Forty per cent of the world’s population is affected by iodine deficiency. Much of it is due to inadequate iodine intake through food sources, but changing formulas in commercial food production have eliminated iodine from foods like bread, and the addition of fluoride in drinking water sources obstructs proper iodine absorption.
Groups that are most at risk for iodine deficiency include pregnant women and women aged 40-49, as well as vegans and vegetarians. Many people are unaware that female breast tissue has a greater concentration of iodine, and thus, requires more iodine.
If your iodine levels are low, health pro-blems will occur. This paints a clearer picture of how some cancers, child developmental problems and fibrocystic breast disease have seen an uptick in modern days.
Iodine and hormones – Iodine is a key element of thyroid hormones, controlling metabolic activities of most cells and aiding in the process of early growth and development of most organs and tissues, including the uterus, ovaries, breasts and brain. Iodine is found in high concentrations in these parts of your body, as it plays a key role in immune function, detoxification and mitochondria regulation.
Iodine promotes ovulation – Medical studies have found that ovaries have the second highest concentration of iodine after the thyroid. While experts are still not clear why so much iodine is in the ovaries, it appears to give a boost to ovulation health by reducing ovulation pain, decreasing the risk of cysts and encourages production of the progeste-rone hormone, which is vital to reproductive health.
Iodine regulates oestrogen – Iodine promotes the healthy detoxification of oestrogen, and reduces the sensitivity of the body’s cells to this hormone. Oestrogen is highly important to women for various reasons, including the development of female organs, but an excess of oestrogen levels (this can happen by ingesting hormones from food sources like dairy pro-ducts) has been linked to women’s health problems. That is why iodine is essential in treating symptoms such as breast pain, ovarian cysts and PMS.
Iodine as a treatment for fibrocystic breast disease – Changes were tracked in three long-term studies conducted by Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada, on more than 1,300 participants. The use of molecular iodine as treatment showed the most promise – 74% of women studied experienced clinical and objective improvement with no negative impact on the thyroid.
Based on personal experience treating my own patients, women with breast cysts who took just two drops of Lugol’s iodine 5% every day for six months showed a reduction in the cysts. The mineral selenium protects the thyroid from damage and over-stimulation by iodine. I usually recommend 100 mcg selenium.
How you can prevent iodine deficiency
How much iodine should you be taking every day to prevent deficiency?
If you have been tested and confirmed that you have low iodine levels, the recommended daily allowance, as recommended by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), should be taken once every day for three months:
• Children aged between one to eight – 90 mcg daily
• Children aged between nine to 13 – 120 mcg daily
• Adolescents aged 14 and above – 150 mcg daily
• Pregnant or breastfeeding mothers – 290 mcg daily
Various types of seaweed, including arame, kombu, wakame, kelp and hijiki, are the richest sources of iodine. Kelp is the most iodine-packed food in the world and can be found at organic food stores, or in tablet or powder form as well.
Iodine is also found in infant formulas and human breast milk. In fruit and vegetables, iodine content varies depending upon the levels found in the soil and fertiliser that was used to grow the produce. Food sources high in iodine, based on daily recommended allowance:
1. Whole or one sheet of seaweed: 16 to 2,984 mcg (11% to 1,989%)
2. Baked cod – 99 mcg (66%)
3. Cranberries – 90 mcg (60%)
4. One medium baked potato: 60 mcg (40%)
5. One cup of raw milk: 56 mcg (37%)
6. Shrimp – 35 mcg (23%)
7. Half a cup of navy beans: 32 mcg (21%)
8. One large egg: 24 mcg (16%)
9. Dried prunes: 13 mcg (9%)
In addition to the foods above, salt is a cheap and easy way to get more iodine in our diet. More than 70 countries have implemented salt iodisation programmes to prevent iodine deficiencies and diseases, especially goitre.
Testing for iodine deficiency
Breast tenderness is a reliable symptom of deficiency. I find it more useful than any test. The most common test is known as random “urinary iodine”. In this test, iodine deficiency is defined as less than 100 mcg/L (after adjustment for creatinine). To ensure that the test is more reliable, patients are normally asked to do it in the morning and avoid iodine-containing supplements, foods or thyroid medication for 24 hours before the test.
Before you begin any supplement programme, it is important that the thyroid antibodies test be done first. It can indicate latent autoimmune thyroid disease and will help determine if supplementation is likely to trigger a full-blown thyroid disease like Hashimoto’s.
You can still take iodine supplements with a latent autoimmune thyroid disease, as it is needed for your breasts and ovaries, but you must start at a low dosage. With supervision, you can start with as little as 250 mcg (0.25 mg) and increase the dosage slowly.
The best and easiest thing to do is to try and increase your intake of iodine naturally. Adding foods like egg salad, baked cod, cranberry pie, yoghurt berry smoothie, and even just throwing seaweed into your soups is a safe, healthy and tasty way to increase your iodine consumption without too much fuss.
By Datuk Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar
Published in FOCUSWEEK,February 26, 2017