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Cancer, Brain Health, and Thyroid Disease: The Iodine Connection


Posted Tuesday, May. 29th, 2012

What Cancer, Your Brain and Thyroid Have In Common

Back in the day, we added a specific nutrient to the most frequently eaten food in the country: bread.

That nutrient helped to offset a number of conditions that arose due to its deficiency, namely goiter, depressed immune function, mental retardation, and even headaches.

Good, right?

So why on earth was it taken out and replaced with a different chemical that actually depletes this critical nutrient?

And for goodness sakes, why did we then take it a step further and add a second chemical to the most frequently consumed beverage—water—that also depletes this vital nutrient.

As a result, we now have a rampant, chronic deficiency of this nutrient running through the country… a deficiency that has been linked to so many of today’s diseases, namely the very things it was supposed to protect us against—thyroid health, breast cancer, and brain health.

And the name of this miraculous nutrient? Iodine.

Riches From the Sea…

Bernard Courtois discovered iodine in 1811 while he was making gunpowder out of potassium and sodium from seaweed. After accidentally adding a bit too much sulphuric acid, a strange purple vapor started rising out of his concoction. Based on this, Courtois named the strange element iodine, after the Greek word iodes, which means violet.

Iodine’s first medicinal use came several years later when Jean Francois Coindet treated goiter with iodine. It was the first time a solitary nutrient was used to treat a specific condition. As such, many people herald this occasion as the “birth of Western Medicine.”1

In 1824, Coindet’s work was supported by Jean-Baptiste Boussingault, who discovered that people who drank iodine-rich water at silver mining sites were protected from goiter. He suggested using the iodine-rich salts also found in the mines to protect the population at large.1

Of course, silver mines are not the only source of iodine. In fact, they aren’t even the best source. Iodine is found in seawater, rocks found in or near the ocean, and seaweed. Of these, seaweed is considered to be the best, most concentrated source of the mineral.

You also have naturally occurring iodine in every cell of your body, with the thyroid gland boasting the greatest concentration. Other iodine-rich areas are the salivary glands, cerebrospinal fluid, brain, ovaries, breasts, and areas of the eye.

For these reasons, iodine plays a role in many bodily functions, namely:

  • Thyroid health,
  •  Immune function,
  • Brain health,
  • Fertility, and
  • Breast and ovarian health.

Some researchers even claim that iodine is cancer protective. Those are some pretty big claims for a lone little nutrient. So what’s the truth?

Iodine and Thyroid Health…

One area that seems to be pretty clear-cut when it comes to iodine is the thyroid. 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.

Case in point. In the early 1920s, the Great Lakes region of Michigan had a pretty big goiter issue. In fact, of the 66,000 school children tested in a 1923-1924 survey, 40 percent had goiter.2

Goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland. When there is a deficiency of iodine, the raw material needed to make the thyroxin hormone, the thyroid gland has to work harder and harder in an effort to produce more of the hormone. It then becomes enlarged as a result.

A year or two later, iodized salt was being used in the area, and four years later, there was a 75 percent reduction in goiter. Fast-forward to 1951, and suddenly less than half a percent of children had goiter.2

A study from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center saw similar results when detailing the cases of three women, aged 24 to 38 years of age.3 All three lived in iodine-rich areas, yet exhibited signs of iodine-deficiency disorders. Two of the three had hypothyroidism, with goiter.

After receiving dietary iodine supplementation, all three had complete remission of 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.”

Put in plain English: Too little iodine leads to problems with hypothyroidism with severe deficiencies possibly leading to goiter.

Iodine and Breast Cancer…

One of the more hotly contested areas regarding iodine is in the treatment and/or prevention of cancer. While there are critics that downplay the benefits of iodine as an anti-cancer therapy, several studies show its promise.

The key to iodine’s benefits lie in its ability to promote apoptosis, or cell death.4 This is critical when it comes to fighting cancer. The greater a compound’s ability to bring about apoptosis in cancer cells, the more likely the treatment is to be effective.

For iodine, the types of cancer that seem to be the most responsive are thyroid cancer and hormone-related cancers, namely breast cancer. One of the best-studied areas of research around iodine and breast cancer is in the mineral’s ability to support the effectiveness of traditional therapies, namely Tamoxifen.

A 2008 study from the International Journal of Medical Sciences noted the use of iodine has been found to “enhance the efficacy of Tamoxifen therapy…thus preventing or slowing the development of Tamoxifen resistance.”5

In an animal study published in 2005, researchers found that in rats that were induced with breast cancer, iodine inhibited tumor formation.6 Similarly studies found that in the absence of iodine, breast tissue (from animals) is more likely to show indications of developing breast cancer,7 leading researchers to hypothesize, “Maintenance of the optimum structure and function of the breasts requires the presence of continuous and specific amounts of iodine.”8

But iodine’s benefits are not limited to the thyroid and breast. It also plays a critical role in brain health.

Iodine and the Brain…

Another large area of iodine research centers around brain health…and for good reason. First and foremost, the World Health Organization themselves, a bastion of traditionally conventional medicine, has abdicated that iodine deficiency is the world’s single largest cause of preventable mental retardation.

Iodine deficiency has also been linked to other brain-related illnesses, namely ADHD, cretinism, and reduced mental and intellectual ability.9

Depleting Iodine…

In the 1960s, commercial bakers added iodine to bread as a dough conditioner. With bread one of (if not the most) commonly consumed food, a single slice provided nearly 150 mcg of iodine.

Soon thereafter, the iodine was removed from the bread and replaced with a similar compound (bromine), which competes with iodine in the body. Specifically, the more bromine you have, the less iodine you have.

That’s because bromine interferes with the absorption of iodine, contributing to iodine deficiency. And since bromine doesn’t convey the same benefits that iodine does, that’s not a good thing for your health.

But bromine isn’t alone. Other members of this halide compound gang include fluoride and chloride, both of which have the same obstructing effect on iodine.

Combine this dangerous trio together and you have an environment conspiring against adequate iodine absorption. Between the bromine in your bread, the fluoride in your toothpaste, and the one-two punch of both fluoride and chlorine in your drinking water, and it’s no wonder we have a rampant iodine deficiency in this country.

Boost Iodine, Boost Health…

While iodine has since been added to salt, it goes without saying that excess salt is a bad idea. Plus, research has shown that only about 10 percent of the iodine in salt is actually utilized by your body.10

Therefore, to ensure you are getting the iodine you need, you can start by eating more iodine-rich foods. These include:

  • Baked potato, with skin
  • Cooked navy beans
  • Seaweed
  • Clams
  • Oysters
  • Lobster
  • Sardines
  • Saltwater fish

Next, reduce your exposure to bromide, fluoride, and chlorine. Start by reading labels and choosing fluoride-free toothpaste. You can also install a water filter for your kitchen and shower alike to reduce the amount of chlorine and fluoride you drink, as well as absorb through your skin.

You can also work with your doctor to test your thyroid levels to see if you are at risk for goiter, Hashimoto’s disease, or hypothyroid. Be sure to have them test for T3, T4, and thyroid antibodies, as well as thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH.

Similarly, ask to have your current levels of iodine, fluoride, chloride, and bromine checked. That will help you determine your next course of action, namely supplementation.

Should you decide to supplement with iodine, you need to be aware of the two types: iodine itself and iodide. Iodide is a reduced form of iodine, meaning it basically has one less electron than iodine, thus making iodide more water-soluble. Additionally, your thyroid uses primarily iodide versus iodine for normal functioning.

Because both forms play critical roles in overall health, the common recommendation is to choose a supplement that offers both iodine and iodide. While ideal dosages are best determined on a person-by-person basis, a good rule of thumb is between 12 and 50 mg per day of an iodine/iodide blend.

You’ll also want to be sure to take supplemental selenium with your iodine, as proper levels of this mineral are needed to metabolize iodine and regulate thyroid function. Aim for 100 to 200 mcg per day.

Finally, remember to keep an open mind to new ideas, but ALWAYS do your own homework…and combine that with common sense to figure out what’s best for YOU.


1Brownstein, D. Iodine. Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It 4th Edition. Medical Alternatives Press, 2009;25.

2Hollowell, JE et al. Iodine nutrition in the United States. Trends and public health implications: Iodine excretion data form National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys I and III (1971-74 and 1988-94). J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1998 Oct;83(10):3401-8.

3Nyenwe, EA and Dagogo-Jack, S. Iodine deficiency disorders in the iodine-replete environment. Am J Med Sci. 2009 Jan;337(1):37-40.

4Vitale, M et al. Iodide excess induces apoptosis in thyroid cells through a p53-independent mechanism involving oxidative stress. Endocrine. 2000 Feb;141(2):598-605.

5Stoddard, FR 2nd et al. Iodine alters gene expression in the MCF7 breast cancer cell line: evidence for an anti-estrogen effect of iodine. Int J Med Sci. 2008 Jul 8;5(4):189-96.

6Garcia-Solis, P et al. Inhibition of N-methyl-N-nitrosourea-induced mammary carcinogenesis by molecular iodine (I-) treatment: evidence that I2 prevents cancer promotion. MolCell Endo. 2005 May 31;236(102):49-57

7Krouse, TB et al. Age-related changes resembling fibrocystic disease in iodine-blocked rat breasts. Arch Pathol Lab Med. 1979 Nov;103(12):631-4

8Eskin, BA Iodine and mammary cancer. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1977;91:293-304.

9Foster, H. The iodine-selenium connection: Its possible roles in intelligence, cretinism, sudden infant death syndrome, breast cancer and multiple sclerosis. Med Hypoth. 1993;40:61-5.

10Abraham, G. The concept of orthoiodosuppplementaiton and its clinical implications. The Original Internist. June 2004.

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  • Jane C.

    I have had low thyroid symptoms most all of my adult life, ( low body temp., hair not grow, weight problem, infertility, etc. )  Being a nutritionist, I refused the conventional medicines and relied on Kelp supplements. It wasn’t until a few years ago that  a cold seemed to produce a cytokine storm and  I lost my sense of taste for THREE MONTHS.. I knew to take zinc supplements and after 3 months my sense of taste was fully restored. At the same time, researching to find solutions led me to discover IOSOL iodine.  This is now the ONLY supplement I would recommend ( water soluble, won’t accumulate and clog thyroid.) It’s potentcy is 1220 % of the RDA, in just one drop. The first day, my temperature hit a normal 98.6 which I had not seen in decades !   I lost 24 pounds  as time passed on thereafter. And I CRIED when I realized the great difference in the clarity of my thinking. I do a lot of mental work ( reading, studying , memorizing, teaching ) and all those years in the past, it was such a strain. Now, the fuzzy thinking is gone !  This is a short synopsis. Thanks for letting me share..

    • Guest

      Thank you so much.

  • Drsbj11

    My thyroid was completly wiped out by radiation for Larynx cancer. I take 75 MCG of Levothroid daily. I know I need iodine throughout the body, but I wonder if I need an Iodine supplement to make the Levithroid to work  properly?

    • JC

      Levothroid is basically a synthetic T4 hormone which contains iodine.  Having said that the rest of your body needs iodine/iodide too.  By taking Levo your thyroid is not being asked to produce much or any hormone. It can basically take a nap.  This may be giving it time to heal.

      I assume your cancer is now completly gone????

      I have read of people in your situation who have taken supplemental iodine and found they could reduce their prescription amount slowly over time.  Their thyroid did start to wake up some amount.

      Supplementing with small amounts of iodine may be a good idea.  Go slow and keep a journal of symptoms.  If you start to get insomnia, or hypo symptoms you may want to back off  some of your Levo.  That would show that your thyroid has some life in it.

      Keep in mind that most of your T3, which is your acitve thyroid hormone, is made in your liver and digestive track.  By keeping these healthy you will help their production. 

      Make sure you are also taking some selenium, magnesium, zinc, vit D3 and vit. C.  These are considered companion nutrients to support your thyroid hormones.

  • 90% of thyroid problems today are autoimmune caused (Hashimoto’s disease) and iodine is the absolute worst thing you can give a person with autoimmune thyroid as it may trigger an autoimmune storm which will destroy the thyroid much faster.  Promoting iodine supplementation without checking for the presence of thyroid antibodies first is asking for disaster.

    • JC

      Dr. Dave,

      You are right and wrong.  Let me explain.  Your are absolutely right on that taking large amounts of iodine can rev up the auto immune attack.  But it does not always do this.
      For some reason it does not do this for everyone.
      There are a number of people who follow the protocol set forth by Dr. Brownstien and Abraham and they do better.  Some with Hashi have seen there antibodies go way down.
      Having said that, I don’t believe anyone fully understands what is really going on.  It is a gamble that may or may not pay off.  If you proceed with caution and stop quickly if you have a bad experience I don’t see it as a huge risk.  They people who blindly keep taking the iodine are the ones who have big issues.
      One approach a prominent ND is advocating is to take Armour or Naturethroid or a synthetic T4/T3 combination, until the autoimmune symptoms quiet down and the patient is feeling good. They next slowly introduce Iodine/iodide.  Over time they back off of the Armour etc.

      I have not personally heard from anyone who has had success with it but it sounds intriging and in theory is sounds like it would have more success than diving right into large does of Iodine/iodide

      Endo’s are ultra conservative and they are not interested in trying to solve the root problem of hypothyroidism or Hashimotos.  They just treat symptoms and often they are not very good at that.

      • guest

        I agree with JC when he says that iodine may not be the best supplement for everyone. WIth that said…I personally have benefited from iodine supplementation. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism and adrenal fatigue a couple of years ago.  I worked with a Naturopathic MD who started me on adrenal formulas (Gaia) and thyrotropin (standard process) and Europharma Tri-Iodine (12.5mg, 2xs per day) I took these for a few months and noticed some improvements in my symptoms, but my energy was not picking up. 
        He then prescribed me  NatureThroid and I continued to keep me on the Tri-Iodine (12.5 per day).  I instantly felt like a new person. That was about 2 years ago and my energy is still good so I thought I would stop taking the Tri-Iodine. I was off it for about 2 weeks and then I started dragging again. The only change I had made was stopping the Tri-Iodine. So I did an iodine test patch and my skin soaked it up in under 2 hours. So I started back on the iodine and in about a day or so I felt back to normal. I do need to get my levels tested as I’m not sure if I should stay on the NatureThroid,  but there is part of me that thinks if it’s not broken…..=)

  • Topgum

    From the viewpoint of a dentist it is irresponsible to advocate against the use of a fluoride toothpaste. Dr4gums

    • guest

       Fluoride is a poison. 

  • Momof5boyz

    Thank you for the article. It was very helpful. I have 3 cysts on my thyroid yet my blood count is normal. I have several symptoms of hypo.( My mother has severe untreated thyroid  goiter). Flouride may help teeth but I believe it is toxic to our other organs. My 7 year old son has never had flouride in toothpaste or water and he is cavity free. Our family went flouride free when I discovered my cysts. I was taking (natural?) prescription thyroid meds with great results but now we lost our insurance so I was looking for something natural I could purchase but was confused about all the choices at the health store.

    • guest

       What do you use to eliminate fluoride in your water?

  • Milliejane

    I have been diagnosed with HYPERthyroidism and have, for the past 9 months since diagnosis, see-sawed between being hypo and hyper.  Where would a person with hyperthyroidism stand with regards to iodine supplements?

  • guest

    Why is it so difficult to buy external iodine?  We used to put a small circle on the inside of our arm and calculate how long it took to absorb. It was a good indicator of deficiency.

  • Gwpalmer

    For many years in the winter, The tips of my  wifes fingers would crack and bleed. The doc,s did not what to do to help her, and the pharmacist, could give her no help. So I thought I would play doctor, i went to the pharmacy and bought some Iodine, with in 2 weeks her fingers were healed.

  • Revjedinark

    I apply tincture of iodine in a square 2 inch by 2 inch on my upper arm.  When it’s no longer visible I repeat the application on the other arm.  I have also switched from table salt to sea salt.  It has a better taste and a nice light pink color because of the many beneficial trace minerals, including iodine, it contains.


    I have had a host of issues related to my thyroid and it seems that with my research I am doing better. I have Hashimoto’s which I know is common but my thyroid tests according to many endocrinologists were in the normal range, however I had all the symptoms especially fatigue. I am now on Armour thyroid and synthroid combo which is ok but I do supplement  with selenium and now iodine/iodide. I have had cysts in my breast along with pre-cancerous growth. This is when I added supplements as mainstream physicians do not advise. information on the computer is a wonderful thing and I appreciate all advise so I can way which is best for me. Thank you!!

  • JAvDijk

    To Health Sherpa,
    In your video clip, you mix two similar but NOT the same forms of an mineral.
    Chlorine and Chloride are NOT the same, just as Iodine and Iodide are NOT the same.
    Chlorine is a bleach, poison. Chloride is used for disinfection of water and in some medical procedures, like disinfection of cavity of a root canal.

  • Nkr

    Interesting article. Why is iodine not checked with thyroid issues today by doctors? What If any, thyroid levels have to do with Lyme disease ?

  • Silvia Squirre

    Iodine is not recommended for Hashimoto’s disease – it’s like putting gasoline on a fire. I’ve got Hashi’s and have tried iodine and found it is counterproductive.

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