Revisiting Iodine

New Iodine Information

As I mentioned in “Health Secrets,” we must stay on top of new information related to health issues, since what appears to be valid one year is often revealed to be wrong or incomplete in following years. Some may feel this may be unscientific but the fact is that science is a field of proposing theories and following up in later years to see if they work and hold true. And of course, while Newtonian physics was eventually proven wrong by Einstein, and Einstein proven wrong, in part, by quantum physics, both those theories worked in their day. So, funny enough, even though a theory may not hold up as totally true, it can still work. That’s quantum physics for you.


Adverse Effects

In a study of 1,365 women who were treated for fibrocystic beast disease with moderately high doses of iodine, 11% showed side effects which included acne, agitation, nausea, diarrhea, thinning hair, skin rash and headaches. (Can J Surg 1993;36:453-60) These women were given between 3 and 6 mg of iodine per day.


As a related personal aside, a female friend of mine told me she was plagued with lumps and cysts in her breasts for all her adult life until taking high amounts of Lugol’s Solution Iodine (up to 60mg/ 10 drops per day), after which they simply disappeared. And she later reverted to only 1 to 3 drops per day.


Now, the above study does not specify the form in which the iodine was provided, and Lugol’s solution, now a popular home remedy found all over the internet, is in fact a mix of both iodine and potassium iodide. So it may be an easier form to tolerate, and to be frank, 11% adverse reaction is not that high compared to many pharmaceutical drugs.


How Much Iodine Do The Japanese Really Get?

To the point: I, in an earlier news letter about Iodine, put forth the theory that the Japanese acquire 12 to 18mg of iodine a day from generational seaweed eating. This was based on my, then current, readings of unorthodox information on the subject. At least, like a good scientist, I did take these, and higher amounts (up to 18 drops at 6mg of iodine per drop), for quite some time, to at least test the waters before I encouraged anyone to dive in. I experienced no negative side effects. Nonetheless, this theory has now been shot down.


A friend of mine, who is a naturopath, provided me with some information on the subject from a lecture series that she attended.


This lecturer (Alan Gaby, MD), pointed out that the claim of such high iodine intake amongst the Japanese was based on a misinterpretation of a 1967 paper (J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1967;27:638-47) analyzing seaweed consumption in Japan. The Japanese consume on average almost 5 grams of seaweed daily, but when the researchers tried to determine the amount of iodine this provided, they made the mistake of basing their numbers on dry weight of seaweed, not the cooked, wet, amount that was consumed. This lead to the idea that they consumed huge amounts of iodine when in fact a 2008 study showed average iodine intake to be around 1.2mg per day, down from an average of 1.7mg per day in 1986. (Thyroid 2008:18:667)


The conclusions of Dr. Gaby are that 3 – 6mg is a therapeutic dose, that may be useful for treating fibrocystic breast disease, and higher doses may be advised for short periods for the purposes of destroying intestinal pathogens. While hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is very common in the West, due in part to inefficient thyroid testing, actually treating it with iodine seems to only work if the individual is deficient in iodine. Otherwise it may make it worse.


Dangers Of Too Much Iodine

Another naturopath has found patients taking very high levels of iodine to manifest symptoms including multinodular goiter, Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. In one case the elderly gentleman was taking 50mg of iodine daily, which even I think is insane. Any very high levels of iodine are to be done very short term and then rolled back to a maintenance level. Now, this naturopath (Alan Christianson, NMD) also commented that he has seen people on high-dose iodine that have no adverse symptoms and seen patients not taking iodine develop thyroid disease. And he clearly states that “the data that high-dose iodine can help fibrocystic breast disease is clear.”


As I’ve mentioned before, and as is the belief in the field of “orthomolecular nutrition”, isolated nutrients can be used like drugs at high doses for short periods, to great positive effect. But it is illogical to think that high doses are going to be valuable over the long run (though Dr. A. Hoffer was still taking 3 to 4 grams of niacin at the time of his death, near the age of 90, so even this theory has its exceptions).


The iodine information becomes more clouded by statistics that indicate that the Japanese in coastal areas who consume high levels of iodine (via seaweed) have higher rates of thyroid disease than North Americans, yet populations who have low iodine intakes( from 100 – 200mcg daily) have higher rates of thyroid problems too.  Information from WHO, based on tracking iodine fortified salt levels around the world seems to indicate that taking above 600mcg for long periods is linked to higher rates of both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Of course, a response to this might be that synthetic potassium iodide is used to fortify table salt and so, not being a natural source with co-factors, the results may be suspect.


How Much Iodine?

Are there any easy answers? Not really. It appears that both insufficient and excessive amounts of iodine can be problematic. Dr. Christianson believes that a safe daily intake is 150mcg, and that occasionally 1,000mcg (1mg) is tolerable. I, along with others, believe that short-term, high levels of iodine, for specific therapeutic  purposes, can be of value, but should only be done briefly, and ideally with the help of a health professional. I believe that we can still safely consume near the Japanese level of intake (1 to 2 mg daily) if it is in a complex form (i.e. seaweed), or if it is the mix of iodine and iodide (e.g. Lugol’s solution).


And, as always, I recommend not taking any supplement daily, so skip a few days every week, and give the body a chance to use up any iodine that is in excess of its needs. Also don’t forget that, because of the extra radiation currently in the environment from the Fukushima power plant meltdown, now is a good time to keep our levels of iodine relatively high.

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