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Iodine & Your Body

Updated on December 5, 2012

The Need to Maintain Your Iodine Balance

Iodine is an essential mineral for maintaining a healthy thyroid function and overall metabolism. When the iodine level in the body is below the normal range, a medical condition called hypothyroidism results.

Hypothyroidism occurs when there is a deficiency of thyroxine and/or triiodothyronine (thyroid hormones).

New findings are showing that hypothyroidism is grossly underreported. An estimated 40% of the world’s population is believed to be close to developing hypothyroidism due to increasing incidence of iodine deficiency.

This is chiefly because food sources of iodine are increasingly left out of our diet.

Causes of Low Iodine Levels

More than 10% of Americans are believed to suffer from moderate to severe iodine deficiency. There are more women than men in this category and 36% of women between the ages of 25-45 have low levels of iodine.

The main reason for increasing cases of iodine deficiency in the population is the gradual elimination of dietary sources of iodine from our diets. Iodine-rich foods such as sea vegetables, fish, eggs and iodized salts are now being consumed in smaller amounts.

Furthermore, there is an increase in bromine consumption.

Bromine is known to displace iodine in the body. Food sources of bromine include baked goods and soft drinks. We can also get exposed to high levels of bromine from plastics, pesticides and medications.

There is also a declining use of iodide (the active form of iodine) in the food industry as well as in our produce farming. In fact, most agricultural soils are now depleted of iodine.

In its place, harmful chemicals such as perchlorate now contaminate our food supply.

Besides bromine, fluorine is also displacing iodine in the body. The major source of fluorine is really not our toothpastes but the public supply of fluoridated water. Fluorine has its own list of harmful effects on the body even though its displacement of iodine in the body is bad enough.

Iodine deficiency is associated with more than hypothyroidism. It also increases the risk of cancers of the ovary, breast, thyroid gland and prostate.

Experts believe that iodine deficiency contributes highly to the high rates of these cancers in this country. By comparison, cases of such cancers are at the lowest in Japan where the average citizen consumes about 90 times more iodine than most Americans.

Getting Iodine Naturally

Raw milk and eggs are great sources of iodine but toxin-free sea vegetables, which are harvested from uncontaminated waters, are the best sources of iodine.

A good example of sea vegetables is kelp. Kelps are large seaweeds which are classified as brown algae. They are underwater plants that grow in shallow oceans, and they are rich in iodine and alkali.

Brown kelp contains a high concentration of iodine (it contains 1,000 more iodine than the sea and it releases iodine as iodide) and it continues to be used in traditional medicines of different cultures for treating goiter.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists from the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Switzerland and Netherlands identified a new property of iodine by studying brown kelp for thyroid and other uses.

Iodine was shown to be the first inorganic antioxidant in a living system. It was proven to be responsible for mopping up harmful free radicals from human blood cells.

Apart from serving as an excellent source of iodine, raw kelp is a powerhouse of essential minerals and vitamins. It contains six members of Vitamin B complex as well as Vitamin C. It is also a rich store of calcium, iron, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, magnesium, zinc and dietary fiber.

A Word About Iodine Supplements

Since the body utilizes iodine in the iodide form, supplements supplying elemental iodine are far less effective for treating hypothyroidism than those containing iodide salts.

Therefore, common iodine supplements such as Ioderol or Lugol’s are not recommended. When such supplements supply iodine to the body, the iodine needs to be broken down to iodide ions. This places an oxidative stress on the body and can lead to the production of harmful free radicals.

Supplements that supply iodide, however, are easier on the body. The iodide can be taken up directly by the thyroid gland to produce thyroglobulin.

Where sufficient iodine cannot be obtained from dietary sources, an affordable prescription of super-saturated potassium iodide should be obtained. This iodine supplement supplies iodide and can help meet the body’s iodine needs very quickly.

Subclinical Hypothyroidism

While iodine deficiency is a known cause of hypothyroidism, too much iodine can also cause hypothyroidism. The hypothyroidism caused by this paradoxical link is called subclinical hypothyroidism.

Subclinical hypothyroidism is difficult to diagnose because it often produce no clear-cut side effects. However, it is just as dangerous as regular hypothyroidism. It can also cause fatigue and weight gain. Subclinical hypothyroidism is believed to increase the risk of heart diseases.

A paper published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition detailed the effect of daily doses of 400+ micrograms of iodine on study participants. This daily dose exceeds the recommended dose of iodine for treating hypothyroidism. However, instead of developing hyperthyroidism, the study participants were diagnosed with subclinical hypothyroidism.


Hypothyroidism is an emerging public health problem that needs urgent attention. Whether it is caused by low iodine levels or excessive iodine intake, hypothyroidism can increase the risk of other diseases.

Since subclinical hypothyroidism is difficult to diagnose from the regular thyroid tests, there is a need for more comprehensive tests including tests of thyroid functions and a deeper evaluation of the state of the thyroid gland for each patient.

A safer way to ingest iodine to correct hypothyroidism is to add more iodine-rich foods such as kelps, milk and eggs to your diet.

While iodine supplements can cause subclinical hypothyroidism through iodine overload (especially when it is not supplied in the iodide form), dietary sources of iodine are better regulated and supply iodides which the body can easily take up and use to improve the output of the thyroid gland.

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    • profile image

      Susan 4 years ago

      My understanding of Iodoral is that it provides BOTH elemental iodine and potassium iodide--the makers of Iodoral are pioneers in iodine theory and they understand the need for supplementing both. Same is true for Lugol's solution, so I'm not sure where you are getting your information.

    • Parks McCants profile image

      Parks McCants 5 years ago from Eugene Oregon U.S.A.

      Thank you. Well written, informative commentary.

    • Tonipet profile image

      Tonette Fornillos 5 years ago from The City of Generals

      I'm on a hyperthyroidism diet and I've never had any of those common supplements as stress might only aggravate the condition.

      Aside from kelp, I also need to limit intake of iodized salt, and my favorite dairy product, milk and cheese! I was even advised to refrain from pasta which is my favorite. One thing I like is the add on of olive oil and grapeseed to my diet.

      Very informative article.