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Iodine: The Revival of a Mineral

We know that iodine is in our table salt and that we need it for our thyroid glands. That's often as far as we get. But iodine has so many functions in our bodies and can so clearly improve our overall health that it's worth taking a second look at this mineral.

U.S. RDA: Between 1900 and the 1960s, iodine was used by most physicians to treat a variety of ailments. Around the early 1950s, the recommended dietary allowances (RDA) for iodine was decreased to 0.150 mg because certain research erroneously demonstrated that iodine could be toxic to the thyroid if more than 2 mg was consumed daily. After this, U.S. consumption dropped off. In addition, the amount of iodine in our foods decreased due to the depletion of organic matter in our soils and the reliance on synthetic fertilizers. In the 1980s, iodine was removed from bread and replaced with bromine because of the fear of iodine toxicity.

Today, the average daily U.S. consumption of iodine is about 0.138 mg per person and 14.6 ± 1.7% had concentrations lower than .050 mg. These values have essentially remained unchanged in the last three NHANES surveys, indicating that the dietary iodine intake of the general U.S. population has remained stable since 2000, according to the most recent national Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES III 2005-2008). In Japan, which has one of the highest longevity rates and lowest rates of breast cancer, citizens consume an average of 12 mg per day. This represents a 50-fold difference between the two diets. Clearly, we are not even close to toxic levels and the RDA for iodine is just enough to prevent thyroid disease.

Health benefits: A leading expert on iodine is Guy Abraham, M.D., a former professor of obstetrics, gynecology and endocrinology at UCLA School of Medicine. Traditionally, it was thought that iodine played a role only in thyroid function, but Abraham's study called The Iodine Project (see concluded that iodine has many other health benefits.

Iodine plays a key role in the cardiovascular, immune and reproductive systems. Studies have indicated that it helps prevent obesity, diabetes, menopausal symptoms and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. It also improves brain function. Dr. Abraham's research revealed that many tissues, organs and glands use iodine. The only organ which contains more iodine than the ovaries is the thyroid gland. Iodine has been demonstrated to decrease the rate of fibrocystic breast disease. It also creates a soothing effect on the heart by assisting the electrical conduction of its beats. Studies show that when iodine is consumed, breast tissue competes equally with the thyroid gland to absorb it.

Preliminary research by Dr. Abraham also indicates that iodine may protect against cancer of the breast, ovaries, prostate, uterus and thyroid gland. There is no definitive theory about how iodine benefits our health (outside of its effect on the thyroid), but it is thought that it works as an antioxidant, reducing damage to DNA, and that it affects the pituitary, hypothalamus, thyroid and adrenal glands, all of which regulate our hormones. Those who become severely deficient in iodine can develop goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland. For over a hundred years, hypothyroidism, or under-active thyroid, was treated effectively by simply using iodine (prior to the use of synthetic hormones).

Toxicity controversy: Dr. Abraham proposes that most of the controversy over iodine toxicity was due to the way early research was conducted. In 1948, Drs. Wolff and Chaikoff led a landmark study that determined that iodine can be harmful to the thyroid. While this is partially true, they were using only one part of the iodine element and not the whole mineral. If used correctly, iodine is very safe. Dr. Abraham recommends 12.5 mg per day to help maintain a healthy thyroid; if someone is deficient, he recommends a dose of 50 mg per day for 2 - 3 months. The iodine solutions that he uses are called Lugol's solution in liquid form or Iodoral in tablet form.

Sources of iodine: Some of the best sources are seaweeds (kelp contains 144 mg of iodine). Other sources are fish and shellfish, but the levels are not as high. Iodized salt contains iodine, but the main ingredient is sodium chloride, which competes with iodine for absorption, so only about 10 percent of the iodine is absorbed. One-fourth of a teaspoon of iodized table salt contains about 0.125 mg of iodine, less than the U.S. RDA. Since we only absorb about 10 percent of this, table salt is not a major source of iodine. While it is enough to prevent goiter, as witnessed primarily in Africa, it is not enough to allow the thyroid and other glands to work optimally.

Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can't Live Without It by Dr. David Brownstein, M.D. For information on iodine and Iodoral, see

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