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Iodine – what it is and why it is SO important for Women

In terms of metabolic importance, Iodine is deemed the next most essential (trace) nutrient after iron and Vitamin D.

It’s believed >70% of ALL Australians are Iodine deficient to some degree. Why this is so is multi-factorial; partly due to Australia’s nutrient-poor soil, Chlorine/Fluorine added in most Australian tap water (1) and Bromine in foods – particularly bread.

Iodine, Chlorine, Fluorine and Bromine are termed ‘Halogens’ and exert an absorption-antagonising effect on each other; Iodine uptake into the thyroid gland is inhibited by the other three (Baratosy: 2005).

Simply put: Iodine deficiency = compromised thyroid hormone production (Baratosy: 2005). Iodine is essential for the making of thyroid hormone; thyroid hormone has the most profound influence on body functioning and hair growth.

In 2008 Professor Creswell Eastman from the Australian Council of Control (Iodine Deficiency Disorders) – urged food manufacturers to again add Iodine to their products. His statement arose from a national study which found almost half of all Australian children of primary school age revealed Iodine deficiency.

Why optimised Iodine levels are so essential for Women:

  1. The adult female breasts compete for Iodine entrapment, meaning less Iodine is inclined to be taken up by the female thyroid compared to males. This is part of the reason why females tend to exhibit more thyroid problems than do males.

Dr. John Lee – a progressive Australian thyroid hormone researcher, found he was treating a ‘disproportionate number’ of female swimming instructors with thyroid dysfunction due to Iodine deficiency (Lee:2007).

Anecdotally it’s been suggested an increasing number of professional swimmers are developing breast disease or thyroid disturbance in Australia. A full scientific study is yet to be undertaken on this trend.

  • Iodine deficiency in susceptible women raises their long-term risk of breast disease. The research of noted medical researchers around the world (US Researchers: Dr. David Brownstein, Dr. David Zhava) found long-term Iodine deficiency increased a woman’s potential risk of breast disease by 25-50%.

Coincidentally a 2009 study found women with Vitamin D levels greater than 85nmol/L had a 50% decreased riskof being diagnosed with breast disease than those women with levels less than 60nmol/L (Rejnmark:2009)

  • The Iodine levels in a pregnant woman determines her developing baby’s IQ and brain development. Cretinism in a neonate is the more severe consequence of an Iodine deficient mother.

A pregnant woman’s Iodine should ideally be optimised at around 250ug/L (or greater) to support both her and her developing child (Lee: 2016). At the 2014 PCCA conference, Dr. Lee encouraged practitioners to “optimise” Iodine pools (Iodine stores) in patients – rather than simply “normalise” them.

The research of noted Sydney (Australia) Cancer researcher – Dr. Joachim Fleurer – found it best to keep Iodine levels as close to but UNDER 300ug/L to maximise breast disease protection BUT minimise risk of benign goitre (3).

Why do optimised Iodine levels help reduce the risk of breast disease?

A post-pubescent woman produces three principal forms of Oestogen: Oestradiol, Oestriol and Oestrone. The percentages produced vary and are determined by the woman’s age, pregnancy status or problems within her reproductive organs.

All Oestrogens – natural and synthetic from hormonal therapy – are ultimately metabolised by the liver’s detoxification pathways. 2-hydroxyoestrone (2-OHE 1) is considered the ‘safer’ oestrogen metabolite and believed to be protective from breast and cervical cancer.

Four (4) and 16-hydroxyoestrone are the metabolites of synthetic oestrogens found in oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

When a woman has optimised Iodine pools, her breast receptors will have a greater affinity for 2-OHE 1 – the more protective oestrogen metabolite.

If her Iodine pools are depleted however – her breast receptors with not differentiate between 2, 4 or 16-OHE 1.

If malignant breast cancer cells are present in that woman, the cancer cells will concentrate 4 and 16-OHE 1 metabolites and grow from them at an approximate rate of two centimetres per decade (Lee: 2007).

A particularly infamous synthetic oestrogen – Diethylstilboestrol (DES) – was offered to women for almost forty years before its withdrawal in the 1970’s. DES was linked to increased occurrence of breast cancer and other significant health issues.

DES exposure in unborn children was linked to vaginal and breast cancer in females and reproductive tract abnormalities in males in later life. There is research to suggest the children of these children (i.e.: 3rd generation of DES exposed women) may also be at increased risk of cancer-related disease – Baratosy: 2010)

Why Iodine is NOT routinely tested:

Many health practitioners do understand the significance of assessing a patient’s Iodine status, however it is still not a routine test with other orthodox medical practitioners – nor available under the Australian Medicare (universal) health cover.

Doctors are often reluctant to request Iodine as a privately paid test so as not to incur additional expense for their patients. I would argue 100% of women would rather pay a small fee for a test that could improve their health, and aid in protecting them from breast disease than discover an Iodine deficiency has been the cause of poor health or disease onset.

The high incidence of Iodine deficiency in Australia – and the potential consequences which flow from deficiency – should cause health authorities to re-evaluate the need for Iodine screening as a preventative health measure.

From a pure cost saving perspective to the health care system: a humble urine test costing a few dollars is incomparable to the expense of treating thyroid or breast disease. I would also assert none of these costs could ever equate to the patient’s potential stress and distress caused by these significant health conditions.

Considerations and Precautions with Iodine supplementation:

  • Where a patient has elevated thyroid antibodies, any Iodine supplement MUST be provided in conservative dosage (100 -150mcg/day). Excessive Iodine supplementation can further inflame an irritated, nodular thyroid gland or one which is under autoimmune attack (Van Zanden: 2014). A baseline Iodine level should (obviously) be obtained before prescribing supplementation.
  • Medication interaction: Iodine is totally contra-indicated for patients with hyperthyroidism and taking medication such as Methimazole.
    • Some anti-hypertensive/cardiac drugs (4) and diuretic (potassium sparing) medication cause too much potassium to be retained by the body. NOTE: Spironolactone is a potassium-sparing diuretic commonly prescribed by Doctors for female androgenic hair loss.
    • Potassium is an essential intra-cellular electrolyte to aid in maintaining optimal cardiac rhythm, muscle contraction and digestive functioning. Excess Potassium may result in life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias and significant muscle weakness.
    • Lithium – prescribed as a mood stabiliser for Bipolar disorder can result in an under-functioning thyroid gland when combined with Iodine supplementation that is ‘excessive’, prolonged or where no Iodine deficiency exists. Lithium potentiates Iodine’s effect on the thyroid gland.
  • The NHMRC recommends Kelp (seaweed) supplements or kelp-based products NOT be taken as they may contain varying levels of Iodine AND be contaminated with heavy metals such as Mercury. Iodine amounts within Kelp is often not ’standardised’ (i.e.:  a consistent therapeutic amount in each dose). Lastly – because of the fibrous vegetable nature of Kelp – it does not release its Iodine well (Mosely: 2018)
  • Iodine supplementation should be taken daily (rather than every other day or sporadically) as Iodine has a very short ‘half-life’ and will ineffective in repleting Iodine ‘pools’ (stores) if not taken daily – Chan: 2014. For optimal Iodine synthesis and thyroid hormone conversion, it should be combined with Selenium. Tyrosine + Zinc (Van Zanden: 2014)

*In the form of Fluoride and Chloride; Fluorine is also in Teflon kitchen utensils.

**There are six non-gaseous halogens and seven gaseous one (such as Helium, Neon Argon)

***A goitre is seen as a swelling in the neck as the thyroid gland (which lies either side of the trachea) seeks to obtain greater blood flow for Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), Iodine – or the thyroid is inflamed due to lymphocytic infiltrate from autoimmune thyroiditis.

**** Angiotensin receptor blockers (ARB’s) and ACE Inhibitors

Copyright – Anthony Pearce Trichology 2018 (Revised December 2019).


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