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The Iodine Paradox - Supplement or Not to Supplement?

Iodine deficiency is controversial. 

Some experts say we have an epidemic of iodine deficiency and others say that our body actually doesn’t need much iodine. Both theories can back up their statements with research studies. 

Let’s have a deeper look into some of these theories: 

Algae on beach

What we do know is that over the last 30 years, our iodine intake has declined by 50% (and has been removed from our food supply!), while the ingestion of toxic competing halogens (bromine, fluorine, chlorine, and perchlorate) has dramatically increased in food, water, medicines, and in our environment. For example, iodine in wheat has been replaced with bromine, which is a gas used to fumigate your house for termites. 

Halogens are highly reactive, and can be harmful to humans and animals at high levels:

  • Fluorine is a highly toxic gas and is sourced from the mineral fluorite. Other toxic derivatives from this element include fluoride, which is used in toothpaste, Teflon cookware, refrigerants, and electrical insulation.

  • Chlorine is next and the most common compound derivative is table salt. The high oxidizing potential of chlorine led to commercial use for bleaching and disinfectant use. Public swimming pools use chlorine and many people still use it in their home for cleaning. 

  • Bromide exposition does not come only from bread, as mentioned above. Far from that. Bromide is all around us: in the dust, carpets, textiles, foams, electronics and plastics (Source). And it has also been found in fat from red meat and poultry in the US (Source). In concentrated levels, it is still quite toxic and can cause multiple neurological symptoms and skin eruptions. Bromide is considered a goitrogen. A goitrogen refers to any substance that suppresses the function of the thyroid gland by interfering with iodine uptake. As a result, this can cause enlargement of the thyroid, also called a goiter.

All of these halogens have similar structures and compete with iodine – especially fluorine, chlorine, and bromine. Combined with the fact that many people are not eating iodine rich foods like fish and sea weed daily, you can see where the theory comes from that many people are supposedly iodine deficient.

At the same time, there has been an increase in the rates of thyroid disease, breast cancer, fibrocystic breast disease, prostate cancer, and obesity, as well as developmental delays and intellectual disability in our children. In Japan, where the iodine intake is 100 times higher, these same diseases are significantly lower. 

Once researchers realized this, health authorities around the world began adding iodine to table salt. This strategy was effective in correcting iodine deficiency, but it had an unanticipated—and undesired—effect. In countries where iodine has been added to table salt, the rates of autoimmune thyroid disease have risen. The following is just a sample of studies around the world demonstrating this effect:

Why does this happen? Because increased iodine intake, especially in supplement form, can increase the autoimmune attack on the thyroid. Iodine reduces the activity of an enzyme called thyroid peroxidase (TPO), that is required for proper thyroid hormone production.

What does iodine do in your body? (TMI? Skip to the next paragraph - my take on this debate)

Iodine maintains the healthy architecture of all glands in our body. The thyroid has the highest need for iodine, followed by the breasts. But it is also known to help with ovarian cysts, fibroids, and other “glandular” problems. Iodine can reduce cysts and prevent new cysts and fibroids from forming.

The function of the thyroid gland is to take iodine and other key nutrients (Selenium, Zinc, Magnesium, Tyrosine, Vitamins A, D, C and several key B vitamins, along with essential fatty acids) and convert them into thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). 

The thyroid combines iodine and the amino acid tyrosine to make T3 and T4. T3 and T4 are then released into the blood stream and are transported throughout the body where they control metabolism, or the conversion of oxygen and calories to energy.

In my recent trainings with Dr. Datis Kharrazian (who is considered THE expert on Hashimoto’s in Functional Medicine), I’ve learnt that our body actually doesn’t need that much iodine and that all this talk about iodine deficiency is outdated and stems back from “ancient” nutritional therapy approaches. He has seen an increase in thyroid antibodies and worsening of hypothyroid conditions in his practice with people taking iodine. He also shares the statistics mentioned above. 

Dr. Brownstein (who is known to be the iodine expert and he’s supporting the theory that everyone is iodine deficient) claims that this increase in glandular issues is linked to iodine deficiency in our diet and fact that we are inundated with halogens (as mentioned above) that compete with the uptake of iodine in our tissues. 

Brownstein claims that there’s a process to replenishing those iodine stores in the body and that TSH and antibodies go back to normal after about 6 months.

So what’s my take on this? 

I trust in Dr. Kharrazian’s teachings and have never used iodine supplementation with Hashimoto clients and until now, I have been successful in lowering antibodies naturally and without iodine. 

I have seen great results working with iodine supplementation for women who suffer from fibrocystic breasts though.

I think that this paradox is, as usual, not a black & white story: some people may benefit from iodine, where others need to stay away from it. I always recommend iodine in the diet in form of fish and sea weed, but I don’t recommend the use of iodized salt, mostly even because of the chlorine and other anti caking agents or iodine supplementation in general, especially not for thyroid autoimmune disorders.

A good way to find out if you are deficient in iodine, is doing a urine test. That way you can be really sure to not supplement with something you won't need. And yes the best way to test for iodine deficiency is in urine.

Another factor to take into consideration is selenium deficiency: when you are deficient in selenium and supplementing with iodine, you’ll increase your TSH and T4 but will not be able to convert to T3 - active thyroid hormone. 

What does this mean for you?

  1. Eat sea weed, fish and use unrefined sea salt

  2. Stay away from table salt and iodized salt

  3. Ditch your toothpaste that contains fluoride and opt for fluoride-free (Lavera has a good one I've been using)

  4. Don't use public swimming pools too often

  5. Make sure to "air out" new fabrics, car etc that will have flame retardants. Also mattresses in your bed. Or opt for fabrics that have not been treated where possible

  6. If you want to consider iodine supplementation, work with a skilled practitioner (like myself) to make sure you actually need it and that you're doing is safe


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