I have been trying to get to a post about iodine for awhile.  Besides Vitamin D, I think it is the most exciting essential element that I never learned much about in medical school, other than that the thyroid uses iodine to make thyroid hormone.  Thanks to some wonderful physicians like Dr. David Brownstein, Dr. Guy Abraham, and Dr. Bernard Eskin, I have learned how vital iodine is to so many areas of the body.  I am still upset about the fact that Dr. Eskin, one of the world’s foremost researchers on iodine and the breast, was actually a faculty member at Drexel University in Philadelphia, where I did my training.  However, as a resident, I never even met this great man, let alone was exposed to his groundbreaking work.  His research in rats established the iodine-dependent functioning of breast tissue, which is greatly increased by pregnancy and lactation.  He further showed that when a chemical agent like percholorate was introduced to the breast, it blocked iodine functioning leading to development of atypia in the breast tissue.   Molecular iodine actually has been shown to alter gene expression in breast cancer cells.  There is also a clear association between fibrocystic breast and iodine deficiency.  I have been amazed at what a difference iodine has made in my most severe fibrocystic patients.  Ob/Gyns are taught to tell people to get rid of caffeine (good advice for this particular problem), use evening primrose oil and Vitamin E (also good advice), and that fibrocystic breast disease, now so common the term was changed to fibrocystic “changes”, are not pathologic but a “variation of normal.”  Very little attention is paid to any hormonal component.  To which I say regarding the latter, hogwash!!!  Lumpy, knotty breasts, which in some, are so sensitive that even bras cause pain, are not normal!  Yet, we have women taking synthetic estrogens and progestins (known to increase risk for breast cancer) for years on end, being iodine deficient as even iodized salt consumption (a devitalized product anyway) declines, Vitamin D deficiency being rampant which we know supports breast health, late or no pregnancies, and poor breastfeeding rates….and we wonder why the rate of breast cancer in 40 years has gone from 1 in 20 to 1 in 8.  Add in exposure to xenoestrogens through hormones in meat and plastics, toxins like percholorate and bromide, insulin resistance causing estrogen dominance, lack of estrogen binders like fiber, flaxseed and cruciferous vegetables, and you have the perfect storm for breast disease, with the end of the line being a huge increase in breast cancer rates.

We know the thyroid is dependent upon iodine to make thyroid hormone, so it stands to reason that the many people with hypothyroidism are likely to be iodine deficient.  And if you add in all the people with fibrocystic breast (many have both), you again have an epidemic deficiency of an essential element in the human body.  We believe this is why women have more thyroid problems than men…their breasts take iodine away from their thyroid.  You don’t have to have a thyroid problem or fibrocystic breast to be iodine deficient, however.  I will use myself as an example.  My thyroid functions have always been stone cold normal, TSH 0.4 on average.  However, when I tested my iodine through a 24 hour urine iodine loading test, my results showed very low iodine levels.  Why?  Because I have been either pregnant or lactating since 2000, putting a tremendous burden on my breast architecture and functioning.  The iodine test I use works as follows:  A spot morning urine sample is collected followed by a loading dose of oral iodine.  Then urine is collected for 24 hours.  Whatever iodine your body needs, it will hold onto and not excrete into the urine.  Greater than 90% urinary excretion is considered iodine sufficiency.  Mine was a dismal 31%, extremely iodine deficient!  Women in mainland Japan who consume greater than 100 times the US RDA for iodine (150 mcg/day), have far, far less thyroid disease and cancer, fibrocystic breast and breast cancer.  Yet when they move to the US, their rates increase to close to ours.  Folks, it is not soy!  It is iodine.

Imagine how much breast disease we could prevent if we got women off synthetic hormones and used bioidentical ones, especially natural progesterone, optimized Vitamin D and iodine supplementation, detoxified from toxic chemicals and put natural cancer fighters in like flaxseed lignans, broccoli and cauliflower, avoided soy which is a know goitrogen (which means it causes the thyroid to become sluggish, note to Oprah), got pregnant and breastfed our babies as long as possible….This is what I try to teach my patients every day in my practice, that we can prevent breast cancer, and not by using chemicals like  Tamoxifen or Raloxifene (Evista).  Stay tuned for more practical advise for those with a family history of breast cancer, years of synthetic hormone use, or women who have never been pregnant…don’t just wait in fear of something inevitable happening to your breast.  Be proactive about your health!

Where else is iodine important?  The ovaries, the prostate, the skin, and the neurologic system.  My husband and I have both observed in our practices an improvement in restless leg syndrome and leg cramps using iodine.  Remember when you were a kid and scraped your knee?  You got it painted with iodine, because of the great antimicrobrial properties, which is why it is used in operating rooms every day.  Just like with breast cancer, we have a near epidemic of prostate cancer, but is it any wonder when men are exposed to the same excess estrogens in the environment and suffer the same iodine and Vitamin D deficiency that women do?

In summary, who should be tested for iodine deficiency?  Everyone, but especially if you have thyroid problems, nodules, goiter, “benign” breast disorders, family history of breast cancer, restless leg, or prostate cancer.   For anyone interested in learning more about iodine, I highly recommend Dr. David Brownstein’s book, “Iodine:  Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It.”