dairy cattle may or may not be receiving these interventions now. (When I bought milk and butter from the dairy farmer yesterday, I asked her about this. Her cattle are all grass-fed and she does not use an iodine-based cleanse for the teats. So I cannot imagine that the milk is rich in iodine that we personally buy, although it will be rich in vitamin K2 at the moment and butyric acid because it’s spring-grass eating time!)
8. Choosing organic milk over conventional milk. Organic milk usually has less iodine than conventional milk due to the cows being grass-fed. (9, 10)
Points to be eventually covered in Iodine Posts
Iodine is a big topic that I don’t want to undermine, so I will break it down into several posts. A few months ago, I thought iodine’s role was limited to prevention of goiter and keeping enough thyroid hormone around. That is all true, but there is so much more to iodine’s story, and some parts haven’t even been unraveled yet! Take home points that I will eventually cover in iodine posts, but probably not in this order. (If you are pregnant, able to be pregnant, or nursing, I urge you to start reading about iodine today, and don’t wait for my posts to roll out. Here is a simple article to get you started: Iodine Deficiency Common in Pregnancy, Docs Warn.):
- Do I need iodine? Absolutely. Can’t live without it. Function poorly with too little of it. “But what’s it do? What’s it for?” That is a bit challenging to answer. Kind of like, “What’s the sun for?” Is it for the trees? The flowers? Your vitamin D production? Your food production? Light? Energy? What aspect of our lives does the sun not touch? What aspect of our health does iodine not touch? Whether it is through the effect of thyroid hormone, which is composed of iodine, or direct effects we’re just now learning about, the body needs iodine. So it’s your job to make sure you know where you can get it. I will go over where to get iodine in future posts and “what it does.”
- Iodine deficiency is increasing for multiple reasons in developed countries, and I’ll bet money that you are affected by a couple or more of the reasons no matter what your health and food choices. No diet group is allowed to snicker here or stick their noses in the air. Many people are just not getting the iodine they need, and if they are, there’s a good chance that the body’s use of iodine is being interfered with by food and health choices they maybe haven’t even considered. I will go into food and environmental factors that may be interfering with your body’s use of iodine.
- Our childbearing women and their offspring for sure are hit VERY hard by an iodine deficiency. Women, did your obstetrician prescribe you a prenatal vitamin with iodine in it? If not, did your obstetrician ask you if the prenatal vitamin you chose has iodine in it? I will go over why women of childbearing age, their fetuses, and their children NEED adequate iodine. SADLY, these populations seem to be the most iodine deprived!
- Prostate, breast and immune health are starting to be linked to iodine. I will do my best to present some of this information. Much of it is newer, not well understood, and not well accepted.
- Iodine is important in brain health! Low IQs, increased ADHD, and apathy have been linked to iodine deficiency. We have studies to support this, and I will present those for your perusal.
- Iodized salt is not the devil. Iodine deficiency is a devil. I know so many of you treat processed, iodized salt like the plague. But there is a reason why The Morton Salt Company iodized their salt here in the States, and it helped immensely! I can’t underscore that enough. I guess I don’t really care if you shun iodized salt, I just want to make sure that no matter who or where you are, that you are aware of the body’s need for iodine and you take measures to get you and your family some good source of iodine. For many, the simple answer may just be adding iodized salt back into their diets. Others lean toward seaweed. Still others rely on supplements.
- Do I need to take high doses of iodine? Not sure. That might fall into the “voodoo” realm. (Voodoo is my tongue-in-cheek word for food and health related things I see that I’m just not sure about. I used to call diet changes “voodoo.” I don’t anymore, but it took a lot of reading!) Tread cautiously. I will eventually talk about how some people use high doses of iodine and what the proposed benefits and risks of this are, particularly fibrocystic breast disease, prostate cancer, and a touch on the big topic of thyroid disease. The turf here is largely uncharted and uncertain.
Eat well to live well. Make sure you’re getting an iodine source. And lastly and importantly, my blog posts are never intended for use of diagnosis, evaluation, or treatment. Hopefully you’ll use them as stepping-stones to learn more about the topics I present and be able to have a conversation with your favorite healthcare provider.
1. Are Australian children iodine deficient? Results of the Australian National Iodine Nutrition Study. Li M1, Eastman CJ, Waite KV, et al. Med J Aust. 2008 Jun 2;188(11):674. (Abstract link.)
2. The Prevalence and Severity of Iodine Deficiency in Australia. December 2007. Prepared for the Population Health Development Principal Committee of the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Committee. (Full text link.)
3. Iodine deficiency in the U.K.: an overlooked cause of impaired neurodevelopment? Bath SC1, Rayman MP. Proc Nutr Soc. 2013 May;72(2):226-35. doi: 10.1017/S0029665113001006. (Abstract link.)
4. Iodine in Pregnancy: Is Salt Iodization Enough? Elizabeth N. Pearce. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. Jul 2008; 93(7): 2466–2468. doi: 10.1210/jc.2008-1009 (Full text link.)
7. Iodine Nutrition: Iodine Content of Iodized Salt in the United States. Dasgupta PK, Liu Y, Dyke JV. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2008, 42, 1315–1323. (Link to full text.)
8. Iodine concentration of organic and conventional milk: implications for iodine intake. Bath SC1, Button S, Rayman MP. Br J Nutr. 2012 Apr;107(7):935-40. doi: 10.1017/S0007114511003059. Epub 2011 Jul 5. (Link to abstract.)
9. Essential trace and toxic element concentrations in organic and conventional milk in NW Spain. Rey-Crespo F1, Miranda M, López-Alonso M. Food Chem Toxicol. 2013 May;55:513-8. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2013.01.040. Epub 2013 Feb 4. (Link to abstract.)