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Iodine - Do you need this mineral for your thyroid health?


I get asked this question so many times by patients and practitioners alike. Iodine prescribing is a controversial subject and it needs to be addressed as iodine is one of the most important nutrients for thyroid function.

Too little iodine and the thyroid cannot make it’s hormones, hello hypothyroidism.

Too much can also be the cause of both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.

Iodine is a very essential mineral but there are some guidelines around its use particularly in thyroid conditions.

Iodine and tyrosine are the building blocks of your thyroid hormones. Tyrosine is an amino acid and needs either 1 to 4 molecules of iodine to form thyroid hormones. Without enough iodine your thyroid cannot do this.

The essential need for iodine for thyroid health is undisputed but over the years there has been much debate about the use of iodine in thyroid autoimmune conditions such hashimotos thyroiditis and Graves Disease. Current thinking is that if you have an autoimmune thyroid condition then you already have too much iodine and more will make it worse.

What we are seeing these days with more consistent iodine testing, is rampant iodine deficiency.

There are many reasons for this, so let’s explore them.

Ours soils are deficient. Most of Australia’s “old” soils are deficient in many minerals including iodine and selenium, which is needed for healthy thyroid function also and is necessary for iodine metabolism. The use of pesticides and irrigation systems has also affected iodine content in the soils.

Iodine was used as an anti-bacterial agent to disinfect the cow’s udder during milking, but now has been replaced with chlorine! Milk was a main source for many of iodine.

Environmental and dietary goitrogen exposure.

Goitrogens are substances that disrupt the production of thyroid hormones by interfering with iodine uptake in the thyroid gland. This triggers the pituitary to release thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which then promotes the growth of thyroid tissue, eventually leading to goitre.

Most of us are aware of dietary goitrogens such as the brassica family which includes broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, kale and cauliflower, – see table 1

We know now that cooking and lightly steaming these vegetables remove about a third of their goitrogenic affect and that as they provide many health promoting effects such as improved liver function., can be included in the diet in moderation.

Other food goitrogens include soy, millet, turnips, nitrates found in processed meats and cheese, drinking water and is high in leafy greens and root vegetables.

But you may not be ware of some of the environmental goitrogens which are severe in their displacement of iodine.

Perchlorate is a manufactured chemical and colorless salt that is most commonly used in rocket fuel and a very common and prolific goitrogen.

Perchlorate is used in munitions, fireworks, explosives, airbag initiators for vehicles, matches, signal flares, fertilizers, chlorine cleaners, and pool chlorination chemicals. Some chewing tobacco products contain perchlorates. Perchlorates are found in:

  • Food and water – contaminated food and drinking water

  • Air – emissions from fireworks, matches, flares, and some industries

  • Consumer products – chewing tobacco, fireworks, vehicle airbags, matches, signal flares, chlorine cleaners, and chlorination chemical

  • Perchlorates are the most harmful goitrogens to the thyroid as they are more favorable to thyroid tissue than iodine itself!

Perchlorates, phthalates, parabens and phenols (BPA) are potent environmental goitrogens found everywhere – food, water, personal care products, medications, dust.

Other goitrogens include include the Halogen family such as chlorine, fluoride and bromide, and includes iodine. These chemicals are all similar in structure and the thyroid has trouble knowing which one is which and will uptake these compounds at the expense of iodine. The thyroid needs iodine to make its hormones, not halogens. These are all frequently added to your water, foods and household products which could be a reason thyroid disease is epidemic.

Goitrogens alter the thyroid hormones ratio, block iodine uptake into the thyroid cell, and are most damaging if you are low in iodine.

Guidelines for iodine

Step 1 - to find out if you need iodine is to test. Your Naturopath or GP can arrange a urinary iodine test to see if you need iodine in your diet to support your thyroid health.

Aim for a minimum of 100mcg for an adult or child or 150mcg if you are pregnant or breast feeding.

Step 2 is to remove as many environmental goitrogen exposures as possible. Look for where toxins are in your food and environment. We cannot avoid all environmental exposure but you can minimise. Filter your water to avoid chlorine and fluoride, avoid perfumes choose organic personal care products, minimize plastics, and eat organic, for example.

Step 3 is increase your dietary intake of iodine rich food such as fish, shellfish ad seaweeds and iodized salt.

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Step 4 is to consult with your health professional after your urinary iodine test to see if you need iodine. Be careful if you have active auto immune thyroid disease and high antibodies, If you are deficient in iodine then under superstition start at a low dose and go slow until you get to an optimal level.

So in summary….iodine is an essential nutrient for thyroid health and can be taken in thyroid autoimmune disease but under supervision and with testing before and during supplementation to ensure your thyroid is getting the right dose of iodine for you and not over dosing.


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