Introduction – a new wave of popularity for iodine supplementation!
Iodine is currently being represented in alternative health sphere as being the new ‘wonder mineral’ with improved thyroid function and faster fat loss being touted as major iodine benefits.
If you search ‘the iodine project’ on Google, you’ll see its praises being shouted even more vociferously than vitamin D enthusiasts rave about the benefits of vitamin D!
Despite this new wave of popularity, iodine has held a mixed reputation over the past few decades. Most doctors and health/fitness professionals have during this time held the view that iodine deficiency is rare and that both having too little and having too much iodine will cause fairly severe problems.
To give an example, it is commonly believed that, whilst iodine is one of the basic building blocks of thyroid hormone, both too much and too little iodine causes hypothyroidism.
For this reason, most commentators used to recommend against iodine supplementation for hypothyroid patients unless they never ate iodine rich foods and/or had been clinically diagnosed as being iodine deficient (a situation where iodine benefits your thyroid).
Nowadays, doctors such as Dr. Guy Abraham and Dr. David Brownstein are disputing this claiming that, when taken along with other necessary nutrients such as selenium, iodine benefits both hypothyroid and hyperthyroid patients, and that it will not cause thyroid problems even at doses as high as 100mg per day!
Now we’re told that everyone is iodine deficient!
Things have changed over to past 5 years or so: Now many enthusiasts writing on the internet claim that almost everyone is iodine deficient and that mega dosing iodine for a sustained period, at least a year for most people, will help to eliminate many common ailments and will ensure good health!
This has largely come about as a result of Dr. Abraham’s iodine project where (crudely summed up) Dr. Abraham has looked at the fact that the average intake of iodine in one part of Japan, where the inhabitants typically have good health measures, is 12.5 mg and proposed, therefore, that 12.5 mg should be the recommended daily allowance for iodine, rather than the current much lower figure of 150 mcg.
On the iodine project, it’s recommended that patients take as much as 100mg of iodine a day, to displace toxic halogens (primarily fluoride and bromide) so that they can reach ‘iodine sufficiency’ and can fully experience alleged iodine benefits such as a raging libido and a great mood.
It’s recommended on the Iodine Project that patients also take ‘companion nutrients’ to maximise iodine benefits. These companion nutrients are:
- 3000 mg at least of vitamin c
- 300-600 mg of magnesium
- 200 mg of selenium
- 500 mg of niacin
- 100 mg of B2 three times a day
- ½ teaspoon of sea salt (to help facilitate bromide detoxification)
The importance of also taking Selenium to experience health benefits of iodine supplementation
Selenium is necessary for optimal thyroid function and is of particular importance when supplementing iodine as, without adequate levels of selenium, it has been well established that iodine can exacerbate hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an autoimmune disorder of the thyroid) or can even create this condition in those who previously didn’t have this condition.
This topic is covered in detail by Paul Jaminet on the excellent perfect health diet website. This article is well worth a read: http://perfecthealthdiet.com/category/nutrients/iodine-and-selenium/
[Please note that I by no means agree with everything that Paul states on his website. For instance, I totally disagree with his advice that the majority of people should take supplementary copper.]
The purported iodine benefits from high dose supplementation
The list of iodine deficiency symptoms given by iodine proponents is so lengthy that I’m not going to waste space reprinting here but, to summarise, it almost exactly mirrors the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism is much more of a common problem than people realise; I outline the symptoms of hypothyroidism in detail in this post.
The major symptoms presented as being caused by iodine deficiency are tiredness, feeling cold all of the time, brain fog/ slow thinking, weight gain even on a low calorie diet.
The most commonly cited benefit of iodine supplementation is thyroid optimisation
Taking iodine for thyroid optimisation is controversial as it raises TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone), which on the surface implies that it is making people hypothyroid and that their pituitaries are increasing TSH in an attempt to get their thyroid hormone output back up to normal.
Proponents of high dose iodine argue that this is not the case, however; they argue that TSH is a poor indicator of hypothyroidism and that TSH temporarily rises when you begin iodine supplementation independently of it having caused hypothyroidism. These people suggest that iodine benefits your thyroid at the same time as raising TSH.
Will iodine shut your thyroid down?
The arguments from iodine proponents that high doses of iodine won’t shut down your thyroid sound plausible, but I’m not convinced.
This doctor outlines his experience with numerous patients who he treated with iodine and states that, whilst iodine benefits many patients, it does cause temporary hypothyroidism in a significant number of patients, particularly at the sort of doses recommended by naturopaths today. http://www.medpedia.com/news_analysis/68-The-Heart-Scan-Blog/entries/36379-Iodine-update
Also, a study performed on a statistically significant number of people living in coastal regions of Japan, where inhabitants get high levels of iodine each day as part of their normal diet (mainly from sea vegetables such as dulse), indicates that this level was causing hypothyroidism, and that this reversed after a period of going on a low iodine diet. (1)
Is Iosol Iodine safer than Iodoral/ Lugols for your thyroid?
Byron Richards claim that it is the potassium iodide found in seaweed that ‘clogs’ up the thyroid, not iodine per say. Richards claims that ammonium iodine (called iosol iodine) will not clog the thyroid and will offer iodine benefits without ever causing hypothyroidism. By the way, potassium iodide is included in the iodine project’s recommended supplements iodoral or lugols along with elemental iodine.
In support of this idea, many users including myself experience many less side effects from taking iosol than from taking iodoral/ lugols. I still did, however, experience side effects from taking iosol and don’t use it on a regular basis any longer. These side effects included foggy thinking and mild heart palpitations; these side effects maybe indicate that iosol iodine could having been doing something weird to my thyroid (more specifics later on).
Does iodine cause increases in reverse T3?? This is the opposite effect that we want to achieve!
Reverse t3 is a thyroid hormone that is a mirror image of active thyroid hormone t3, but that does not have the same positive effects of t3. People with normal t4 levels but high reverse t3 levels often feel symptoms of hypothyroidism such as fatigue and brain fog, even with normal levels of t4.
Reverse t3 tends to rise when we’re under stress, particularly under intense physical stress such as when overtraining on a weights training cycle and/or when very sleep deprived.
Side-note: This site contains an abundance of information on the importance of optimising t3 levels: http://recoveringwitht3.com/blog/background-circadian-t3-method-ct3m
Bearing in mind that we don’t want high reverse t3, it’s worth considering, before you start supplementing iodine, that a number of people have reported that they saw their reverse t3 levels shoot up on thyroid tests soon after starting taking iodine supplements, instead of experiencing the iodine benefits that they were expecting to feel.
One theory put forward for this is that iodine may have ‘revved up’ these peoples’ t4 production and that this extra t4 converted into reverse t3 rather than t3 making them feel much worse than before!
This possible negative effect of iodine supplementation could potentially be mitigated by taking selenium at the same time (as selenium is important for deiodinisation from t4 into t3), but, until further research is done on this, I wouldn’t assume that selenium will prevent this from happening.
Side effects of iodine supplementation – detox reactions or true side effects?
Many people experience side effects when supplementing iodine, two nasty examples being depression and acne.
Side effects in addition to acne and depression can include: dizziness, drowsiness, headache, muscle aches, gastrointestinal discomfort, changes in bowel habits, nausea, joint pains, breathing trouble, swelling of the face, swelling of the throat, metallic taste, burning mouth, sore teeth and gums.
Many give up iodine therapy due to these, whilst others find that the side effects clear up after a period and report that they then begin to experience the health benefits of iodine that they were hoping for.
Iodine proponents claim that these symptoms are actually side effects of bromism being caused by iodine flushing bromine out of the body and, once this detox reaction has finished, they will experience iodine benefits such as resistance against breast cancer and improved estrogen metabolism.
I’m currently unconvinced on whether the side effects from iodine are purely detox reactions; my basic instinct is to avoid taking a supplement if it makes me depressed and gives me bad skin for an extended, unquantifiable period of time, whilst hoping iodine benefits will replace these harsh side effects.
Iodine benefits include faster fat loss?
The thyroid is the body’s major thermostat and keeping it firing well keeps your metabolism running high.
Some find that iodine seems to help them to lose fat, whilst others find that iodine supplementation produces no positive effects.
I’d suggest that this is linked to whether the person is deficient in iodine or not, and whether the iodine is causing improved thyroid function or is worsening it by increasing reverse t3 levels or by actually lowering thyroid hormone output.
If iodine benefits your thyroid, it will likely help you to lose weight; if iodine is, in fact, slowing your thyroid, it will hurt your fat loss efforts!
My initial experiences with iodine – Big problems with iodoral , small problems with iosol iodine
I personally know and have also read about many people who feel much better after high dose iodine supplementation, so I do believe that an iodine supplementation program does help some people.
Iodine benefits that these people have passed on are that iodine helps them to feel more awake during the day, to feel warmer and more energetic, to think more clearly and that it helps with fat loss.
Personally, when I tried to supplement lugols a few years ago, I had one of the worst acne breakouts of my life, felt very foggy headed and also experienced heart palpitations that took around 3 days to go after completely discontinuing iodine.
Was I experiencing bromide detox symptoms? Was iodine causing autoimmune hyperthyroid symptoms? I’m not sure. All I know is that, given I feel good without taking extra iodine, I was happy to drop the supplement.
This year, I tried iosol iodine. This didn’t cause any acne but, after around 1 week, seemed to be causing foggy thinking, slight tiredness and mild heart palpitations. My gut instinct is it was hurting my thyroid, so I stopped. These side effects from iosol iodine were very mild, however, in comparison with lugols. I may at some point retry iosol iodine, and take it for a few days on a few days off, and see if this works well.
I am yet to experience iodine benefits from any type of iodine supplement that I’ve tried. I currently drink miso soup (high in iodine) a couple of days a week and this seems to suit me fine, so I doubt I’m highly iodine deficient, if deficient at all.
Initial conclusions – what is the best dose?
My advise on taking iodine would be, don’t jump on the band wagon just yet! Iodine is a very powerful, highly necessary mineral and it possibly should be supplemented in low doses by most people, but should not be mega-dosed.
I would try 500-1000 mcg of iosol iodine per day for now, if you want to try iodine, and this may well make you feel more energetic and healthier. I would not, however, take the 12.5 to 100 mg that iodine project proponents suggest you should take.
Lastly, keep an eye on this site regularly as I’ll be following future research on iodine benefits and/or side effects and will almost certainly be posting on this topic again!
References and footnotes
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