Iodine: The Critical but Forgotten Mineral

You’ve probably seen the small disclaimer on every salt package, “This salt supplies iodide, a necessary nutrient,” or “This salt does not contain iodide, a necessary nutrient.”

But have you ever wondered why?

Iodine is a trace element essential for a number of critical functions in the body, including fetal brain development, immune support, and thyroid and breast health. Yet surprisingly more than two billion people around the world are deficient. Public health experts report that adding small amounts of iodine back to salt may be one of the simplest and most cost-effective steps to tackle Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD) in over 118 countries.

In fact, iodine deficiency remains the single greatest cause of preventable brain damage and intellectual disabilities worldwide.

“As we collect data on iodine there are evidence-based large studies verifying the effect of low iodine intake on health so the World Health Organization recommends supplementation,” explains Dr. Sangeeta Pati, M.D., Medical Director of Sajune Institute for Restorative and Regenerative Medicine.

But if iodine is so important why are so many people deficient? Two reasons.

Global Iodine Deficiency

The first issue has to do with the soil. Iodine doesn’t occur naturally in most foods. It’s ingested primarily through food grown in iodine-rich soil. However frequent flooding across mountain ranges around the world has washed away iodine, while widespread deforestation and soil erosion also adds to the problem.

The second issue is bromide dominance.

At one-time bakers added iodine to bread to condition the dough. Shortly after people noticed several health conditions improved including goiter, depressed immune functioning, intellectual disabilities, and headaches.

Before the 1920s, iodine deficiency was rampant in the Great Lakes, Appalachians, and Northwestern U.S., a geographic area once known as the “goiter belt.” In 1917 Dr. David Marine started an iodine program for children and saw a significant drop in goiter. Then in 1922 Dr. David Cowie proposed the U.S. adopt a salt iodization program to eliminate goiter.

But around the 1960s bread makers started to replace iodine with bromide (potassium bromate) because it made the dough more elastic and better able withstand bread hooks and other commercial baking tools.

Here’s the problem: Bromide competes with iodine in the body, so does fluoride in toothpaste, and the chloride and fluoride added to drinking water. All three elements conspire against iodine in the body.

In addition, there’s concern with the safety of bromide. In 1982 Japanese researchers published a series of rat and mice studies linking potassium bromate to cancer in the thyroids, kidneys, and other body parts.

As a result, while many countries around the world banned potassium bromate, the U.S. FDA claims the amount still added to bread is within “safe limits.” (The Center for Science and Public Interest petitioned the FDA to remove bromate from all baked items.)

Conditions Associated with Iodine Deficiency

Fetal and pregnancy problems

In a 2007 report published in the University Medical Journal researchers wrote, “If pregnant women’s diets do not contain adequate iodine, the fetus cannot produce enough thyroxin and fetal growth is retarded….The most important biological role played by thyroxin is in the early fetal stage of life. It ensures the growth, differentiation and maturation of different organs of the body, and particularly the brain.”

Severe iodine deficiency in pregnant women has been linked to miscarriages, stillbirth, pre-term delivery, and congenital abnormalities in their babies. “Even mild iodine deficiency during pregnancy which may be present in some women in the United States, may be associated with low intelligence in children,” writes the American Thyroid Association.

Pregnant and nursing mothers may lose more iodine than they need which can lead to a serious deficiency even after pregnancy and breastfeeding due to changing hormone levels.


Iodine is critical to produce thyroid hormones. A healthy adult body contains about 15-20 mg of iodine 70-80% of which is stored in the thyroid gland. “In this time in history each of us has some thyroid dysfunction, even if our labs are in the “normal” range,” explains Dr. Sangeeta Pati. “That means each one of us will experience some effect on energy, mental clarity, metabolism, and mood.”


As iodine levels drop, low thyroid develops and body processes begin to slow down. You might feel cold, tire more easily, have dry skin, become forgetful or depressed, or experience constipation. Some thyroid hormones are involved with heart rate, blood pressure, body weight, and temperature. These hormones along with your Basic Metabolic Rate are how the body synthesizes proteins and converts food into energy. A sluggish thyroid often leads to low energy and stubborn weight loss.


Without adequate iodine over time the thyroid enlarges and causes the tell-tale sign of goiter, a visible lump in the throat.

Immune health

Poor immune response is associated with impaired thyroid function. Iodine is an excellent free-radical scavenger, stimulating and increasing the activity of antioxidants throughout the body. Research has shown that iodine has microbial processes that can quickly kill bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other micro-organisms.

Breast health

One of the most interesting findings about iodine is the link between thyroid disease and breast health.

Breast cancer

Several studies suggest an association between thyroid disorders and breast cancer. Both conditions are prevalent in women and both peak during post- menopause.

A 2003 study published in Breast Cancer Research found iodine or iodine-rich seaweed inhibited breast tumor development. Findings were supported by the relatively low rate of breast cancer in Japanese women who consume a diet containing iodine-rich seaweed.

“Iodine also directly kills cancer cells and serves as the key player in our body’s surveillance system for removing abnormal pre-cancer cells,” writes Dr. Jeffrey Dach, M.D.

Fibrocystic disease

“Part of my day as a radiologist was spent reading mammograms and breast ultrasound studies,” writes Dr. Dach. “Fibrocystic breast disease was quite common, and these women would return for needle aspiration procedure of the many breast cysts, and needle biopsy of the benign solid nodules.  Many of these ladies returned multiple times for the procedures because the medical system had no useful treatment to offer them.  We now know there is a very useful medical treatment.  Iodine supplementation not only resolves breast cysts and fibrocystic breast disease, it also resolves ovarian cysts and thyroid cysts. Iodine supplementation has always been available, but again this is ignored by mainstream medicine, and hospital-based physicians are unaware of it.”

Sources of iodine

Our body can’t make iodine so we need to get it from our diet. Iodine levels in food depend on how much is in the soil or water in the area where the food is sourced. Seaweed and sea vegetables such as Kelp, Kombu, Wakame, Arame, and Hiziki are good sources of iodine. We only absorb about 10% of the iodine in table salt and it’s difficult to know how much iodine is in packaged foods because most manufacturers don’t list the amount.

Source: National Institutes of Health:

Food Approximate Micrograms (mcg) per serving Percent DV*
Seaweed, whole or sheet, 1 g 16 to 2,984 11% to 1,989%
Cod, baked, 3 ounces 99 66%
Yogurt, plain, low-fat, 1 cup 75 50%
Iodized salt, 1.5 g (approx. 1/4 teaspoon) 71 47%
Milk, reduced fat, 1 cup 56 37%
Fish sticks, 3 ounces 54 36%
Bread, white, enriched, 2 slices 45 30%
Shrimp, 3 ounces 35 23%
Ice cream, chocolate, 1/2 cup 30 20%
Macaroni, enriched, boiled, 1 cup 27 18%
Egg, 1 large 24 16%
Tuna, canned in oil, drained, 3 ounces 17 11%
Corn, cream style, canned, 1/2 cup 14 9%
Prunes, dried, 5 prunes 13 9%
Cheese, cheddar, 1 ounce 12 8%
Raisin bran cereal, 1 cup 11 7%
Lima beans, mature, boiled, 1/2 cup 8 5%
Apple juice, 1 cup 7 5%
Green peas, frozen, boiled, 1/2 cup 3 2%

The importance of combining iodide with iodine

The body converts iodine in food into a more bio-available form called iodide. This is why food sources are better than supplements, explains Dr. Pati. “Nature consistently packages co-factors with the nutrients.” But many people don’t get adequate amounts of food-based iodine in their diet.

“While both thyroid and breast tissues need iodine, your thyroid gland prefers it in a form called iodide,” explains Nan Kathryn Fuchs, Ph.D., in her article, “Iodine: The Hidden Deficiency that could be Causing Your Health Problems.” “Textbooks on endocrinology say that iodine by itself is sufficient since it is converted into iodide in the intestines. But a study using both iodine and iodide indicates our thyroid gland functions better when iodide is included.”

Deficiency and dosing

The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements determined the following people are most at risk for iodine deficiency:

●       People living in regions with iodine-deficient soils (Mountainous areas, such as the Himalayas, Alps, and Andes regions, and river valleys prone to flooding, especially in South and Southeast Asia)

●       People with marginal iodine status who eat foods containing goitrogens (soy, cassava, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables)

●       People who do not use iodized salt

●       Pregnant women

The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for adult men and women is 150 mcg per day. The RDA for pregnant women is 220 mcg iodine per day and 290 mcg iodine per day for breastfeeding women.

However, integrative health practitioners often dose higher than the RDA. “Each one of us needs 1 to 3 mg of iodine daily either from food or supplements. With a 24-hour urine challenge I find some patients need more,” explains Dr. Pati.

Dr. David Brownstein, M.D., an iodine expert who has treated thousands of patients writes, “As I started to use larger amounts of iodine (12.5-50 mg/day) to achieve whole body sufficiency, I began to see positive results in my patients. Goiters and nodules of the thyroid shrank, cysts on the ovaries became smaller and began to disappear, patients reported increased energy, and metabolism was increased as evidenced by my patients having new success in losing weight.”

According to Dr. Jeffrey Dach, M.D., iodine/iodide is the only trace element that can be ingested safely in amounts up to 100,000 times the RDA. Iodine/iodide tinctures (liquid applied to the skin or ingested) and tablets are available.

Unfortunately, few doctors discuss iodine with their patients so be sure to ask about this inexpensive, easy-to-use essential element with an impressive list of disease-prevention and health benefits.

A strong word of caution.

Don’t just grab a bottle of iodine from your medicine cabinet and apply or ingest it on your own. Talk to a health professional experienced with the benefits of iodine and individual dosing protocols. Excessive levels can cause heart racing and hypothyroidism. As always, discuss your options with your healthcare professional before embarking on a new health regime.

Share:Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInPin on PinterestShare on Google+Share on StumbleUpon

This article is a part of the Jan 17 - Dec 18 issue of Whole Life Times.