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Tuesday, March 5, 2013

51: Iodophobia — Part I

If you ask your doctor about taking an iodine supplement, chances are about 95 out of 100 that he or she will tell you unequivocally to stay away from it, on the grounds that it may damage your thyroid. And yet I learned, way back in secondary school, that iodine was crucial for thyroid health. Why the disparity? What is the truth?

It was around 1860, three decades after Jean Lugol figured out how to make a water-based solution of iodine, that doctors discovered it would cure hypothyroidism. For the next 70 years, Lugol’s Solution was used successfully in treating this ailment, with the optimum dosage ranging from 12.5 to 37.5 mg per day.

The present-day view is that iodine is especially dangerous for those with a hyperactive thyroid and that it may even cause hyperthyroidism in a previously healthy person. Much to the contrary though, the clinical track record a century ago showed that hyperthyroidism, too, yielded to supplementation with Lugol’s, a combination of elemental iodine and potassium iodide. Here, though, the range of effective dosage was very wide, varying from 6 mg per day to a staggering 180 mg. The most common effective dose was 90 mg, and the success rate was 90 percent.

Again, why the disparity in the medical establishment’s opinion on iodine, on its safety and efficacy? What changed?

Well, in about 1930 the first pharmaceutical (synthetic) thyroid hormone was developed. Suddenly there was a profit-minded reason to begin to throw doubt on an inexpensive, unpatentable remedy that had served three generations of doctors and their patients. The shift was gradual at first. But in 1948 a study was done by two researchers, Wolfe and Chaikoff, and they came to some alarming conclusions: rats that were given large doses of iodine showed evidence of their thyroid failing to continue to convert T4 hormone to the active T3 form. This would be one of the working definitions of hypothyroidism. So can we conclude, as these two men did, that iodine can cause malfunction of the thyroid?

Now let me step back and explain something. Whenever there is a nuclear disaster, the emergency protocol is to dose those who have been exposed with 130 mg of iodine. This is because one of the by-products of a nuclear meltdown is radioactive iodine. If you are iodine deficient, your thyroid will hungrily gobble up this toxic form of the element, and there’s a good chance that not far down the line, you will have thyroid cancer.

If, however, you are ingesting generous doses of iodine, your body will not uptake any more because its systems are already satiated. Similarly, if you have a lab rat that you’ve supplemented to the point of iodine sufficiency, and then you administer radioactive iodine so you can track its movement through the thyroid, guess what? Nothing, or very little, will happen, because the rat’s thyroid does not need any more iodine at this time, and it will be flushed, more or less harmlessly, out of its system.

These two researchers, however, concluded that the large supplements of iodine had shut down the thyroid. This seems to have been accepted as fact now, pretty much across the board. Referred to as the Wolke-Chaikoff Effect, this “theory” is taught in medical schools today. I find myself wondering who funded their research.

Even forward-thinking physicians are afraid to mess with iodine, fearing the scorn of colleagues, the full fury of the pharmaceutical industry, and even accusations of malpractice. My own naturopath, knowing my interest in the subject, gave me a lot of current iodine research material that he studied in school. But although he is impressed with what iodine has done for me, and keeps saying he would probably really benefit from it himself, he seems reluctant to actually recommend orthomolecular doses to his patients, suggesting instead kelp supplements or watered-down plant-sourced iodine drops.

Dr. G. E. Abraham is one of the foremost experts on the subject of iodine today. He says this: “A century ago, non-radioactive forms of inorganic iodine were considered a panacea for all human ills, but today, they are avoided by physicians like leprosy.” He has coined a term for this irrational, ill-informed fear: iodophobia. Tongue in cheek, he describes the symptoms of this “syndrome”: “split personality, double standards, amnesia, confusion and altered state of consciousness. Medical iodophobia,” says Abraham, “has reached pandemic proportion and it is highly contagious.”

Summing up about iodine, this is what he says : “Of all the elements known so far to be essential for health, iodine is the most misunderstood and the most feared. Yet, it is by far the safest of all the trace elements known to be essential for human health.”


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