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David Brownstein, M.D.

Iodine Deficiency Disorders

David Brownstein, M.D. is a Board-Certified family physician

and is one of the foremost practitioners of holistic medicine.

He is the Medical Director of the Center for Holistic Medicine in West Bloomfield, MI. Dr. Brownstein

has lectured internationally to physicians and others about his success in using natural hormones and nutritional therapies in his practice.

Dr.David Brownstein's Home Page


Iodine is found in the earth's crust in sparse amounts and is in the form of iodide. Since iodide is soluble, soils will be lowest in iodine in areas where there is much rainfall or where glaciers have melted and leached the iodine out of the soil.

The most important iodine deficient areas in the world include the Himalayas and the Andes, but our own soil in the great Lakes Basin is also iodine deficient. However, in Canada we have iodized the salt and thus have completely rid our population of iodine deficiency.

Based on the most recent evaluation, iodine deficiency currently represents a significant public health problem for 1575 million people (almost 30% of the world's population) in 110 countries. 655 million are affected by goitre, 20 million are believed to be significantly mentally handicapped as a result of iodine deficiency which is therefore the most prevalent preventable cause of impaired intellectual development in the world today.

Although the disorders that result from iodine deficiency are preventable by appropriate iodine supplementation, they continue to occur because of various socio-economic, cultural and political limitations to adequate iodine supplementation programmes.

Severe iodine deficiency may manifest itself by Cretinism i.e. children born with severe hypothyroidism. Neonates and young infants constitute the target population for the effects of iodine deficiency because, from a public health viewpoint, the most important complications of iodine deficiency are irreversible brain damage and mental retardation which result from iodine deficiency and thyroid failure during fetal and early postnatal life.

Other naturally occurring goitrogens can aggravate or simulate iodine deficiency, and these include such foods as cassava, maize, bamboo shoots, sweet potatoes, lima beans, and the Brassica group of vegetables. Iodine deficiency and/or these goitrogens interfere with the production of thyroid hormone, thus causing an increase in TSH, an increased size of the thyroid gland (goitre), and hypothyroidism.

The consequences of iodine deficiency even in developed areas such as Europe is enormous. For example the cost of the diagnosis and treatment of goitre due to iodine deficiency in Germany in 1986 was estimated at 700 million dollars, yet prevention by iodized salt would cost only 2-8 cents per person per year.

Elevated thyroid uptake due to iodine deficiency aggravates the risk of thyroid irradiation and development of thyroid cancer in the case of a nuclear accident. Even in Europe, clinically euthyroid school children born and living in an iodine deficient environment exhibit subtle or even overt neuropsychointellectual deficits as compared to controls living in the same ethnic, demographic, nutritional and socio-economic system, except that they are not exposed to iodine deficiency.

Treatment and prophylaxis of iodine deficiency disorders

Prolonged administration of iodide or of thyroid hormone has been found highly effective in reducing the size of endemic goitre. Surgical treatment is often justified in large goitres with pressure symptoms.

Nevertheless, such types of treatment are, in practice, impossible to apply to a general population in view of the epidemiologic size of the problem and the general lack of adequate medical infrastructure in the most severely affected population. The most logical approach is the introduction of iodine prophylaxis.

For almost eighty years, iodized salt has been used as the simplest and most effective way of providing extra iodine in the diet. Iodine is most often added in the form of potassium iodide, but iodate is preferred in humid regions owing to its greater stability. Many countries have long since introduced iodized salt which resulted not only in a dramatic reduction in the prevalence of goitre but also progressive disappearance of endemic Cretinism. In the United States and Canada, one part of iodide is added to 10,000 parts of salt. In other countries, the ratio is one to 100,000. Iodination of water has been successfully used in some areas with adequate water supply and control of the iodination process. Iodination of irrigation water has been successfully used in China.

However, in many developing countries with severe problems of endemic goitre, iodination of salt, bread or water has failed to prevent or eradicate the disease because various socio- economic, climatic or geographic conditions make systemic iodine supplementation difficult or even impossible, such as when iodized salt did not reach the endemic areas or when house salt was not available.

In such conditions, prophylaxis and therapy can be achieved extremely effectively by injecting slowly resorbable iodized oil given by intramuscular injection or orally.

It appears necessary to inject the entire population from birth to 45 years of age for females and from birth to 20 years of age for males. This is, of course, a very large logistic problem and this problem has not been entirely overcome.

The principal complication of iodine prophylaxis is the occurrence of thyrotoxicosis (hyperthyroidism). However, this is exceptional and does not negate the enormous benefit that follows the introduction of iodide prophylaxis in endemic goitre regions. .

Copyright © 1998 Thyroid Foundation of Canada/La Fondation canadienne de la Thyroïde.
Reprinted from Thyrobulletin, Vol. 19, No. 3, 1998.

How to Self-Test for an Iodine Deficiency

1. Dip a cotton ball into USP Tincture of Iodine. (You can get iodine at the drugstore for under $1.)

2. Paint a 2 inch circle of iodine on your soft skin, like the inner part of your thigh or upper arm.

3. Wait. -- If the yellowish stain disappears in less than an hour; it means your body is lacking crucial iodine and has soaked it up. If the stain remains for more than four hours, you iodine levels are fine.

Why check your iodine levels?

Low iodine levels can zap your energy and make you feel tired, edgy and worn out. Low iodine levels can even prevent you from getting a good night's sleep. Before you go to your doctor with complaints of tossing and turning all night, aches and pains, and just feeling "blah," you may want to perform this self-test.

Because the symptoms of an iodine deficiency are classically identical to so many other illnesses (like depression, stress, chronic fatigue, or fibromyalgia,) many doctors either misdiagnose it or miss it completely and tell you there is nothing wrong.

Why are iodine levels so important?

Low levels of iodine mean your thyroid isn't functioning properly. The thyroid helps balance hormones, regulate heartbeats, stabilize cholesterol, maintain weight control, encourage muscle growth, keep menstrual cycles regular, provide energy, and even helps you keep a positive mental attitude.

Women are naturally prone to iodine deficiencies. That's because the thyroid gland in women is twice as large as in men -- so under normal circumstances, women need more iodine. However, when women are under stress, the need for iodine can double or triple. Yet the foods we eat contain less and less dietary iodine. For example, back in 1940, the typical American diet contained about 800 micrograms of iodine. By 1995, that amount plunged to just 135 micrograms. That's an 83% decline.

Two thirds of the body's iodine is found in the thyroid gland. One of the best ways to boost your iodine levels is to add seaweed sea vegetables to your diet. Just one teaspoon of sea vegetables a day can help you regain normal iodine levels. Incorporating seafood and fish into your diet can also help. Other foods that contain iodine are eggs and dairy products, including milk, cheese and yogurt, onions, radishes, and watercress. Some foods, called goitrogens, should be omitted for awhile as they hinder iodine utilization. These included kale, cabbage, peanuts, soy flour, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, kohlrabi and turnips.

To reactivate the thyroid gland, tyrosine, iodine, zinc, copper and selenium are needed so make sure that foods containing these nutrients are included in your diet.


copyright 2017 Grant Lucas