What is iodine? The halogen inside each of your cells

What is iodine? The halogen inside each of your cells

In conjuction with the release of our latest supplement, we wanted to talk a little bit more about Iodine. Our new organic seaweed blend contains 346ug of wholefood iodine which equates to 230% of the RNI (reference nutrient intake), but why do we need it? and what really is iodine?

Bernard courtois was the man who first discovered iodine which is a halogen if you're looking at the periodic table. He was originally making gunpowder from potassium and sodium but accidentally added too much sulphuric acid to seaweed ash and observed a distinct purple colour. This was the birth of iodine ('iodes' in greek means violet-coloured). 

There are naturally occurring non-radioactive and radioactive iodine forms. Radioactive iodine has uses in medicine to diagnose and treat certain conditions whereas natural forms come in many sources like seaweed. 

In human health iodine is often misunderstood. It is a micronutrient that is found in each of your cells but is a relatively rare earth element ranking 62. It is typically concentrated in sea organisms such as seaweed which means the further inland you go, the further you get away from iodine and the more prevalent iodine deficiency becomes. This is highlighted by what was known as 'the goilter belt' (areas within Great Lakes, Appalachian, and Northwestern U.S. regions etc) which had high prevalences of iodine deficiency. Goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland; when a gland doesn’t get what it needs, it typically increases its surface area in an attempt to find more of its missing micronutrient, in this case iodine.

In order to combat the epidemic of goiter happening worldwide governments began adding iodine to salt products (iodized salt) and although this did have an impact on the prevalence of goiter, it did not address the wider issues.

Between 1970s - 2000 studies by NHANES still showed a 50% drop in iodine levels across the US (similar figures in many parts of europe) with the percentage of pregnant women with low iodine concentrations increasing 690% over this time period. The question is, why was this? This was likely due to a couple of different reasons including reduced dietary intake and exposure to other halides such as bromide and flouride.

Specific functions of iodine

Iodine is an essential ingredient for thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) which are key hormones in the regulation of your metabolic rate. Every single cell in your body depends on adequate levels of thyroid hormone. 

Deficiencies or overdoses of iodine are risk factors in hypothyroidism and autoimmune diseases like Graves and Hashimotos. Iodine is not found in large quantities in the body although there’s around 15-20mg in the thyroid of an average adult. The thyroid gland concentrates it there using a system known as the sodium/iodide symporter (NIS) of which the mammary glands have the same mechanism for concentrating iodine.

But it's not just the thyroid gland, iodine might just be one of, if not the most important micronutrient for breast health. There is a wealth of research showing the connection between iodine deficiency and breast cancer. As mentioned, the breasts also have a sodium/iodide transport system, concentrating iodine there. The concentration of iodine in mammary glands and its secretion here highlights the importance of iodine. Low levels conclusively cause changes to the structure and function of the breasts. It’s worth noting that in animal studies, iodide is ineffective at reversing pre-cancerous lesions of breast tissue whereas iodine is much more effective. 

Iodine also helps prevent lipoperoxidation (the oxidation of lipids) which has been found to be elevated in breast tumours and can help balance estrogen by maintaining the estrogen/estriol ratio. When there is an imbalance in estrogen ratios (estrone, estriol and estrogen), women can suffer from things like fibrocystic breasts, a condition where breasts have cysts which are usually painful to touch.

In cancer, iodine has the ability to induce apoptosis, the process of timed cell death which is essential for the regulation of cancer in the body. It does this through a few mechanisms like the iodination of lipids. It really does pack a punch in the anti-oxidant department. 

Why we might need more iodine now

One of the issues around halogens is that they like to compete in the body. Other halides, particularly bromide and fluoride can bind to iodine receptors in the body, blocking absorption. Bromide has no place in the body. It is a toxic compound which is used as a flame retardant in many furnishings and in baked goods as a dough conditioner. Fluoride is also added to many water supplies to help strengthen teeth but it comes at a cost.

Furthermore, perchlorate, another halogen which contains one atom of chlorine and four atoms of oxygen, further displaces iodine. Perchlorate has contaminated many water supplies due to poor disposal. It is used in a variety of products like air bags, leather tanning, fireworks and in rocket fuel.

The introduction of these compounds, on top of low dietary intake is a recipe for deficiencies. This is one of the reasons why some scientists believe the RNI is inadequate.

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