I can’t think of another topic that causes more controversy than the topic of iodine.
Regardless, we’re going to dive straight in.
One of the most controversial aspects of iodine has to do with dosing.
Most people, if you’ve done any amount of research, realize that iodine is essential and required to sustain life.
That point shouldn’t be controversial.
What is controversial, though, is dosing.
And when it comes to dosing, we have 3 basic camps or schools of thought:
The first camp recognizes that iodine is essential but suggests that we get enough iodine from food and other sources so additional iodine isn’t needed.
The second camp recognizes that iodine is essential and suggests that daily RDA doses of iodine (1) are required for optimal health and thyroid function.
This is the camp I fall into, by the way, and it’s the reason that I recommend taking iodine supplements daily.
Finally, the third camp recognizes the importance of iodine and suggests that iodine be taken at incredibly high doses which are many multiples of the RDA.
This third camp believes that high-dose iodine can provide therapeutic benefits and special treatment for thyroid disorders.
What I want to do today is explain why this third camp, the one that suggests using high-dose iodine, is the wrong one.
And to do that, I’m going to go through some of their most common arguments:
DOWNLOAD FREE RESOURCES
Foods to Avoid if you Have Thyroid Problems:
I’ve found that these 10 foods cause the most problems for thyroid patients. Learn which foods you should avoid if you have thyroid disease of any type.
The Complete List of Thyroid Lab tests:
The list includes optimal ranges, normal ranges, and the complete list of tests you need to diagnose and manage thyroid disease correctly!
Argument #1. High-Dose Iodine is Safe Because The Japanese Population Consumes 12.5 mg Per Day.
I’ll admit, I even fell for this argument when I first started treating thyroid patients.
After all, it makes a lot of sense.
If you can point to a population of people who are doing something different than the rest of the world and they have better health outcomes, doesn’t it make sense to mimic their lifestyle?
Of course, which is why we have a lot of data on populations of people who live in so-called blue zones.
These are specific areas in the world where the average life expectancy is much higher than in other locations.
But in the case of the Japanese population and their iodine intake, the information presented here is just wrong.
If you look around the internet you will see that many proponents of high-dose iodine suggest that the Japanese population consumes on average 12.5mg of iodine daily.
Put into perspective, this is roughly 41x the RDA in the United States.
If this is correct, then it suggests very strongly that there may be something special or different about the lifestyle of the Japanese which imparts some benefit to their thyroid gland.
And maybe this benefit is related to their iodine intake.
But, and this is a big but, the Japanese do NOT consume an average of 12.5mg of iodine daily.
In fact, that number is much lower.
And their official recommended iodine intake dose is 130 mcg which matches the RDA in the United States.
This 1 to 3 mg dose range is significantly lower than the number cited by the high-dose iodine group.
In fact, it’s anywhere from 76% to 92% less than the cited number.
This is important because it blows a huge hole in one of the main arguments for the safety of high-dose iodine.
We know from many research studies that as iodine intake increases in a population so too does the number of thyroid conditions (3).
This has been played out in numerous population studies as countries undergo iodine prophylaxis programs.
And these increases in thyroid problems are experienced in a U-shaped curve (4).
In other words, thyroid problems INCREASE when your dose is less than 130mcg per day.
They then FLATTEN with normal doses between the range of 130 mcg and 299 mcg per day.
And again start to increase again as your dose extends beyond 299mcg per day.
Having said all of this, I don’t think you can make a solid argument that doses of iodine as high as 12.5mg per day are safe, but I do think you can probably say that doses as high as 1 to 3 mg likely won’t cause problems.
And this range of iodine intake is still 3 to 9x the RDA of iodine in the United States.
If you are someone that wants to take higher doses of iodine, for whatever reason, then it’s definitely safer to stay in the 1 to 3 mg per day range instead of the 12.5 mg per day range.
I still wouldn’t recommend it, but at least there’s some logical argument to stand on if you choose to go this route.
Argument #2. High-Dose Iodine Helps Detoxify Harmful Compounds (Halogens).
There may be some truth to this one so let me explain:
Proponents of high-dose iodine suggest that taking higher doses of iodine may help the body excrete potentially harmful compounds known as halogens.
If you go all the way back to high school chemistry and the periodic table of elements, you will find a column of elements called the halogens.
These elements all sit on the far right side of the periodic table of elements and include elements such as fluorine, chlorine, bromine, and iodine.
All of these elements share a similar electron configuration which makes them very reactive.
And it just so happens that because these elements are similar to iodine in terms of how they behave, they may compete for binding on thyroid hormones.
If this occurs, then they may replace iodine on the structure of thyroid hormones which may render that particular hormone functionally inactive.
This may be why some thyroid patients experience hypothyroid symptoms despite having normal thyroid lab tests.
It’s not that they don’t have enough thyroid hormone in their body, it’s that the thyroid hormones they do have are not functioning properly.
High-dose iodine is said to be effective in treating this condition because taking it allows the iodine to compete for the binding on thyroid hormones, thereby kicking off the halogens and activating the thyroid hormone once again.
This may sound like mumbo jumbo but there may be some merit to this idea that is backed by science.
If we look at dermatology texts we find a condition known as halogenoderma.
This is a well-documented skin condition that occurs when the body is introduced to halogens.
When this happens, the body will attempt to eliminate the halogens through the skin which causes acne-like eruptions.
And both bromine and iodine have both been known to cause this issue.
When iodine causes it, we call it iododerma (5).
When bromine causes it, we call it bromoderma (6).
But when put into context, it’s very likely that instead of causing acne, iodine supplements probably are causing halogenoderma, at least in some cases.
So there is some legitimacy to this idea and it may be why some people who take higher doses of iodine do seem to experience an almost instant boost to thyroid function.
But the question is, do you really need to take high-dose iodine to get this benefit?
The answer is no.
Even if iodine is competing with the halogens for binding on thyroid hormones, high doses are not required.
You can still get this benefit as long as you have more iodine in your body than bromine or chlorine so the iodine can outcompete them.
Consistent low daily doses of iodine are sufficient for this to occur.
In addition, you can also help eliminate these compounds even faster with the daily use of salt which contains chloride.
Argument #3. High-Dose Iodine Does Not Cause Autoimmune Thyroid Disease.
As I mentioned previously, it’s very clear that there is an association between iodine intake and autoimmune thyroid disease.
This has been played out in multiple studies which have followed large populations of people in countries where iodine has been introduced and they all see the same thing:
As iodine intake increases so too does autoimmune thyroid disease as explained in this quote:
“Epidemiological data indicate that a higher incidence of autoimmune thyroid diseases is observed in people with a sufficient dietary iodine intake than in those with subclinical iodine deficiency (7)”.
In addition, we also see higher rates of thyroid cancer as countries increase iodine intake:
“In countries previously defined as iodine-deficient regions, iodine prophylaxis has increased the prevalence of papillary thyroid cancer.”
To be clear, correlation does not equal causation, but all signs point to the fact that iodine intake causes more thyroid problems, not less.
Is There Any Benefit to Taking High-Dose Iodine?
Yes, I do think there is.
I will freely admit that I have seen some thyroid patients just absolutely come back online after taking higher doses of iodine when nothing else seemed to work.
But, I have also seen many cases of thyroid patients who take excessively high doses of iodine and trigger autoimmune thyroid diseases like Graves’ and Hashimoto’s.
When this happens, those diseases and conditions tend to stick around forever.
The question in my mind is not whether or not you can obtain some benefit from taking high-dose iodine but whether or not that benefit is worth the risk.
And my opinion has always been that high-dose iodine is NOT worth the risk.
The reason is simple:
There are plenty of natural tools and treatments that thyroid patients can utilize to help themselves feel better.
It’s definitely easier to take high-dose iodine than it is to completely change your diet, but you will find that changing your diet provides much better long-term benefits to your overall health and thyroid health and it doesn’t come at the risk of triggering autoimmune disease.
With all of the treatments, thyroid medications, hormones, supplements, and natural remedies available to thyroid patients, I just don’t see high-dose iodine as a good option for most people.
It’s far safer to stick to physiologic daily dosing of iodine in the range of 150 to 300 mcg per day and avoid any unnecessary risk to your thyroid.
If you are looking to support your thyroid in a more natural way then I would recommend checking out this article next.
It highlights some of the most powerful thyroid-boosting supplements out there.
- Experts agree that iodine is an essential element that all humans need to create thyroid hormones.
- Some people believe that taking high doses of iodine, many multiples of the RDA is necessary for optimal thyroid function.
- The arguments supporting high-dose iodine are lacking and the data suggests that high doses of iodine lead to more thyroid problems, not fewer.
- It’s safer to consume physiologic doses of iodine in the RDA range while utilizing other natural therapies that do not pose a potential risk to your thyroid.
Now I want to hear from you:
Are you currently taking iodine? If so, how much?
Were you aware of the controversy surrounding iodine dosing?
Are you someone that has tried high-dose iodine in the past? If so, did you notice any benefit? What about any harm?
Leave your questions or comments below!