Iodine and Hashimoto's Thyroiditis

By Don Bennett, DAS

First, some perspective. Iodine levels in people have dropped 50% over the last 30 years, and the incidence of thyroid disease has increased at an alarming rate. More than ever, people are suffering from hypothyroidism and, at its worst, autoimmune thyroid disease and cancer. It is estimated that 20 million Americans have a form of thyroid disease, and up to 60% of those with thyroid disease are unaware they have a condition.

Now let's talk about why some people think that iodine causes Hashimoto's, when in reality it helps resolve and prevent it.

When correcting a low iodine level (a level that never would have gotten that low had you been living where the human body is designed to live), a "rebalancing" takes place, and it does so with all the organs, glands, tissues, and systems that utilize iodine, the thyroid being chief among them. And when the thyroid heals and rebalances, as it regains normal functionality, some people may exhibit symptoms of hypothyroidism, but this does not necessarily mean that they have clinical hypothyroidism. Symptoms associated with a condition, and actually having that condition are two different things. But since the medical community doesn't see people who are normalizing their thyroid with a non-pharmaceutical approach, because of their training they can only assume that those symptoms are a sign of clinical hypothyroidism.

Hashimoto's is a type of hypothyroidism that is said to be caused by an "autoimmune" disease where the body attacks the thyroid. I put "autoimmune" in quotes because this is another totally preventable condition which the medical and pharma industries want everyone to believe is just another normal condition of which we have no idea why it occurs. But this is horse-hockey! Sorry for the colorful language, but it really frosts my cookies when the cause of autoimmune reactions is known, but it is prevented from being common knowledge because autoimmune conditions represent so much money to those industries. But I digress.

Therapeutic amounts of iodine do not cause the body to attack the thyroid and cause Hashimoto's as some "anti-iodine" information claims. And before we get into the nuts and bolts of Hashimotos, I think it's important to understand why there is anti-iodine information on the Internet. In my opinion, there are three reasons:

1) Because if large numbers of people were to normalize their iodine levels (and D levels), this would put a significant hurt on the above named industries, and that simply cannot be permitted, and whatever needs to be done to protect their interests, including commissioning "loaded" studies, and disseminating the resulting false info, will be done.

2) Well-meaning people who don't want to see anyone injured from following bogus information will parrot and perpetuate incorrect anti-iodine info without doing their due diligence and proper fact checking, and they don't realize they can be doing more harm than good, and that they are playing right into the hands of those who would keep beneficial health information from the public (in the name of "protecting" the public).

3) When attempting to normalize their iodine levels, some people go about it in a Do-It-Yourself fashion, and end up relying on some incorrect iodine information or on not enough accurate information, and in so doing, get themselves into trouble, and then post their negative experiences and erroneous conclusions which are seen as reasons to not attempt to mess with iodine, or to take low doses, but doses that are so low that they aren't helpful in reality. This underscores the importance of dealing with iodine level normalization with guidance from an iodine literate health practitioner.

What follows is a likely mechanism for autoimmune thyroid disorders such as Hashimoto's...

The NADPH oxydase system is found in the mitochondria of our cells. The mitochondria are the energy-producing cells of our body. The mitochondria produce energy (ATP) through a complex process called oxidative phosphorylation. All medical students (and most physicians) are familiar with oxidative phosphorylation because they have to memorize the many steps responsible for producing ATP. This production of ATP requires many items including: oxygen, magnesium, ADP, and amino acids.

Many people with chronic illnesses, such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and autoimmune disorders, complain they have no energy. ATP is the molecule that stores energy for the body. The body is constantly producing and utilizing ATP, but there are two cofactors, Vitamins B2 (riboflavin) and B3 (niacin), that are integral to stimulating oxidative phosphorylation and ATP production.

Hydrogen peroxide is a byproduct of oxidative phosphorylation. It is this production of hydrogen peroxide that is so critical to the oxidation process of iodine. Hydrogen peroxide and TPO (Thyroid Peroxidase) help to oxidize iodide to form iodine (some organs/glands concentrate iodine, and some concentrate iodide).

If there is a deficiency in iodine – which is common when consuming the RDI for iodine – there will not be enough substrate (i.e., iodine) to produce iodinated lipids. The lack of 5-iodolactone and other iodinated lipids results in a loss of the ‘brake’ in the pathway to oxidize iodide. This may result in a temporary production of too much hydrogen peroxide. This excess hydrogen peroxide can damage TPO, and thus cause the body to create antibodies (TPO Ab) to deal with the damaged TPO, and these antibodies are always found in Hashimoto's (and are identified with an out-of-range TPO Ab test).

That was a lot of explanation to get to the main point: When iodine no longer binds to thyroid cell membranes, enzymes called peroxidases are able to damage these membranes and produce autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Hyperthyroidism (Graves Disease). And, assuming you're getting enough iodine, the two main reasons for iodine not binding to thyroid cell membranes are discussed in this article by yours truly (it's a long one, but a very important one).

It should also be noted that many people with Hashimoto's find that low doses of iodine make their symptoms worse and only find relief when they get to higher doses (25-50 mg). But some people with Hashi's stay at or under the 1 mg dose (and have problems) because they read something like this on the Internet, "The Tolerable Upper Intake Level for iodine for adults is 1 mg/day" but they don't see, "Iodine supplementation over this limit has been shown to potentially contribute to an underlying thyroid pathology in those with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves’ disease, or exacerbation of nodularities in euthyroid individuals if intake exceeds 20 mg iodine or iodide" [emphasis mine] and keep in mind this is a mainstream medical warning, and most medical professionals do not test for iodine sufficiency when doing TFTs (Thyroid Function Tests) so we should take their iodine info with a grain of salt. But even so, 20 mg is not the same as 1 mg. And when you consider that people take 100 mg a day of iodine to help deal with breast cancer and other breast and ovary issues, with no detrimental effects from doing this (only positive ones), this should make you think, "Hmmm."


An important note about Organification

Organification is when there is a binding to an organic molecule. Iodine organification is where iodine becomes a part of lipids, proteins, and cholesterol. In the case of iodine, it is bound to thyroglobulin to make thyroid hormones. A critical thing can occur at this point when enough iodine is supplied, and it is often overlooked when discussing iodine. When iodine is available in amounts of at least 100 times the RDI (15 mg) iodo-lipids like delta-iodolactone are created. This is the process of iodine being organified to lipids. Without high enough levels of iodine available, insignificant amounts of iodo-lipids are created. The RDI for iodine (150 mcg) was chosen as the amount that would create enough thyroid hormones to prevent goiter. At that time no consideration was given for these iodo-lipids and their thyroid cell regulatory effect. So while the RDI was enough to prevent the worst case scenario caused by a severe iodine insufficiency (deficiency), it turns out it is not enough to provide for iodine sufficiency (i.e. whole body tissue sufficiency).


Iodine Doesn't Work in Isolation

Having sufficient iodine is all well and good, but if you don't have enough of iodine's co-factor nutrients, the body can have problems with properly utilizing iodine. I don't like to play favorites, but when it comes to iodine, sufficient selenium is of critical importance because it is a key nutrient in two of the enzymes involved in thyroid function, and if there isn't enough of it, the symptoms of Hashi's can result. If I had to pick a number two, it would be magnesium, but then there are the B vitamins, and C... as you can see, it takes a village to properly utilize iodine (and all nutrients for that matter). A reading of the two nutrition articles that appear at the bottom of this page would be informative.

Bottom line: Empirical evidence often trumps studies, especially when study results are misinterpreted or when the study was a "loaded" study (the study was designed to produce specific results). And the empirical evidence shows that normalizing iodine levels helps resolve sub-par thyroid functioning. And considering the 3 and 4 in T3 and T4 (thyroid hormones) are atoms of iodine, evidently iodine is a key player in normal thyroid function. This was understood by the medical community 100 years ago, but obviously not today since iodine testing is not part of TFT's, and maybe because the standard-of-care treatment for an under-functioning thyroid are very profitable thyroid hormones... iodine is a natural (and essential) nutrient, and therefore it can't be patented, so big money can't be made from it.


"I have Hashimoto's, I'm 44, and I've been on Armor [prescription thyroid hormone] for 16 years. I wanted to share results. I've been on the iodine protocol for 2 months. The first month at 12 mg/day, the second month at 50 mg/day. I felt awful the first month on iodine. I was depressed and I had other bromide detox issues. But when I increased my dose to 50 mg/day it was SO much better. I'd heard this is common in people with Hashimoto's, and I wish I had tried the big dose earlier! Instead of depression, I got the "boing" that is described in the book, The Iodine Crisis, I felt really good, and I've been feeling mentally clear and energized ever since – a month so far. I still have some [bromine] detox symptoms, but those are fading out."


Also, medical doctors will say that there isn't any more iodine deficiency in the U.S., and while it's true that there are few cases of severe iodine deficiency – the kind that led to goiter and cretinism – there are still plenty of cases of iodine insufficiency, a level of iodine deficiency that lead to other conditions like the ones listed here.

And if you're thinking of treating the iodine issue as you would the B12 or D issue, here is a list of reasons why people can get into trouble when they try doing iodine therapy on their own, without proper guidance.

Also, it should be noted that the consumption of cooked food should be considered as a contributing factor to autoimmune diseases for the reasons demonstrated in this short video.

And for some technical info about Hashi's, see this article by the "father" of modern day iodine research.


"I specialize in thyroid disease and iodine deficiency. Every one of my patients with Hashimoto's Thyroiditis takes iodine with selenium daily. Hashimoto's is the number one cause of hypothyroidism in the U.S. followed by iodine deficiency." – Tara Solomon, MD

And now, an example of parroting inaccurate information that abounds on the Internet. Even though empirical evidence clearly shows that iodine deficiency is a cause of Hashimoto's, and here was a rare medical doctor who understands this fact, this person (who can't even spell the name of the condition correctly) read Dr. Solomon's post and replied...

"Absolutely not. Hasimoto's disease is an autoimmune disorder where your body's own immune system attacks the thyroid. It is not due to iodine deficiency. Increasing iodine intake increases the attack of your immune system on the thyroid, making the condition worse. Clinical studies have shown that restricting iodine intake can improve the symptoms of Hashimoto's disease." – David


Another way of looking at it

The "iodine causes Hashimoto's thyroiditis" issue that some people raise is an issue where the whole story isn't being represented by the sources they cite. There are many health practitioners who do not have the whole story regarding iodine, but it's not their fault. An analogy would be the health practitioners who are not knowledgeable of the issues surrounding the eating of an all-raw, fruit-based diet. Many practitioners obviously don't have the whole story regarding truly healthy eating. Not their fault; it's due to the education they received (and didn't receive). The same is true for iodine and thyroid issues.

I'll make my case by putting a question to you, the reader: T3 and T4 are two of the tests normally done in a Thyroid Function Test panel. The 3 and 4 represent atoms of iodine, indicating that iodine is of critical importance to correct thyroid function. No arguments there. So why are iodine tests not part of the standard Thyroid Function Test panels done by medical doctors? Doctors 100 years ago understood the importance of iodine and used it in their practice for things like infections and to deal with thyroid issues. This is why iodine was added to table salt as a way of halting the massive amounts of severe thyroid problems (goiter). But doctors today state that there's been no cases of iodine deficiency in the U.S. in 80 years. Although not technically true anymore (with less iodized table salt being used and more bromine in our environment), even if it were true, they are referring to iodine deficiency, the definition of which is "severe insufficiency". What about all the instances of average iodine insufficiency? It's not like a light switch that only has two states, either on or off. Is the medical industry saying that we either don't have enough iodine as in "deficiency" or we have enough and there is no in-between? Evidently. But back to my original question: Since the medical industry must be aware of iodine's role in thyroid health, and they can't honestly believe that we're either severely deficient in iodine enough to cause an enlargement of the thyroid (goiter) or we're fine iodine-wise, then why aren't the iodine tests that I advocate (for iodine status, not just iodine level) not standard-of-care regarding Thyroid Function Tests?

This situation should call into question all the "iodine causes Hashimoto's thyroiditis" info. Meaning, that there's more to the story than meets the eye. So I maintain that there are a lot of well-meaning but otherwise miseducated and under-educated health practitioners out there regarding the iodine issue, and that we need to take this into consideration before jumping to any conclusions.


If your thyroid antibodies are high...

If thyroid tests show your TPO and TG antibody counts are high, there are some things you can do about it (and having your thyroid removed or radiated is not among them IMO).

* Eliminate all inflammatory foods, this includes gluten containing products, all grain products, processed sugar, eggs, nuts, dairy, legumes, starchy vegetables, and all processed foods. Also, cooked foods can cause autoimmune reactions because the cooking process damages substances which appear to the body as foreign invaders, which can cause the body to create antibodies that attack these damaged substances but they can also attack healthy cells, like those in the thyroid. It is doubtful that any endocrinologist will mention this because they are not taught this.

* Do iodine testing (both iodine tests) to make sure you do not have an iodine deficiency. It is best to not do this as a DIY project.

* Add to your diet a worthwhile, whole-food, nutritional supplement so that you get some of iodine's co-factor nutrients. A practitioner may also have you take some selenium to bring up your selenium levels (the naturally occurring small amounts of selenium in foods won't resolve a selenium insufficiency).

* There is also a protocol for lowering thyroid antibodies. It involves resveratrol, curcumin, and a few nutrients. This should be done with guidance from an iodine literate practitioner. Again, conventionally trained endocrinologists are not taught how to use nutrients and herbs to aid the body.


We all need to take the iodine issue seriously because our health depends on it.

Get educated. Food matters... nutrition matters too!


Additional reading...

Iodine, the story

How Do You Define "Enough" When it Comes to Nutrition?

Why We May Not be Getting Enough of Certain Nutrients from Even the Best Diet


If interested, you can find iodine counseling info at...