We have often written about vitamins, minerals and nutrients which are lacking in the traditional British diet.
Iodine is another important element of sound nutrition which many Brits fail to get enough of. This is cause for major concern since iodine contributes to the thyroid as well as other aspects of health. It’s also especially vital during pregnancy.
In this blog, we intend to discuss the importance of iodine – and by extension, nascent iodine, the ideal form of the mineral recognised by the body.
We’ll also consider the ideal amount of iodine, the merits of plant-based iodine, and discuss why the UK’s public awareness of iodine and its benefits are falling well short.
What is Iodine?
Iodine is a trace mineral required by the body to make thyroid hormones, which regulate our metabolism.
The body also relies on these thyroid hormones to facilitate healthy bone and brain tissue development during pregnancy and infancy. Because we are unable to produce iodine on our own, we must rely on our diet.
With obesity reaching pandemic proportions throughout the western world in particular, the importance of regulating one’s metabolism couldn’t be more obvious.
A natural corollary of low iodine levels is a sluggish metabolic rate due to the thyroid gland’s inability to synthesise necessary amounts of thyroid hormone.
The consequence of this chain of unfortunate events is weight gain.
While you may be busy counting calories and breaking a sweat in the gym, an iodine deficiency could unknowingly be hindering your fat-loss efforts.
Improve your iodine status, kickstart your production of thyroid hormones, and your results could well improve.
Iodine for Diabetes and Pregnancy
It’s not just thyroid function and metabolism: iodine is needed for healthy skin and proper nervous system functioning.
It also increases the excretion of toxic halogens (bromides, fluorine, chlorine) and heavy metals, which we unwittingly ingest every day.
What’s more, there is anecdotal evidence to suggest it can benefit those battling allergies, brain fog, fatigue, psoriasis, type-2 diabetes, depression, cholesterol and lung conditions.
“I have found that type 2 diabetic patients can often stop their oral medication after iodine supplementation, as their blood sugar dramatically improves,” notes Dr David Brownstein, one of the world’s foremost authorities on iodine and author of the book Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It.
“For those patients treated with insulin, I have been able to lower insulin dosages in nearly every patient treated with iodine.”
Research in 2013 focused on the specific benefits of iodine supplements taken before conception, during pregnancy and during breastfeeding.
The analysis suggested that iodine supplements could boost children’s IQ scores by an average of 1.22 points; save the NHS £199 per pregnant woman; and offer financial benefit for every woman equal to £4,476, based on higher earnings and lower income education costs for her child.
Separate studies undertaken by the WHO have found an IQ difference of up to 13 points between communities with a healthy iodine intake versus those without.
Iodine Supplements: UK Citizens Need Them
The intake of iodine in the UK is, to put it mildly, not great.
Cow’s milk is the richest source of iodine in the British diet, and the fact that so many people have adopted vegan diets – and cultivated a love of plant-based milks such as soy and almond – partly explains the rocketing rate of iodine deficiency in the UK.
Britain now has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the top ten most iodine-deficient countries on the planet.
Young women have been identified as particularly at-risk. In a 2011 study of 737 teenage girls, almost 70% were found to have levels below 100 mcg per litre, which is classed as the acceptable “minimum level” by the World Health Organisation.
Almost one fifth of subjects, meanwhile, exhibited iodine levels below 50 mcg per litre.
This is especially worrying since pregnant and lactating women actually need more iodine than the rest of us (as thyroid function is ramped up during pregnancy). The results of one 2016 study of pregnant women in Southwest England make for grim reading.
Given that iodine deficiency during pregnancy is believed to impair neurological development in the foetus, the finding that median urinary iodine concentrations (UIC) for the 308 subjects were just 88 mcg per litre was cause for serious concern.
Remember, 100 mcg/l is considered the minimum level by the WHO. The results caused the researchers to announce that measures to develop optimum prevention and treatment strategies were “urgently needed.”
Is the RDI for Iodine Sufficient?
The current UK recommended daily intake for iodine is 140 mcg, though the WHO insists pregnant and lactating women should consume 250 mcg.
Hence why an increasing number of pregnancy supplements are being fortified with iodine and why iodised salt is recommended for food preparation.
In the view of many doctors, the RDI is woefully insufficient: they contend that it was calculated from how much iodine the thyroid needs to avoid goiter, not perform optimally.
The requirements of other organs were not factored into the number, and nor was a proper consideration of iodine-inhibiting polluters given.
Since 250 mcg is tricky to achieve via diet alone, and sea kelp and seaweed are not advised for pregnant women (yes, that includes organic iodine supplements), many experts recommend taking iodine supplements during and after pregnancy to ensure iodine needs are met.
The WHO makes the same recommendation in areas which do not have access to iodised salt. Most salt on sale in Britain is not iodised, and the iodine concentration of the major UK brand of iodised salt is actually very low (115 mcg per kg).
Even if it were high, UK public health campaigns aimed at reducing salt consumption make hitting an RDI – even an insufficient one – very difficult.
Iodine Deficiency: A Public Health Concern in 47 Countries
It’s not just Brits who are deficient. Studying data from 1997 to 2006, the WHO found that iodine deficiency remained a public health problem in 47 countries, with almost two billion individuals worldwide estimated to be deficient.
Iodine deficiency remains the world’s greatest single cause of preventable brain damage, with the relatively low iodine content of most foods to blame.
As mentioned, cow’s milk is by some margin the greatest source of dietary iodine. That is not to say that it is the only source, however: iodine also crops up in fish (who extract it from seawater) and seaweed; dairy products like cheese and yogurt; and a few specific fruits and vegetables – prunes, cranberries, green beans and watercress among them.
Himalayan pink salt is yet another terrific source of iodine, with a half gram yielding 250 mcg.
Is Iodine Bioavailable?
There is, however, the question of bioavailability. The BBC show Trust Me, I’m a Doctor decided to compare the iodine-raising effects of eating white fish, sea vegetables or milk.
In their human trial, they found that participants were only able to absorb around half as much iodine from the seaweed as from milk or fish.
In other words, although sea vegetables were deemed a plentiful source of iodine, their bioavailability was poorer than from cow’s milk or fish. Indicating, once more, that vegans are particularly at risk of iodine deficiency.
To these at-risk groups (young women, vegans), we should perhaps add those increasing numbers who have begun to follow Palaeolithic diets.
According to a 2017 study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, these common fat-burning diets put one at a higher risk of iodine deficiency.
Do Other Factors Influence Iodine Deficiency?
Aside from poor dietary intake, other factors impact our iodine levels.
As noted by Lynne Farrow in her book The Iodine Crisis, “iodine is vulnerable to displacement by environmental toxins such as bromide, pesticides and food additives…
“Bromine fire retardants surround us. Introduced in the 1970s, they have accumulated in our homes, cars and workplaces.”
Indeed, Farrow is convinced that our bromine-saturated environment has much to answer for, pointing out that “iodine is the biochemical antidote for toxic bromine but it takes time. Bromine is a persistent chemical bully. Like any bully, it has to be outflanked, outnumbered and outwitted. The right dosage of iodine is your ally.”
Given its use in pesticides, plastics, prescription medications, baking ingredients, electronics and upholstery, bromine is quite tricky to avoid.
Ensuring a proper intake of iodine – whether by eating plenty of iodine-rich foods, using a good-quality iodine supplement or both – is vital to minimise the potential damage.
Otherwise, bromine will bully what little iodine we get through our diet off the receptors.
It is also wise to avoid other health-damaging chemicals known to block iodine uptake, not least fluoride and chlorine. You can reduce the fluoride and chlorine content of your drinking water by using a water filter system like the Energy Plus.
The undersink filter also removes heavy metals, chloramine, herbicides and other unnatural components of drinking water.
How Iodine Metabolism is Hindered by Goitrogens
Lastly, eating an abundance of goitrogenic food is best avoided. Goitrogens are substances which interfere with the way our body utilises iodine.
They are found mainly in plant foods such as soy and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. If our iodine intake is healthy, consuming reasonable amounts of these foods won’t do us much harm.
However, if we’re already hovering near iodine deficiency and goitrogenic foods constitute the bulk of our diet – as is likely for vegans – it spells worry.
Nascent Iodine: UK Citizens’ Need to Supplement
Public Health England insists that a varied diet should provide all the iodine you need. However, PHE is so anti-supplement that this advice should be taken with a good-sized pinch of iodised salt!
We have made references to several studies indicating chronic iodine deficiency among the population at large, and there are many more.
Unless you are drinking plenty of cow’s milk and/or regularly eating seafood and seaweed, you are simply unlikely to be getting enough.
Nascent iodine is a form of supplemental iodine available in atomic rather than molecular form. Highly bioavailable, it is recognised by the human body as the same iodine which is taken up by the thyroid, and is thus rapidly absorbed.
Nascent iodine can be taken sublingually (placing drops under the tongue), or alternatively you can add a drop to water and drink. As a wellness supplement, nascent iodine has been used since the 1920s.
The brand of Nascent Iodine we stock is from Planet Source, a family-owned nutraceuticals company founded in 1989 who specialise in wholly natural supplements formulated with the highest quality ingredients.
Interestingly, our Nascent Iodine is ranked #1 by Best Reviews Guide with a rating of 9.8/10, making it the best iodine supplement UK citizens can buy.
Recommended Dosages for Iodine
You may be wondering whether a dosage of 450 mcg is really necessary to avoid moderate iodine deficiency. But similar dosages are recommended by physicians Guy Abraham, MD, and the aforementioned David Brownstein, MD.
Indeed, their iodine supplement protocol recommends 500 mcg of iodine daily. (They also recommend several adjuncts including 3,000 mg of vitamin C, 300-600 mg magnesium, 200 mcg selenium and half a teaspoon of unprocessed sea salt.)
It is worth noting that the tolerable upper limit of iodine is 1,100 mcg per day – so 450 mcg is perfectly safe for consumption.
Women with pre-existing thyroid conditions, however, should seek advice from their medical practitioner prior to taking this or indeed any nutritional supplement.
It is easy to see the value in consuming nascent iodine. UK citizens would do well to follow the work of The UK Iodine Group, a collective of experts in iodine nutrition who have tasked themselves with eradicating iodine deficiency domestically.
But truthfully, this is a global problem and one which requires a sustained and committed response.
Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.
“For those patients treated with insulin, I have been able to lower insulin dosages in nearly every patient treated with iodine.” – Dr. David Brownstein