Are Sea Vegetables the Cure for the Iodine Deficiency Epidemic?
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Although most of us believe we are not deficient in iodine since the fortification of salt with iodine, the fact is most people are deficient and don't know it. Due to changes in food intake, eating patterns and food production methods, iodine intake has been decreasing in the U.S. since the early 70's. Even worse, we are exposed to increasing levels of environmental toxins that either block the absorption of iodine or block its actions in the body.
According to the National Health and Nutrition Survey, 24-hour urine levels of iodine have decreased from average levels of 320 mcg/L during 1971-1974 to 165 mcg/L in 2001-2002-a drop of almost 50%. This study found a urinary iodine level of <50 mcg/L in 12% of the U.S. population, indicating severe deficiency.
Iodine levels in the breast milk of nursing mothers in Boston showed that only 47% contained sufficient amounts of iodine to meet infant requirements. This dramatic drop in iodine intake is made worse by an increasing level of iodine uptake inhibitors (perchlorate, nitrate, and thiocyanate) in the food supply and environment.
Iodized salt is very effective in normalizing iodine intake. The problem is we eat less iodized salt. This has occurred for two reasons: first, we've all been told to decrease salt intake because excess consumption can elevate blood pressure. However, the more important cause is that almost everyone now eats more processed foods and meals at restaurants--and most of these do not use iodized salt. The situation is made worse by the fact that the iodized salt sold for home use often contains less iodine than stated on the label.
Dairy products used to contain a significant amount of iodine since it was used to disinfect cow udders and dairy processing equipment. Now, however, antibiotics and other methods are used instead. In addition, less iodine is used in feed supplements. With these changes, the average iodine content of U.S. whole cow's milk had decreased from 602 mcg/L in 1978 to 155 mcg/L in 1990. A 2002 study found as little as 88 mcg/L, less than 15% of those measured in 1978. This is worsened by the substitution of soft drinks for milk by children.
Another significant source of iodine in the past was bread since iodate-based bread conditioners were used to prolong shelf life. Today, most commercial bakeries are using bromate-based conditioners instead.
Iodized salt may have less than we think because it evaporates over time from salt containers and shakers. And many natural foods products use sea salt as an alternative to regular salt. Unfortunately, it is not iodized.
Iodine is required to produce thyroid hormones, so if levels are too low people suffer hypothyroidism. This is one reason the incidence of clinical and subclinical hypothyroidism affects 10-15% of the population, especially women. Probably more prevalent are the other problems found in people with low to marginal levels of iodine. It is well known that low iodine levels in fetuses and children leads to impaired mental development and research has now shown an increased incidence of fibrocystic breast disease and breast cancer. Some research has also shown that iodine deficiency may contribute to obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, psychiatric disorders, and fibromyalgia.
Fortunately, eating enough of the right kinds of sea vegetables (seaweed) will replenish iodine supplies. Kelp and Kombu are two reliable sources. Seaweed is also naturally low in calories, and a good source of vitamin B12, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and trace minerals. However, some seaweed may be contaminated with toxic metals, so be sure to only use those which are certified organic and preferably with an analysis of iodine and toxic metal content.
Reprinted with permission from Vitamin Retailer Magazine, Nov 2009.
Dr. Joe Pizzorno is the founding president of Bastyr University and author of several books including the internationally acclaimed Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Learn more at www.drpizzorno.com
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