The idea that I may potentially have an iodine deficiency would have never crossed my mind had it not been for stumbling on an article about nutrients that support myelin sheath production. Most people associate iodine with optimizing the health of the thyroid, but iodine is a critical nutrient for the production of many other hormones in your body. An iodine deficiency can wreck serious havoc on your health.
If you know the story behind Clean Cuisine, you know I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1998 when I was 22 years old. MS is a chronic disease involving damage to the myelin sheath that covers nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Although I have not had a true MS attack since I started eating clean, over the last few months I have noticed my need for sleep has increased. I was sometimes needing up to 9 or even 10 hours of sleep a night in order to feel rested. My increased need for sleep has happened on and off over the years, but this is not uncommon for people with MS. I know my diet is nutrient-dense, so I couldn’t imagine I had any sort of nutritional deficit. An yet, the idea that I may have an iodine deficiency crossed my mind after reading this article about Myelin Sheath Nutrition.
It’s hard to believe after all these years of researching nutrition that I never knew iodine was a critical nutrient for the body to make healthy myelin. I knew I couldn’t possibly be deficient in any of the other nutrients listed in the article, but after a quick Google search it seemed I could very well be low in the mineral iodine.
Iodine Deficiency is More Common than You May Think
Worldwide, it’s thought up to 40 percent of the population is at risk of iodine deficiency.
However, according to Dr. Brownstein, a family practitioner board certified in holistic medicine who has been researching iodine for over two decades, over 95 percent of the patients in his clinic are iodine deficient. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates over 2 billion people may be suffering an iodine deficiency.
In the developed world, iodine deficiency has increased more than fourfold over the past 40 years. Approximately 74% of normal, “healthy” adults may no longer consume enough iodine. (1, 2) Based on my quick online research, I figured there was a possible chance I could be in that group.
The Authoritative Guide to Iodine
I immediately ordered the book, “Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It” by David Brownstein, M.D. from Amazon. The book arrived about a week before our family ski trip. I quickly scanned the book the day it arrived. Just like my initial Google search, it was obvious within just 15 minutes of reading the Iodine book that there was definitely a chance I could be among the millions of people who have some degree of an iodine deficiency. Here’s why:
- Food sources of iodine are scarce and I do not eat seaweed every day (Note: seaweed is by far the richest source of iodine)
- I don’t consume refined iodized salt (Note: I later learned the unrefined Himalayan Salt I use actually has more iodine naturally than the refined iodized salt!)
- When I checked my multi-vitamin/ multi-mineral supplement I saw I was only getting 75 mcg, which does not even meet the RDA of 150 mcg per day for adult men and women.
Thankfully, I don’t eat refined flour containing bromine and I don’t use toothpaste with fluoride. And because I eat a lot of organic foods and avoid produce on the Dirty Dozen list, I don’t have an abnormally high level of exposure to pesticides either. However, if I did eat bromine-enriched flour, use toothpaste with fluoride or consume foods high in pesticides, my chances of an iodine deficiency would be far greater.
***NOTE: Pregnant women need about 50% more iodine than other women and yet only about half of the prenatal vitamins contain iodine (Iodine deficiency is the number one most preventable cause of mental retardation.) Not all standard multi-vitamins contain iodine either. You need to read the label carefully.***
Conditions Helped By Optimizing Iodine Intake
As mentioned earlier, most people are aware of the importance of iodine for the health of their thyroid. However, considering that iodine is found in each of the trillion cells in the body, optimizing iodine intake can be helpful for a vast number of different conditions.
Here are just a few conditions that can be improved with optimizing intake of iodine:
- ADD/ ADHD
- Breast diseases (note: research links low iodine intake to breast cancer)
- Fibrocystic Breasts
- Headaches / Migraines
- Ovarian disease (including ovarian cysts)
- Irregular periods (including some types of PCOS)
- Thyroid disorders
- Autoimmune diseases (including multiple sclerosis)
- Dry skin
- AND MORE!
Did You Know Iodine is an Essential Detox Nutrient?
There is no doubt that all of us living in the modern world are living in somewhat of a toxic swamp. However, your body has an amazing ability to detoxify itself if you provide it with the right raw materials to do so.
Iodine is one of those key raw materials that help the body detox. Specifically, iodine helps the body release toxic halogens such as bromine and fluoride.
Could You Have an Iodine Deficiency?
When considering whether you may have an iodine deficiency, here are just a few quick things to think about…
Healthy Whole Food Sources of Iodine
Food sources of iodine are rather scarce. The best natural sources of iodine-rich foods include:
BEST SOURCE OF IODINE:
- Sea vegetables (including all seaweed varieties such as kelp, wakame, and kombu) are the absolute best source of iodine by a long shot. A quarter ounce cup of dried seaweed contains several thousand micrograms of iodine, which is FAR MORE than any other food sources.
GOOD SOURCES OF IODINE:
- Organic Potatoes are another good source of iodine. One medium baked potato contains about 60 mcg of iodine.
- Seafood (including shrimp) is also a good source of iodine.
Bad Source of Iodine
- Fortified Iodized Salt is NOT a healthy source of iodine. Refined salt has been stripped of all nutrients and exposed to toxic chemicals that give it its white color. Iodine is often confused with salt, but the two are actually very distinctly different. In terms of chemistry, salt is classified as a crystal, and is composed of two elements: sodium and chloride. Iodine, on the other hand is a mineral. Many brands of salt are fortified with the essential mineral iodine in order to prevent iodine deficiency. Yet refined (iodized) salt is NOT a healthy food.
***NOTE: Unrefined Himalayan Salt contains 125 mcg of iodine per 1/2 gram, which is more than the 77 mcg of iodine provided per 1/2 gram of refined iodized salt. In addition, there is strong research to suggest that the bioavailability of iodized salt is less than 10%.
3 Things that Reduce Iodine Levels
In addition to consuming iodine-poor diets, many people consume substances that are known to deplete iodine.
Exposure to the following three things may put you at even more of a risk of iodine deficiency:
- Fluoride: Known to be a toxic agent, fluoride has been shown to deplete iodine in the body. In addition to toothpaste, fluoride is often also added to drinking water.
- Bromine: Also a toxic substance, bromine competes with iodine for absorption in the body. The more bromine you consume, the less iodine your body can absorb. Bromine is primarily found in enriched (refined) flour products but also in sodas, certain medications, plastics and a number of other surprising places in your everyday world.
- Pesticides: Methyl bromide is a toxic pesticide that thwarts the body’s ability to utilize iodine. Exposure to pesticides increase the risk of iodine deficiency.
How Much Iodine Do You Need Each Day?
The US recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iodine is only 150 ug/day for adults. These guidelines were first established as sufficient only to prevent goiter. However, the guidelines may be inadequate to optimize health.
The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine has set the tolerable upper limit at 1,100 mcg. (3)
It is important to point out that daily doses for optimal health of 3,000-6,000 mcg have been used without side effects in studies of people with iodine deficiency-related health conditions, such as polycystic breast disease (4)
Consider the Iodine Consumption of the Average Japanese Adult
Japanese iodine intake far exceeds that of most other countries, primarily due to substantial seaweed consumption. It is estimated that the average Japanese adult consumes between 1,000 and 3,000 ug/ day (1-3 mg/ day) of iodine. Japanese iodine intake from seaweed is linked to health benefits not seen in cultures with dissimilar diets.
The Japanese have remarkably lower levels of breast, endometrial and ovarian cancers. In addition, there is a significantly lower amount of fibrocystic breast disease in Japanese women who consume the highest amount of iodine.
Knowing how much iodine the Japanese consume daily is beneficial for people who wish to consume equivalent amounts of iodine while avoiding excessive amounts that may adversely affect health.
95% of Dr. Brownstein’s Patients Were Found to Have an Iodine Deficiency
It is also worth noting that according to Dr. Brownstein, who has been working with iodine for the last two decades, over 95 percent of the patients in his clinic were found to have an iodine deficiency.
How to Test for an Iodine Deficiency
The typical method for testing iodine levels is by measuring the amount of iodine in the urine. However, that is not a reliable method.
Best Way To Measure Iodine Levels
The iodine-loading test is the superior way to measure iodine levels and the best way to test for iodine deficiency.
- The iodine-loading test is performed after taking 50 mg of an iodine/ iodide combination. Urine is collected after taking the iodine. In an iodine sufficient state, approximately 90% of a mixture of a 50 mg dose of iodine/ iodide would be excreted (i.e., 45 mg), and 10% of the iodine would be retained (i.e. 5 mg). Levels below 90% excretion would indicate an iodine-deficient state.
WHERE TO GET THE IODINE LOAD TEST
The Safest Way to Prevent / Treat an Iodine Deficiency
Ok, so that was a lot of information about iodine.
Here are the main things you need to keep in mind to prevent/ treat an iodine deficiency:
- 1. Be aware of the issue. Know that most people eating the modern day diet do not get optimal levels of iodine from food alone.
2. Limit your exposure to bromine and fluoride as both substances will deplete iodine levels.
3. Check to make sure your mutli–vitamin/ multi-mineral has at least 50 to 100 mcg of iodine (preferably from kelp.
4. Eat organic as much as possible (this will limit your exposure to iodine-depleting pesticides.)
5. Eat wild seafood at least 2 to 3 times per week.
6. Eat seaweed everyday OR take 1/4 teaspoon of kelp (seaweed) granules daily. 1/4 teaspoon of kelp granules provide approximately 3 mg of iodine. Kelp granules can be added to green drinks or sprinkled on salads. Note: Kelp granules do not emulsify very well when blended with liquid. I find the easiest thing to do is to just sprinkle them in a little bit of water and gulp it down. You can buy Kelp granules at a natural foods store or online at Amazon.
7. Ditch the refined (iodized) table salt and switch to unrefined Himalayan salt. You can buy unrefined Himalayan salt at a natural foods store or online at Amazon.
An Iodine Deficiency Can Quickly Be Corrected
If you truly have an iodine deficiency and you start to consume more iodine-rich foods, you should notice an almost immediate improvement in how you feel.
Higher Dose Iodine Supplements
My husband, Andy Larson, M.D. (who is a surgeon and the medical expert behind everything we do here at Clean Cuisine) and I both believe it is always best to get your nutrients from whole food. Having said that, we have been supporting the use of nutrition supplements ever since the release of our first book back in 2005. We acknowledge that some nutrients (such as vitamin K2, vitamin D, EPA, DHA, GLA, etc) are VERY difficult to get from food alone.
Some functional medicine doctors, including David Brownstein, M.D., believe higher dose iodine supplementation can be helpful for a number of different conditions. In his book, Dr. Brownstein says that the iodine supplementation dose should be individualized (based on the results from an iodine load test.) His clinical practice experience has shown the optimal therapeutic dosage of iodine supplementation vary from 6-50 mg/ day, which is far greater than the RDA.
In addition to supporting high dose iodine supplementation for the treatment of iodine deficiency and general health, Dr Brownstein recommends a combination supplement containing iodine/ iodide. In his book, he specifically recommends the supplement Iodoral, containing 5 mg iodine and 7.5 mg iodide (as potassium salt.) Iodoral can be purchased online at Amazon.
Can You Overdose on Iodine?
Yes. You can absolutely overdose on iodine. Having said that, considering the iodine-rich diet of the Japanese, it is highly unlikely to get an overdose of iodine from food alone. This includes using kelp granules as well. Kelp is a food, so even if you are adding it to your diet as a “supplement”, it is still a food source of iodine.
Also, if you are taking a supplement that has a relatively low dose of iodine, the chance of overdosing is practically zero. (Note: I take our Clean Cuisine Essentials AM/ PM formula which has a combined total of 75 micrograms of Iodine from kelp.)
However, if you decide to supplement with rather higher dose of iodine (such as Iodoral) and you plan to supplement for more than a month, I would definitely have my iodine levels checked and monitor supplementation with your physician.
In Case You Are Curious, Here’s What I Did…
And finally, in case you are wondering, here’s a quick overview of what I did after learning I may be at risk for iodine deficiency.
For the record, I did not yet have the iodine load test because I didn’t even learn about it until I was reading Dr. Brownstein’s book on the plane (I am writing this article from our hotel room!) I do plan to get the test when we get home though.
But right away after initially scanning Dr. Brownstein’s book I started using the Kelp granules that I had sitting in my pantry. I knew the kelp granules were healthy and they were definitely a food I intended to eat everyday, but to be honest I rarely used them. Within the first few days of having the kelp granules though I noticed a definite increase in energy. At first I thought it may be a coincidence. I then suggested my mom also start adding them to her diet too. I didn’t tell her what to expect, I just asked after a few days if she had noticed feeling any different. She too said she had a definite increase in energy and was not experiencing her usual afternoon slump.
Short Term Iodine Supplementation May Be Helpful
I still had a few days before our ski trip so I went ahead and ordered the Iodoral from Amazon. I still didn’t know very much about iodine deficiency when I placed my order but after the little kelp experiment I had a feeling the Iodoral might be helpful.
The Iodoral arrived two days before our ski trip. I took one the day it arrived and one the day we left. I decided to pack the bottle –along with the kelp granules– in my bag too. I planned to read Dr. Brownstein’s book on the plane (which I did) and by the time we got to Whistler I had decided I could surely benefit from more iodine in my diet. Normally a 12 hour travel day would leave me feeling exhausted. But for the first time, I arrived on our annual Whistler trip feeling refreshed and energized.
I Noticed a Definite Improvement in a Very Short Amount of Time
I am convinced the extra iodine really is helping me.
Since I do not yet know the results from my Iodine Load test, I only plan to take the higher-dose Iodoral for a few weeks. And now that I am aware of the Iodine deficiency epidemic, I plan to also be sure to incorporate #’s 1-7 listed above.
Again, I do not think it is a coincidence that this is the first time on our ski trip where I have been able to ski and be active all day, sleep only about 7 1/2 hours and wake up (without an alarm clock!) feeling energetic and ready to go. I don’t have the Iodine Load test to prove it, but I am almost certain I must have had some degree of Iodine deficiency for a while now….
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Wednesday 11th of July 2018
Hi Ivy, This is another great post from you. The details of why we need iodine, what should be the quantity, what are the issues of low iodine, how to get the right amount of iodine, which items should be avoided are so wonderfully explained. Thank you so much for all the in-depth analysis. Helps a lot.
Thursday 12th of July 2018
Hi Stella, I am so happy you find it helpful! I very much appreciate you taking the time to comment and let me know.