“Signs, Symptoms, and Solutions for Poor Thyroid Function”
Hypothyroidism is far more prevalent
than once thought. The latest estimates are that 20 million Americans
have hypothyroidism, but the actual numbers are probably higher.
Some experts claim that 10 to 40 percent
of Americans have suboptimal thyroid function.
Thyroid hormones are used by every cell
of your body to regulate metabolism and body weight by controlling the
burning of fat for energy and heat. Thyroid hormones are also required
for growth and development in children.
Iodine is Key for Thyroid Health
Iodine is the key to a healthy thyroid
and efficient metabolism, and even comprises a large part of the thyroid
hormone molecule itself.
Even the names of the different forms
of thyroid hormone reflect the number of iodine molecules attached --
T4 has four attached iodine molecules, and T3 (the biologically active
form of the hormone) has three -- showing what an important part iodine
plays in thyroid biochemistry.
Iodine deficiency is one of the three
most common nutritional deficiencies, along with magnesium and vitamin
Since iodine is so important for thyroid
function, wouldn’t you expect to see an increase in hypothyroidism
with insufficient iodine levels?
Yes, and that is exactly what we have
This means that your thyroid problem
could actually be an iodine deficiency problem.
If you feel sluggish and tired, have
difficulty losing weight, have dry skin, hair loss, constipation or
cold sensitivity, it could all be related to hypothyroidism.
More than 100 years ago, iodine was shown
to reverse and prevent goiter (swelling of your thyroid gland) and to
correct hypothyroidism. But we now understand that iodine’s effects
are much farther reaching.
Iodine has four important functions in
Stabilization of metabolism and body
Brain development in children
Optimization of your immune system (iodine is a potent anti-bacterial,
anti-parasitic, anti-viral and anti- cancer agent)
While iodine levels have fallen, there have been simultaneous increases
in rates of thyroid disease, breast cancer, fibrocystic breast disease,
prostate cancer, and obesity in American adults, and an increase in
mental retardation and developmental delays in American children.
Why are Iodine Levels Dropping?
Iodine deficiency is on the rise in the
United States. Simple supplementation may not be the answer as the following
issues also need to be addressed.
Recent national survey data suggest that
just over 11 percent of the total U.S. population, and over 7 percent
of pregnant women, and nearly 17 percent of all reproductive-aged women,
are deficient in iodine.
The Total Diet Study, performed by the
FDA, reported an iodine intake of 621 µg for 2 year-olds between
1974 and 1982, compared with 373 µg between 1982 and 1991. During
this same time period, the baking industry replaced iodine-based anti-caking
agents with bromine-based agents.
In addition to iodine’s disappearance
from our food supply, exposure to toxic competing halogens (bromine,
fluorine, chlorine and perchlorate) has dramatically increased.
You absorb these halogens through your
food, water, medications and environment, and they selectively occupy
your iodine receptors, further deepening your iodine deficit.
Fluoridation of water is a major contributor
to iodine deficiency, besides being very damaging to your health in
many other ways.
Additional factors contributing to falling
iodine levels are:
Diets low in fish, shellfish and seaweed
Vegan and vegetarian diets
Decreased use of iodized salt
Less use of iodide in the food and agricultural industry
Use of radioactive iodine in many medical procedures, which competes
with natural iodine
A huge reason why iodine fell out of
favor is the “Wolff-Chaikoff Effect,” which has been a disaster
for public health.
An experiment was done that resulted
in a case of hypothyroidism, which researchers misinterpreted as being
caused by excessive iodine intake. However, the individual was given
intravenous radioactive iodine -- which is toxic. It had nothing to
do with food or supplement iodine intake, and the two are completely
Yet, tales of this experiment quickly
spread, creating a fear of iodine that caused it to be removed from
the American food supply for the last three decades.
Iodine deficiency is particularly profound
in the Midwest and Great Lakes region of the United States because iodine
is typically found only in soils close to the oceans, whereas soils
of inland areas are iodine deficient. In fact, that region used to be
called the “goiter belt” because of its extremely high incidence
of people with goiters.
The Toxic Halides -- Iodine’s Fiercest
Iodine is a member of a class of related
elements called “halogens” that includes bromine, fluorine,
and chlorine. When they are chemically reduced, they become “halides”:
iodide, bromide, fluoride, and chloride. These are the forms you usually
encounter in your foods, medications and environment.
Iodide and chloride are beneficial in
small amounts, but bromide and fluoride are toxic. They grab onto your
iodine receptors, blocking the action of iodide and thyroid hormones,
resulting in, or at least contributing to many serious diseases.
One of the main problems is that the
toxic halides become stuck in your body.
There is no known detoxification pathway
for bromine and fluorine -- your body simply cannot break them down.
So, they build up in your tissues and wreak havoc on your health.
Bromides are a menace to your endocrine
system and are present all around you.
Despite a ban on the use of potassium
bromate in flour by the World Health Organization, bromides can still
be found in some over-the-counter medications, foods, and personal care
The use of potassium bromate as an additive
to commercial breads and baked goods has been a huge contributor to
bromide overload in Western cultures.
Sodium bromate can be found in products
such as permanent waves, hair dyes, and textile dyes.
Benzylkonium is used as a preservative
in some cosmetics. Even trace amounts of bromine can trigger severe
acne in sensitive individuals. And who needs skin care products that
Bromine is also found in fire retardants
used in carpets, mattresses, upholstery, and furniture and some medical
Based on animal research, bromides have
been linked to behavioral changes and neurodevelopmental disorders,
including Attention Deficit Disorders, in children.
The United States is quite behind in
putting an end to the egregious practice of allowing bromine chemicals
in your foods and products whereas other nations have taken the bull
by the horns:
In 1990, the United Kingdom banned bromate
In 1994, Canada did the same
Brazil recently outlawed bromide in flour products
The European Union has banned some PBDE compounds (polybrominated diphenyl
What’s taking us so long?
Again, corporate profits trump health
concerns when it comes to doing what is best for the public.
Great Resource for Learning More
Author and patient advocate Mary Shomon
is one of the leading educators on thyroid health in the U.S. and has
led the most popular consumer forum, the About.com thyroid guide. Mary
cautions thyroid patients not to run out to the health food store and
load up on iodine or iodine-rich supplements like kelp and bladderwrack.
According to Mary, in someone who is
not iodine-deficient, excessive iodine supplementation can actually
worsen a pre-existing thyroid condition, or trigger further thyroid
dysfunction. The key is in getting the right amount of iodine -- not
too much, not too little.
The way to evaluate your iodine intake
is a test that measures how much iodine you are excreting in your urine.
The general protocol requires you to
take a dose of iodine, collect your urine for 24 hours, and then send
the sample off to a lab where they calculate your iodine level based
on how much iodine you are spilling into your urine. If you are interested
in being tested for iodine deficiency, this urine iodine challenge test
is the most accurate way to assess your iodine status.
Getting Your Iodine Levels Up
If you are iodine deficient, I recommend
adding sea vegetables to your diet.
The best source of organically bound
iodine that I know of is non-commercially harvested seaweeds. The dose
is about 5 grams a day or about one ounce per week, so a pound would
last about two months.
It is typically better to obtain a nutrient
from a natural food whenever possible than from a supplement, so use
supplements only as a last resort.
Some patients also report that they respond
better to food-based forms of iodine -- like seaweeds -- than the supplement
forms. However, if you are going to use a supplement I would strongly
advise using supersaturated iodine (SSKI) which is available as an inexpensive
prescription. Typically 1-3 drops a day are all that are required.
Please avoid using Lugol’s solution
or iodine, as that can actually worsen your thyroid condition.
The fact that your thyroid only transports
iodine in its ionized form (i.e. iodide) is straight out of the textbooks.
Your thyroid reduces iodide (I-) into iodine (I2) for use in formation
of thyroglobulin. Your body doesn’t utilize iodine directly. It
has to split the I2 into two I- ions, which is an oxidative reaction
that causes oxidative stress.
Iodide transporters are located in other
areas of your body besides the thyroid gland, including your breasts
and colon. One family of iodide transporters is called the sodium-iodide
symporter, and the other is called pendren. Dr. David Brownstein (see
below) discusses the sodium-iodide symporter but doesn’t mention
pendren. However like all ion transporters they too require a charge
in order to move a molecule across the membrane, which means iodine
must be in its ionized form.
It’s possible that some may see
good results using Lugol’s for some afflictions, but according
to autism expert Catherine Tamara, in her experience it is very clear
that children with autism, and their mothers, do fine with iodide, but
not necessarily with iodine.
For more information about the research
that makes me question the recommendation for iodine and Lugol's solution,
please see these studies:
Journal of Toxicology and Environmental
Health 1992, 37:535-548 "Evidence of Thyroxine Formation Following
Iodine Administration in Sprague-Dawley Rats"
Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health 1991, 32:89-101 "Comparison
of Toxicity Induced by Iodine and Iodide in Male and Female Rats"
Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health 1998, 55:93-106 "Comparison
of the Effects of Iodine and Iodide on Thyroid Function in Humans"
Biological Trace Element Research 2006, 110:193-209 "Analyses of
Toxic Metals and Essential Minerals in the Hair of Arizona Children
with Autism and Associated Conditions, and Their Mothers"
Keeping your iodine levels optimal is
particularly important if you are a women that is contemplating pregnancy,
or are already pregnant Make sure you are taking seaweed or a prenatal
vitamin with the right amount and form of iodide, not iodine, to help
protect your baby.
Tips for Optimizing Thyroid Function
David Brownstein, M.D., has written several
books on thyroid and iodine, which are a valuable resource for those
of you who want more information.
Also, Dr. Hyman has made some good recommendations
if you have a sluggish thyroid:
Identify and treat underlying causes
(e.g., iodine deficiency, hormone imbalance, environmental toxicity,
Adjust your diet and understand the role of nutrition (iodine, as well
as tyrosine, selenium, vitamins A and D, zinc, B vitamins, and omega-3
fats), food allergies, gluten intolerance, and foods that contain goitrogens,
such as soy, which interfere with the utilization of iodine
Get plenty of exercise
Reduce your stress
Enjoy saunas and hot soaks for detoxification,
Use supplements, if necessary for nutritional support
If you are on thyroid hormones for less than five years, most people
find that they respond far better to natural thyroid hormone supplementation
that has both T1, T2, T3 and T4, not just T4 like Synthroid. Armour
Thyroid and Nature-Thyroid are the best known, but compounding pharmacists
can also produce natural thyroid hormone prescriptions.
The more you can rid your body of the toxic halides, the more iodine
your body will be able to hang onto, and the better your thyroid will
Laura Power, MS, PhD, LDN, offers these
suggestions for increasing secretion of fluorine and bromine::
High-dose vitamin C
Unrefined sea salt
Epsom salts baths
Sweating in a far infrared sauna
The Future of Natural Thyroid Drugs
This is a surprising and shocking injustice
that is occurring in the U.S. right now.
The FDA has shut down natural desiccated
thyroid drug production and distribution by three major firms, and is
now calling the century-old natural remedy an “unapproved drug.”
One of the ways you can typically differentiate
a natural physician from a conventional one is by the type of thyroid
hormone replacement therapy they prescribe. Natural physicians will
almost exclusively used desiccated thyroid hormone products like Armour
I have put thousands of patients on this
and it was my consistent experience that most did far better on these
than the synthetic versions. About the only exception were people that
were taking synthetics for longer than 10 years. Seems like their body
had a tough time adjusting back.
Taking desiccated thyroid hormone off
the market will cause harm, danger and damage to hundreds of thousands
and perhaps more than that, unless they are allowed access to this safe
and superior thyroid replacement.
Two other major manufacturers/distributors
now have long-term backorders for their bioidentical hormone products,
which include Armour, Nature-Throid, and Westroid.
The uncertainty about the future of natural
thyroid drug options has many patients and practitioners concerned,
and the Save Natural Thyroid Coalition has been formed in response.
Along with recently holding its first
kickoff teleconference to discuss the future of natural desiccated thyroid
(NDT) drugs, the Save Thyroid Coalition has also created the Save Natural
Thyroid YouTube channel, where patients and practitioners can create
and post videos supporting natural thyroid.
I am actually serving on this committee
and going to support it with as much media exposure is required to prevent
this travesty of justice. It is depriving patients of a valid and natural
way to support their thyroid function that has typically been damaged
by toxins and stress.
They’ve also formed a Save Natural
Thyroid Facebook Group to strategize and help keep thyroid patients
informed. If you or anyone you love uses bioidentical hormones, you
may want to join this group to keep up on the latest updates.
If you’re newly diagnosed with
hypothyroidism, or have not been on synthetic hormones for very long,
I strongly recommend Armour Thyroid -- a natural porcine thyroid extract,
which provides not only T3 and T4, but also T1 and T2, which will help
normalize your hormone response.
The fact that the FDA may now severely
limit, or eliminate, this option is distressing, as it is clearly the
best option for many people.