Iodine for a Nuclear World: What’s the Skinny On Iodine?

March 21, 2011

Iodine for a Nuclear World:  What’s the Skinny On Iodine? 

 Nuclear power plants that “melt” can spew out radioactive iodine by the ton, and generate a huge cloud of it.  With 5-7,000 cases of thyroid cancer in the Ukraine caused by the iodine from the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, many are asking the question, “How can I keep myself safe?” as a cloud of nuclear debris drifts our way. 

 Here is the skinny on why you get in trouble with iodine.  First of all, your body needs it desperately and you soak it up avidly whenever you come across it.  The Midwest soils in Wisconsin have no iodine whatsoever, so our daily food has none in it.  It has been added to salt with the consequence that we eat about 140 mcg a day (NHANES).  That’s enough to keep us from getting a thyroid goiter, which is what you develop when you are absolutely deficient.  However, if we get showered with radioactive iodine, we will avidly soak that up too, and concentrate it in our thyroid glands.  Thyroid hormone has 4 iodine molecules attached, so your thyroid gland is always ready to gobble up iodine, especially if it is deficient.  We are deficient. 

 How can you tell if you are deficient?  Easy.  You do a simple loading test of 50 mg of iodine and then collect your urine for 24 hours.  If you excrete 90% or more of the iodine, you have enough in your body.  If you excrete less than 90% (say 12% - like me), you are very deficient and would benefit from supplementation.  Once you are loaded up, your body will very likely not absorb near as much new iodine, thereby protecting you from any radioactive iodine that comes along.  There: that’s the skinny.  That’s why we pass out iodine tablets when there is concern for a nuclear disaster.  The extra iodine competitively blocks out the trace amounts of radioactive stuff.  It’s only because we avidly concentrate iodine in our thyroids that makes the trace amounts from nuclear disasters a problem. 

 But here is what is really interesting in the current mess in Japan.  The Japanese are one of the few countries in the world that consumes seaweed as a vegetable, and because of that they average 2-5 mg a day of iodine intake (100 times what we consume in America).  They are protected from their own nuclear disaster!  They are already loading up their bodies with adequate iodine.   They could take extra to really “top off” their tanks, but they are already sufficient.  But what is equally fascinating is that the Japanese have about 95% less breast cancer and very little fibrocystic breast disease.  That has been linked by epidemiological studies to their iodine intake.  

In America, some 46% of breast cancer patients have a thyroid disorder, and the thyroid glands of American women tend to be about 90% larger in size than those women who have normal, non-fibrocystic breasts.  That’s not direct proof of anything, but it sure smells like something interesting.  The conclusion is that our breast tissue also needs more iodine than we are currently getting to be healthy. 

 WWW: What will work for me.  The World Health Organization lists iodine as one of the worlds leading nutritional deficiencies and the cause of mental retardation worldwide.  We hardly talk about it in America.  Maybe we should be talking about it, measuring it, and supplementing with it.  I personally have tested myself and took a supplement until I was loaded up.  It’s one of those reasons taking a multivitamin every day is a good idea.  But you don’t get enough to saturate yourself.  To be scientific, you can get test kits from ZRT laboratories, or from Doctor’s Data.  MD Custom RX pharmacy in Brookfield carries iodine tablets and the kits to test yourself with ZRT.   In the meantime, don’t do anything right now.  There isn’t enough iodine coming out of Japan to hurt anyone, and we are a very long way away.

Column Written by Dr John E Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI.