It appears so. Iodine is an essential trace element that is vital for metabolism and estrogen balance. Iodine also helps the body get rid of environmental toxins. In fact, exposure to these toxins increases our need for iodine, and many experts believe that the official recommendations for iodine are too low.
Science has believed for a long time that iodine’s only function was to support the two thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, which control metabolic processes in the entire body. However, recent studies reveal that iodine also plays a role in the production of sex hormones, the metabolism of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, detoxification, and programmed cell death – also known as apoptosis. In other words, an iodine deficiency may result in a host of different diseases.
An iodine deficiency may lead to:
Treating metabolic disorders
Iodine supplements are often the easiest way to control metabolism. However, many people lack selenium, a nutrient that controls the thyroid hormones. Selenium-containing enzymes (selenoproteins) remove one iodine atom from the passive T4 hormone, thereby converting it into active T3. If the thyroid gland is damaged hormone supplements may be necessary. In most cases, however, this type of treatment is unnecessary. According to Wojciech Rychlik, a biochemist and currently the president of Molecular Biology Insights in Colorado, USA, it is normally safer to use iodine supplements. In countries with low selenium content in the soil, it may be a good idea to include supplements of selenium yeast, which enable the body to control the balance between T3 and T4. In the case of autoimmune thyroid disorders such as Hashimoto’s and Graves, it is advisable to ask a physician about the use of iodine supplements. There is evidence to suggest that it may be beneficial to combine iodine with selenium supplementation. A group of Danish researchers is currently in the process of conducting a large study in four hospitals, where patients are given hormone therapy in combination with selenium.
Iodine and breast cancer
Breast cancer is a very common cancer form, and the diet is believed to play a determining role. Iodine’s ability to protect against breast cancer has been demonstrated in animal studies. Moreover, epidemiological studies show that in populations with higher iodine intake from the diet, the risk of breast cancer is lower.
Iodine protects against breast cancer by regulating the estrogen balance and the MCF7 gene in breast cancer cells. This was shown in a study that is published in International Journal of the Medical Sciences. The researchers behind this study point to iodine as being a relevant pharmacological treatment for hormone-related breast cancer.
An iodine deficiency creates hormone disturbances
The ovaries, just like the thyroid gland, contain large quantities of iodine. This means that an iodine deficiency may affect the ovarian estrogen production and cause changes in the estrogen receptors of mammary cells. American scientists have discovered that women who live in states with too little iodine produce more estrogen. At the same time, cells in their breast tissue have increased sensitivity towards estrogen. Both of these factors are known to increase the risk of breast cancer.
Asian diets with iodine and selenium lower the risk of breast cancer
According to the WHO, Japanese women who consume a traditional diet are 500 percent less likely to develop breast cancer, compared with European and American women. The Japanese population gets quite a lot of iodine from fish and seaweed. These two foods are also good sources of selenium, which have several anti-cancer mechanisms.
Iodine is important for the synthesis of fatty acids and for programmed death of cancer cells
The essential fatty acids, omega-3 and omega-6, are constituent elements of all cell membranes. They also support numerous biochemical processes that affect the cardiovascular system and help control inflammation. In addition, the thyroid gland, the breasts, the prostate gland, the colon, and the nervous system all contain tissues that convert the omega-6 fatty acid, arachidonic acid (AA), into delta-iodolactone. This iodine compound causes worn-out cells and cancer cells to self-destruct (apoptosis), which is a vital function. Cancer cells are only able to do this with sufficiently high iodine levels in the body.
Fish, shellfish, algae, fish sauce, eggs, iodine-enriched salt and sea salt contain iodine. Seaweed is a very good iodine source.
The iodine intake is borderline low
In year 2000, mandatory iodine-enrichment of table salt was introduced in Denmark because the iodine intake was lower than international recommendations. Although the iodine intake has increased a little in the meantime, it is still borderline low – especially for those who are pregnant.
It appears now that a lack of dietary iodine may contribute the growing rate of thyroid disorders and breast cancer. Other factors are also known to impair the body’s iodine status.
Bromine and fluoride displace iodine
Iodine, bromine, and fluoride belong to the so-called halogens, which are minerals with several common traits that, for the very same reason, are able to displace each other. Bromine and fluoride are particularly toxic, and the more we expose ourselves to these compounds, the more iodine we need.
Bromine and fluoride are found in brominated flame retardants in textiles, plastic, computers, and TVs.
Fluoride is used in toothpaste and mouth rinses. Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) are found in e.g. non-stick (Teflon) pans, pizza boxes, cookie sheets, rain clothes, and impregnation.
It pays off to avoid these compounds in the best possible way. For instance, make sure to spit out fluorinated toothpaste after brushing your teeth, use kitchen utensils without Teflon, and buy eco-friendly cookie sheets.
Iodine helps the body get rid of toxins
Iodine makes it easier for the body to get rid of environmental toxins – especially halogens such as bromine, fluoride, and chloride, but also mercury, lead, cadmium, and aluminum. Poisoning caused by these substances increase the need for iodine.
Beware of foods with so-called goitrogens
Goitrogens are natural food compounds that can disrupt the thyroid gland’s ability to utilize iodine if consumed in excess amounts. The highest concentration of goitrogens are found in soy, tofu, peanuts, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, white cabbage and other cabbage types. Cooking, frying, steaming, and fermentation may partially neutralize goitrogens. Most people benefit from eating broccoli and cabbage, as these foods are very nutritious. It is generally a good idea to choose fermented soy products such as tamari (a good type of soy sauce), miso, tempeh, and natto. Tofu is not fermented.
Lack of iodine and poor utilization of the nutrient may be caused by:
How much iodine do we need?
The official recommendations call for 150 micrograms daily (adults). However, leading experts believe this is too little and suggest that we raise the recommended intake levels to around 2-5 mg daily. This amount fits in nicely with the safe upper intake level established by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Iodine intake levels of up to 15-50 mg daily may be required in the case of thyroid dysfunctions and cancer, but that requires medical attention.
Iodine compounds and supplements
Iodine occurs in the form of different organic and inorganic compounds, including iodine for cleaning wounds and radioactive iodine.
Healthy individuals can easily increase their iodine intake by eating more fish, shellfish, and seaweed that produce a lot of iodine in the form of iodides. Supplements like Kelp and Spirulina are also good iodine sources.
Supplements of potassium iodide are available in tablet form.
Lugol’s iodine that is named after the French physician, J. Ga Lugol, is a solution with 5% iodine and 10% potassium iodide in a mixture of 85% distilled water. The majority of iodine studies are conducted with Lugol’s iodine that appears to be safer in large doses.
Pills with Lugol’s iodine are available under several commercial brand names. Always consult your physician when taking high-dosed iodine supplements. It may even be a good idea to see a specialist in orthomolecular medicine.
Iodine content in micrograms per 100 grams
Overdosing – side effects
Humans are able to tolerate large quantities of iodine, but excess levels ingested over a prolonged period of time may inhibit the body’s production of thyroid hormone and result in either hypo- or hyperthyroidism. Pregnant and lactating women should make sure to get enough iodine, but overdosing may harm the baby’s thyroid gland. Radioactive iodine may cause serious damage and cancer. It is possible to minimize this damage by taking iodine tablets (potassium iodide).
Rychlik W. The need for iodine supplementation. OMS 12.06.2017
Frederick R. Stoddard et al. Iodine Alters Gene expression in the MCF7 Breast Cancer Cell Line: Evidence for an Anti-Estrogen Effect of Iodine. International Journal of Medical Sciences. 2008
Anne Krejbjerg. Den Danske Jod – genundersøgelse af befolkningen efter jodberigelsen. Thyreoidea Landsforeningen 2014
Pernille Lund. Har du problemer med dit stofskifte? Ny Videnskab 2015
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