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Iodine: Cure for Hypothyroidism Or Hidden Danger?

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Posted Friday, Jan. 14th, 2011

If you are like most Americans, you’ve likely struggled for years with your weight.  No matter what you do, you just cannot seem to drop those extra pounds.

On top of that, you are tired all the time and get frequent muscle aches, so forget about dragging yourself to the gym.  Plus, you suspect your hair is thinning, or at least it’s really dry, as is your skin.  And the cold just rips right through you.

No wonder you are irritable, depressed, and have no sex drive.  Who would?

But what if all this wasn’t just a series of coincidences?  What if these were symptoms of an underlying condition named hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid?

Do You have Hypothyroidism?

Nearly 1 in 10 women over the age of 60 have subclinical hypothyroidism,1 which means they have several symptoms, but have not been diagnosed with the disease.

Hypothyroidism occurs when you have low levels of blood thyroid hormone.  Clinical hypothyroidism includes many of the symptoms described earlier, as well as constipation, irregular menstrual cycle, infertility, and even high cholesterol levels.

A thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) test is most often used to determine if you have hypothyroidism.  However, the medical community is divided on what that number or range should be.

Some conventional doctors and labs say anything from 0.5-5.5 (or even 6.0) is “normal.”  The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (the thyroid people) say 0.3-3.0 should be the range.  The more alternative-minded folks say 0.5-2.0 is more accurate.

Regardless of the mixed signals, the key information to take away here is that even if your TSH is 3.2, you may have a hypothyroid condition, but you will likely go undiagnosed.  Even a 2.5 could fall under the radar.

Common sense says that a TSH over 2.0 may indicate, at the least, subclinical hypothyroidism, and would warrant a conversation with your doctor on how to gain additional testing (T3 and T4 readings) and insights into your thyroid health.

Once you get your TSH status figured out, you will likely start researching thyroid treatments.  Maybe that’s what led you to this article.

Your doctor also likely recommended that you start a thyroid replacement therapy plan, such as one that uses Synthroid — or, if you are really lucky, a natural option such as Armour.  While these may work, they don’t really address the underlying issue or issues of WHY your thyroid is going haywire in the first place.

Here’s where it really gets tricky.  There can be many causes of hypothyroidism, including iodine deficiency.  In fact, many health experts preach that supplementing with iodine can help eradicate hypothyroidism.

But, like everything involving thyroid function, the answers aren’t so simple…or agreed upon.

The Iodine Controversy…

The only thing more controversial in the thyroid world than how to properly interpret TSH readings is the use of supplemental iodine for treating hypothyroid.

Iodine is the most critical nutrient for proper thyroid function.  It is essential for the production of the hormone thyroxin, which your thyroid uses to regulate many bodily functions, including metabolism.

If you don’t have enough iodine, your body cannot produce adequate levels of thyroxin.  This leads to the symptoms commonly associated with hypothyroidism.  In fact, even small iodine deficiencies can have profound effects on thyroid function.

For example, in the 1920s, there was an increasing incidence of goiter.  This is a circumstance in which the thyroid enlarges as it works to kick out more and more thyroxin without the necessary raw materials (namely iodine) to make the hormone.

To counteract this, U.S. health officials dictated that all table salt had to be fortified with iodine.  (If you always wondered why you have iodized salt, now you know!)  Soon after, the prevalence of hypothyroidism decreased.

While all of this is common knowledge, and quite interesting, does the research back it up or is this simply folklore?  Let’s find out.

Iodine’s Role in Thyroid Health…

One study2 from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center details the cases of three women, aged 24 to 38 years of age.  All three lived in iodine-rich areas, yet exhibited signs of iodine-deficiency disorders.  Two of the three had hypothyroidism with a goiter.

After receiving dietary iodine supplementation, all three had complete remission of their iodine-deficiency disorders, including the two women with hypothyroidism.  Researchers concluded, “These cases underscore the need for considering iodine deficiency in the etiologic diagnosis of goiter and hypothyroidism, even in iodine-sufficient regions.”

Although this study profiled only three subjects, this is a real world example of how a lack of iodine can lead to hypothyroidism, and how adding the iodine supplements can bring thyroid levels back to the normal range.  Still, it would be nice to see a gold-standard, large-scale study that evaluated the effects of iodine versus placebos on people with hypothyroidism.

One of the reasons we haven’t seen any, at least that we could find, is that it appears that supplemental iodine, in some cases, can cause hypothyroidism.

Too Much of Anything Can be Bad…

While iodine-deficiency can lead to hypothyroidism, taking iodine when not deficient can, ironically, have the exact same effect.

A study from China3 exemplifies this well.  Researchers followed more than 3,000 people from three different regions of China.  All of these people had differing levels of iodine intake, which ranged from mildly deficient to adequate or excessive.

At the end of the five-year period, researchers observed an increase in hypothyroidism and autoimmune thyroiditis in those areas with more than adequate or excessive iodine intake.

In other words, those with some iodine (mildly deficient) didn’t show the disease, while those groups with the above average intake of iodine had significantly higher incidences of the disease.

Another study4 looked at iodine restriction and whether or not it could reverse hypothyroidism in people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, a condition caused when the body’s own immune system accidentally attacks the thyroid.

Researchers randomly divided 45 people with hypothyroidism due to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis into two groups.  Half were on iodine restriction (less than 100 mcg/day) and the other group had no restrictions.

At the end of three months, more than 78 percent of those people in the iodine-restriction group regained a normal thyroid state, as compared to 45 percent in the non-restricted group.

That’s a pretty compelling result.  Still, it would be interesting to see the study done with hypothyroidism from any cause, not just limited to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

A retrospective study5 from Denmark looked at thyroid disease in general and the role iodine may or may not play.  They found that epidemiological studies ( a fancy way of saying the study of a disease in a population) have shown that “hypothyroidism is more prevalent in populations with a high iodine intake.”

Similarly, they observed that in populations with a high iodine intake, the average thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) level tends to increase with a person’s age.  Remember, high TSH often corresponds to hypothyroidism as your pituitary gland, which is what secretes TSH, senses that you have low thyroid production.  It then cranks up production of TSH in an attempt to get your thyroid to secrete more thyroid hormones.

They concluded, “Iodine intake of a population should be kept within a relatively narrow interval where iodine deficiency disorders are prevented, but not higher.”  In other words, if there is a deficiency, fix it.  But don’t overdo it or you can tip the scales the other way.

Lastly, research from the Institutes of Medicine’s Food and Nutrition Board6 has reported similar findings.  They too have found that excess iodine intake is most commonly associated with elevated blood levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), hypothyroidism, and goiters.

In fact, in iodine-sufficient adults, elevated TSH levels have been found at iodine intakes between 1,700 and 1,800 mcg/day.

To help minimize the risk of developing hypothyroidism, the Food and Nutrition Board set a tolerable upper level of intake for iodine at 1,100 mcg/day for adults.

So, is Taking Iodine a Go or No-Go?

So, given all this, what the heck are you supposed to do?  Too little and you may develop hypothyroidism.  Too much and, BAM, the same thing!

The key, not surprisingly, is balance and moderation.  First and foremost, iodine deficiency is a rarity in the U.S.  There are a large number of commonly consumed foods that contain iodine, including:

  • Baked potato (with skin)
  • Cow’s milk (from grass-fed cows)
  • Cooked navy beans
  • Seaweed
  • Clams
  • Oysters
  • Lobster
  • Sardines
  • Saltwater fish

Plus, there is the whole “iodine in salt” thing, and we know how much Americans like their salt!  Most multivitamins contain the recommended daily allowance of iodine (150 mcg).  Therefore, unless you have a known iodine deficiency, there is no reason to supplement with iodine.

The only time when iodine supplementation seems to make sense is if you have hypothyroidism and are sure you also have an iodine deficiency.

In this case, you may want to consider short-term iodine supplementation.  If you aren’t sure whether this applies to you, ask your doctor to test your thyroid antibodies (thyroid peroxidase and thyroglobulin).

Remember, while correcting an iodine deficiency can help improve hypothyroidism, it’s important to note that an excess of iodine can also limit the body’s production of thyroid hormone.  Therefore, do not exceed 1,000 mcg of iodine for any length of time (i.e., more than three months).

At the end of that time, have your urine iodine level tested to determine if you are still deficient or in the normal range.

Determining thyroid disease is not easy — nor, unfortunately, is the treatment of it.  However, by becoming an educated advocate for your own health, you will quickly discover the difference between what is purely hype, and what is backed by science.  You’ll then know what path to choose for optimal health and wellness.

As always, make sure you consult with your doctor before embarking on any new treatments — natural, conventional or otherwise.

References:

1Canaris GJ, et al. “The Colorado thyroid disease prevalence study.” Arch Intern Med 2000; 160:526–533.

2Nyenwe, EA and Dagogo-Jack, S. “Iodine deficiency disorders in the iodine-replete environment.” Am J Med Sci. 2009 Jan; 337(1):37-40.

3Teng, W, et al. “Effect of iodine intake on thyroid disease in China.” N Engl J Med. 2006 Jun 29:354(26):2783-93.

4Yoon, SJ, et al. “The effect of iodine restriction on thyroid function in patients with hypothyroidism due to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.” Yonsei Medical Journal. 2003; 44(2)227-35.

5Laurberg, P, et al. “Iodine intake as a determinant of thyroid disorders in populations.” Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Feb; 24(1):13-27.

6Food and Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine. Iodine. Dietary reference intakes for vitamin A, vitamin K, boron, chromium, copper, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, silicon, vanadium, and zinc.  Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press; 2001:258-289.

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  • Robin

    Interesting, but the question arises of whether we are comparing like and like. Namely what sort of iodine. Potassium iodide is one. The iodine in an organic source such as kelp might be another. ?

    • JJC

      Robin makes an excellent point. There are different types of iodine. Organic and inorganic.

      Lots of research has been done by Dr. Brownstien and his colleges with Lugol’s solution and Iodoral. These are mixtures of of Iodine and iodide. Brownstien and company are advocates of taking large amout of this substance for hypothyroidism and even those with Hashimoto’s. This is very controversial and it would be good to get their side of the argument. I don’t know what the answer is but we need to have an open discussion to include all of the relevent research.

      • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

        Excellent points and we will explore the types of iodine and report back shorty.

        Naturally yours,

        The Sherpa

  • Gateshd

    I am still in the dark.

    • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

      Please let us know what more you were looking for so we can provide it in a future article.

      Naturally yours,

      The Sherpa

  • Bottle772000

    it was good,interesting. Didn’t shed any new light tho

  • Jan

    And someone got paid for this study? I would NOT share this article with anyone…did not provide any useful information.

    • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

      Jan,

      We are not sure if the researchers were compensated for their studies, but that is often the case. We are sorry the article was not useful to you.

      Naturally yours,

      The Sherpa

  • Ellen

    I have been taking levoxyl for my low thyroid function for many years.
    I was taking 3 kinds of BP pills, plus Lipitor. I had to quit them due to the terrible side effects, but still take my thyroid medicine.
    The awful hot pains in my arms with weakness is still with me yet,
    even though i have been off the poison meds for a few months.
    Do you think it will ever go away? Do you think the thyroid meds
    have anything to do with this pain and weakness in my arms?
    I cannot eat salt because of HBP. So could i have a iodine deficiency?
    I don’t eat many foods with iodine either. Only baked potato now and then.
    I do that because i need the potassium to help lower my BP.
    My voice has been sounding different for about 2 years now.
    The throat specialist couldn’t find anything but inflamed throat and esophigus.
    Well he did say it was due to GERD. But i don’t seem to need meds for that.
    I would love to quit all meds if i could, for my arms are really weak and painful.
    I was thinking of quitting my thyroid meds too, but after reading this article,
    i am afraid to mess with iodine suppliments. I may get too much and hurt myself. Anyway, thanks for this article. I love reading stuff where suppliments
    are not sold, then i have more confidence in the content. Again thanks!
    ps’ i am a 75 year old female.

    • Della7

      Hi Ellen, many years ago i also suffered with painful weak arms, i was told it was due to a disc problem in upper Thoracic area ( i think the spelling is incorrect, but it means the upper disc area ). I have since discovered that i had a slight curviture, and a fractured disc. I know visit a Chiropractor regulary and have fewer interval of discomfort. I doubt that the medication you are taking would cause this problem as its a hormone replacement that stimulates production of the thyroid, so its important to keep up this treatment if it has helped. There are some natural treatment for blood pressure, just look them up on the internet. I’m not sure why you have an underactive Thyroid ?? but generally, if the diet is deficient then it can cause underactive thyroid probs. There are other forms of adding Iodine to your diet, just visit a Health food shop. I have an underactive Thyroid also but this is due to being treated with, “Radioactive Iodine”, so I definetly wouldnt ingest Idoine for this reason. Ask the Health Food store about taking, “Kelp”.

      Bless you Ellen, hope this has been of some help.

      • Jeanne

        Radiation,fluoride and bleach are a few things that can weaken and or destroy the thyroid.

        • carol

          Yes, and flouride and chorine are  in the water that comes into your tap in most areas.

      • Valerieayze

        Dear Della7,
        I am a 41-year old female.  I was recently told I had hypothyroidism.  I was given options to fix my thyroid.  One of them is the “Radioactive Iodine” I am not sure if I should go ahead and decide to do this. I have 4 weeks to decide, that is when my next appt. with my doctor.  I am afraid, I wonder if I may get cancer from this later down in life.  I have two beautiful daughters who are 10 and 6 yrs. old.  I don’t want them to know what I have been going through.  I am also losing my hair, I feel down about myself because of this situtation with my hair.  Is it true you get your hair to grow back? And how long do you see a change?  I am not sure about the “Radioactive”, but I want to get better and want my energy back.

        • Antonio

          Please don’t do the radioactive iodine.  From my reading hypothyroidism can be address with simple, natural, iodine supplementation.  Look up Dr. Brownstein’s research (and website) or Dr. Flechas or the Iodine Group on the web. It could make a huge difference in your health.

    • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

      Ellen,

      It sounds like you’ve had a difficult road. Unfortunately, we cannot diagnose or treat specific individuals, but we would strongly suggest that you meet with natural health practitioner to help you sort through everything.

      If you don’t already have on, you can visit http://www.acamnet.org to find a practitioner in your area.

      Naturally yours,

      The Sherpa

  • Carm60

    I totally disagree with this article.

  • Sheila

    Excellent article – thank you loved it! – Sheila

    • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

      You are welcome Sheila!

      Naturally yours,

      The Sherpa

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kathleen-Olsson-Nelson/100001736054724 Kathleen Olsson Nelson

    This article seems to be slanted toward getting all of the Iodine you need from foods. But, the truth is that due to foods being grown in mineral deficient soil that is over farmed, poisoned with chemical fertilizers and pesticides, the foods we eat are basically dead and devoid of the mineral nutrients the body needs to survive. There is tons of research on this topic supporting the need for iodine supplementation. It is wise to see your doctor and get a TSH panel done with both T3 and T4, to see if there is deficiency first, then supplement from that point of clinical reference. I purchase my Detoxadine supplement from Global Healing Center, and it is the best you can buy. Check it out.

    • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

      Kathleen,

      Excellent point regarding mineral deficiencies in our soil. It’s one of the reasons why organic helps. Also, it is critical that people have both their T3 AND T4 tested, so thank you for pointing it out.

      Naturally yours,

      The Sherpa

  • Allen Nielson

    Good article but lacked some important self tests that can help you check your thyroid function, like painting a 2″ round patch of soft skin (inner arm or
    inner thigh with iodine and timing how long it takes to disappear) should take
    24 hours any shorter indicates an iodine deficency. Another test is the Barnes Basil test where you shake down a thermometer before you go to
    bed at night and when you wake in the morning you hold it under your arm
    for 5 minutes before arising if your temp is below 97.3 F your thyroid is low. Hope the temp is correct as I am only writing from memory which is
    getting weak anymore

    • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

      Allen,

      Thank you for the self test information. We also encourage people to do a simple blood test through their physician.

      Naturally yours,

      The Sherpa

  • bookworm worm

    Zinc is one of a number of important minerals that our body needs on a daily basis to function normally. Zinc supplement

  • http://www.angstrom-mineral.com/angstrom-minerals/angstrom-chromium.html Chromium Mineral

    Excellent point regarding mineral deficiencies in our soil. It’s one of the reason why organic helps. Thanks for share. 

    • http://naturalhealthsherpa.com Natural Health Sherpa

      Dear Chromium,

      You got it!

      Naturally yours,

      The Sherpa

    • Jane

      Why would organic help if the soil is deficient? Organic only means it is grown without pesticides.

  • Sirrom15

    I am 63 and 6 months ago I was diagnosed as a diabetic and meds were reccommended.  I found it difficult to accept this diagnosis.  I have an excellent diet, am full of energy, and I am not overweight but have a small stomach which I developed recently.  I asked for the sugar tests because I felt weak and dizzy after my grandchilds party where I had eaten sweets – something I don’t usually have.   I became constipated, my hair fell out, my skin turned to paper, I was continually cold and found it hard to warm up. It all happened so quickly, I just aged over night.  I decided not to take the meds the doctor prescribed yet, but to try to find some answers for myself.  By taking my basil temperature, I discovered a thyroid problem.  I asked for tests and they tested my TSH.  The test showed a problem, so they then tested my free T4.  The doctor then reccommended again that I take meds.  I refused.   I acquired a book to clear my diabetes in 30 days.  Meanwhile, I took sea iodine, increasing the dose gradually.  The results of my blood tests after 6 months showed that my diabetes had gone, but although improved,  I still have a thyroid problem. My blood pressure is now normal, my cholesterol levels are now good, constipation has gone, my hair, nails and skin are now good, indigestion has disappeared, low stomach acid has corrected, gall bladder has settled down, my stomach has flattened and the feelings of coldness have disappeared.  I didn’t realise my energy level could get better but it has.    However, my morning temperature, taken under the arm pit, is between 35.6 and 35.9. Taken in my mouth it has reached 36.3.  I’m not sure which is the best way to take the temperature.  I am relieved that my health problems are turning around and I am also glad I did not take the easy way out by taking the drugs the doctor prescribed.  I asked for answers when I prayed and feel that I was guided but I certainly have gotten results.

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  • jww

    TSH will be elevated with iodine usage—-negative iodine tests are often done in China Never mentioned on same is Japan with highest iodine consumption]12.8 mg] and lowest thyroid,prostate and breast cancer in the world.Also most negatives come from those quoting studies –[studies are often premeditated/fraudulent–not personal experience–Positives come from doctors who have treated thousands–yes thousands– of patients via IODINE!!!—IE– Flechas–Brownstein–Abraham—

  • Pearly Gates

    I am still up in the air!!!!

  • richard

    you guys must be paid by the drug companies. Taking 25 mg iodoral a day have never felt better in last ten years. Selenium is the link you are missing, without selenium iodine actions becomes toxic to thyroid. I hate when people write articles and don’t do their research.

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