By Dr Jim Fox
Iodine is the one mineral that is often overlooked, yet so critical for much of our bodily functions. Of course we think of thyroid when we think of iodine, but much more of our body depends directly on this magic mineral for proper function. The female breast tissue is a large consumer of our iodine supply, and so is the prostate gland in men. It is very important in neurological development, and indirectly, via the thyroid gland and its hormones, iodine effects the metabolism of every cell in our body. A mineral so important should be at the top of the list for everyone to make sure they are getting enough, right? It isn’t.
Iodine is in the family of ‘halides’ along with fluorine, chlorine, and bromine. You may have noticed that several of these ‘halides’ are in commonly used items like your toothpaste, fluoride for instance. Also you may have smelled city water that smells like your neighbors swimming pool, chlorine in that case. Bromine is not as easy to detect, but widely used in such commonly consumed items as bread and soft drinks. If you are taking any pharmaceutical medication, you might be ingesting halides unknowingly. All the halides bind to the same receptor sites in our bodies, so you can see where the ‘other guys’ can cause problems by interfering with our body using iodine properly. That is if we are getting enough iodine in our diet. Unfortunately, most don’t.
As a side note to the physiological implications of iodine relative to health, it’s interesting to note the negative tone voiced in the media, and even peer reviewed journals, taking a stance against the intake of iodine. In 2015, there was an article published in Thyroid Research entitled ‘Iodine intake as a risk factor for thyroid cancer: a comprehensive review of animal and human studies’. The implication from the title is that iodine intake represents a risk factor when the opposite is concluded in the article. The conclusion read: The available evidence suggests iodine deficiency (deficiency, not intake) is a risk factor for Thyroid Cancer (TC), particularly for follicular TC and possibly, for anaplastic TC. With that in mind, it is important for functional medicine practitioners to be aware that the overwhelming majority of information patients get is that iodine is not good and that supplementation is potentially dangerous. This drives home the importance of iodine testing and educating patients iodine’s impact on health.
It takes eating a lot of seafood, and other items form the ocean, to get enough to supply your body with what it needs. Certain areas of the world, like Japan, intake many times more than here in America. Here in America the concept of ‘iodized’ salt was instituted to provide a method of getting iodine for those not living near the coastal areas and consuming seafood. That helped the situation, but then everyone was told to stop using so much salt and the iodine consumption dropped precipitously. Through in all the highly processed food stuff that contains the ‘other’ halides and we have a very serious problem again.
As we can see, we need iodine for a properly functioning body. We can also see that our SAD (Standard American Diet) does not provide adequate amounts. Also, with all the competing halides that our body has to deal with, we can see that our requirements are much more today than in yesteryear when the idea of iodized salt was started. That brings us to supplementation. It is the unfortunately necessary thing to do in the case of iodine, if a deficiency is present. Sure, we can work on cleaning up our diet to avoid the competing halides, but we still need to provide adequate iodine to maintain proper bodily functions.
If extremely large quantities of iodine are consumed, usually over 40 to 50 mg per day or more, iodine can interfere with the thyroid function. However, our body is very good at excreting excess iodine, so occasional over consumption is easily dealt with. So yes, we can eat those seaweed salads with shrimp and other seafood, as well as supplemental iodine (if testing has indicated the need and is recommended by a physician), and not have to worry that we are getting too much of a good thing.