There’s been a lot of talk in the news lately about radioactive iodine that has leaked from the nuclear disaster in Japan. This has made people afraid of it, thinking it’s something they should avoid.
Now, iodine is actually one of the most important nutrients for your health, and your body likes to absorb it. It sucks the stuff up like a sponge! And many people overlook the importance of iodine for thyroid health and its optimal performance.
Normally that’s a good thing. But when we have a radioactive version of it kicking around in the water, air, or food that you’re consuming, it’s going to cause some problems.
After the disaster, some people took to using supplements of potassium iodide, a form of iodine. The idea here is that the non-radioactive stuff will block out the radioactive stuff.
This is a good idea, but the problem is that once the initial fear and worry wore off and everyone moved on to the next big concern, most people stopped taking these supplements.
So, what does iodine actually do for us? What’s the benefit of it?
Thyroid Hormones and More
Iodine is absorbed from your diet by your thyroid gland and used to make thyroid hormones. (I talked more about how this works is in my last article)
These hormones are critical to the healthy function of your body, and without iodine, we can’t make them. Without enough thyroid hormones, our bodies slow down and we start to feel awful. Insufficient iodine can even lead to conditions like hypothyroidism and enlargement of the thyroid, called goiter.
But iodine is useful for more than just thyroid health! Other glands and tissues use it too, including the adrenal glands, ovaries, breasts, prostate, stomach, salivary glands, skin, and muscles.
Obviously these are important parts of your body, but if you aren’t getting enough iodine to these tissues, none of them will be able to function optimally and keep you healthy. People who don’t have enough iodine in their bodies have difficulty sweating, and are prone to conditions like fibromyalgia, fibrocystic breasts, and PCOS.
It’s also important for a baby’s developing brain in utero. Babies born to iodine-deficient mothers often have lower IQs.
One of the most important functions of iodine in the body is to prevent cancer from growing.
What it does is force the cancer cells to go through “apoptosis” or “programmed cell death”. Basically, it forces the cancer cells to commit suicide.
If you have enough iodine in your body, then cancer cells that form in the body die off on their own or are easily taken care of by the immune system. When iodine becomes low, it’s easier for cysts and nodules to form in the breasts, ovaries, and thyroid gland, which can sometimes lead to cancer.
Starting in the 1920s, iodine was added to table salt to help prevent iodine deficiency. Iodine was also added to milk and bread. This was great, but over the years, they’ve stopped doing this with milk and bread, and now with the “stay away from salt” message that doctors give us to supposedly combat high blood pressure, many of us avoid salt. This means we’re missing out on iodine!
The bottom line: many of us aren’t getting enough iodine in the diet.
On top of that, certain chemicals we’re often exposed to can stop the iodine we do get from working. Bromine (in some baked goods and sodas), chlorine (in tap water and pool water), and fluorine (in toothpaste and tap water) look like iodine to the body and get in the way of its function.
How Much Iodine Should I Be Taking?
The RDA for iodine is 150 micrograms. This number was set many years ago to prevent goiter, but we’ve come a long way in our understanding of the body! It’s nowhere near the levels needed to make sure things are running optimally in your thyroid and all the other organs and tissues I mentioned earlier.
It seems like they’ve figured this out in Japan though. Daily consumption of iodine over there is in the range of 13 milligrams (13000 micrograms) and above. This is a lot closer to the daily requirement for optimal function.
Where Should I Get Iodine?
The easiest way to get iodine in the diet is to eat kelp, which is a type of seaweed. Species of Laminaria seaweed contain the highest levels of iodine. You can supplement it with Lugol’s solution, as well, in liquid or pill form. These will give you a balance of the two different forms of iodine – iodine and iodide – your body needs.
Supplementing with only one of them (like using commonly found potassium iodide) will leave some of the organs in your body wanting for iodine.