Regardless of how healthy your diet is, the right supplement regimen can go a long way toward helping you feel and perform at your best, especially as a CEO. After reading our last two blogs, you now know the importance of Vitamin D and Omega 3. This week, we will discuss Iodine. If the name rings a bell, perhaps it’s from your highschool chemistry class when you studied the periodic table of elements (I – atomic number 53). What you probably did not learn in chemistry class, however, is that iodine is essential to our health – it plays a role in the function of every single cell in our bodies. Iodine is similar to Omega 3 in the sense that our bodies do not produce it naturally, so we must obtain it through diet and supplementation. Here are the ins and outs of why you should be taking an iodine supplement daily:

Iodine is critical to our health because it is the sole ingredient that our body uses to create thyroid hormone – T3 and T4. When you are deficient in iodine, your body does not have the capacity to create thyroid hormone, therefore creating a wide variety of health issues from hypothyroidism, inflammation of the thyroid (a goiter), and cancer. An estimated 2 billion people worldwide are believed to be deficient in iodine. Per the CDC website, “Iodine deficiency is one of the four major deficiency diseases in the world, yet it is the easiest to control”. 

Iodine deficiency and thyroid issues are not a new phenomenon. For thousands of years, humans have been suffering from a widespread epidemic of iodine deficiency leading to a number of health issues. Why is this? All of the world’s iodine is concentrated into the ocean and the soil in close proximity to the ocean. Because civilization emerged near the ocean, the earliest cultures were consuming a diet rich in fish, shellfish, and kelp, which all contain high levels of iodine. As civilizations began to migrate to the interior parts of the continents, humans began to develop a variety of health issues. A seemingly common symptom that began to occur was the swelling of the neck (or thyroid gland), otherwise known as a goiter. The goiter was widespread throughout ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome (it’s visible on many statues that we have today from that time period). Issues related to the thyroid are thought to be a leading cause of death within this same time period. 

For quite some time, humans did not understand why the goiter was swelling and how to treat it. In 1813, a swiss doctor discovered that he could cure the swelling of the thyroid with seaweed (which is rich in Iodine). Two decades later, a French physician was the first to prescribe iodine-rich salt to prevent goiter. By 1924, American researchers and physicians began to fully understand the correlation between iodine deficiencies and thyroid health. Around this time, the FDA asked salt manufacturers to add iodine to their salt, and hypothyroidism seemed to disappear almost immediately. However, in the 1980’s, in an effort to treat a seemingly high number of reports of hypertension and high blood pressure, the USDA and the HHS started advertising to the American people that salt was “bad for you” and was the cause of these cardiovascular problems. As Americans started to cut back on their sodium intake, these agencies also came out with advice to cut fat and to eat more healthy whole grains. And at the same time, the American diet became proliferated with food high in added sugar. Consequently, many Americans developed high levels of insulin resistance. Now, nearly two thirds of the American public, including children, suffers from insulin resistance. Insulin resistance manifests itself in a number of ways and often leads to chronic disease – diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Today, 41.9% of the US population is obese and an estimated 20 million people have thyroid issues from iodine deficiency.

  In Japan, the story is not the same. Japanese iodine intake exceeds all other countries. The Japanese diet consists largely of seaweed and fish, and the data speaks for itself:

  • Japanese average life expectancy (83 years) is five years longer than the US average life expectancy (78 years).
  • In 1999 the age-adjusted breast cancer mortality rate was three times higher in the US than in Japan.
  • Ten years after arriving in the US (in 1991), the breast cancer incidence rate of immigrants from Japan increased from 20 per 100,000 to 30 per 100,000.
  • In 2002 the age-adjusted rate of prostate cancer in Japan was 12.6 per 100,000, while the US rate was almost ten times as high.
  • Heart related deaths in men and women aged 35-74 years are much higher in the US (1,415 per 100,000) as they are in Japan (897 per 100,000).
  • In 2004, infant deaths were over twice as high in the US (6.8 per 1,000) as they were in Japan. 

When our bodies need a certain nutrient to function properly, and we are not giving our body that nutrient, and few doctors or government health agencies are advising you to supplement it, it’s no wonder that chronic disease is pervasive. So how much iodine should you be taking? We recommend taking 150 micrograms per day from liquid iodine drops or from kelp supplements. Stay tuned next week as we turn to Vitamin C.