Thyroid Disease and Iodine

Thyroid Disease

Thyroid dysfunction is an epidemic in the United States. 1 in 10 adult American women (women make up 90% of all thyroid dysfunction cases) have been diagnosed with thyroid disorders and some physicians propose that as many as 25% of adult American women have thyroid abnormalities.  

Health practitioners in many other countries also report a drastic increase in thyroid disorders. Most veterinarians are seeing thyroid problems in cats and dogs as well.  

What the heck is going on? 

Are practitioners becoming more aware of thyroid dysfunction or has something happened in the environment? 

Worldwide, the main cause of thyroid dysfunction is iodine deficiency - this can result in a goiter, or mental retardation and physical deformities in newborns. But in the U.S., rather than outright iodine deficiency, it seems the gland itself is failing to function.

For almost 80 years, it has been stated that Americans are getting plenty of dietary iodine due to the use of iodized salt, but is this actually true? Some have been suggesting that Americans are getting TOO MUCH iodine and this increases in the incidence of autoimmune thyroid disease (Hashimoto's hypothyroidism and Graves' disease/ hyperthyroidism), which is said to coincide with the US increased dietary iodine intake. 

Understanding the iodine content of the average American's diet is difficult.  Most of the reports made have been "good guesses" but hard data is just that, hard to obtain. 

Iodine Sources
For almost 60 years, the main dietary sources of iodine were not from iodized salt, but from flour products and dairy products.

Iodates are used as "dough conditioners"; they improve the cross-linking in gluten molecules and are antiseptics and mold retardants, prolonging bread shelf-life.

The varying amounts of iodine in dairy products result from the use of iodine disinfectants in all commercial machine-milking dairy factories. The iodine solutions drip into the milk and most dairy factories wash their stainless steel equipment with strong iodine solutions for sterilization.

If your dietary sources of salt are largely from commercially prepared foods (which usually don't use iodized salt), you might be iodine deficient.

Low dietary iodine is associated with an increased risk for thyroid disorders, but also for breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancer.

Never just one cause...

Iodine deficiency is common sometimes because of low dietary intake, but also because of halides (elements found in nature, but only an issue in concentrated synthetic forms), which displace iodine from the thyroid gland. Namely: fluoride, chloride, and bromide.


In an experiment, rats were fed high-bromine diets, (the bromine enters the thyroid gland and replaces the iodine already there) and the proportion of bromine in the thyroid glands of the rats was directly proportional to the amount of bromine in their diet. 

We get bromine from pesticides, dough conditioners, soft drinks, and from water disinfectants.


Gaseous chlorine is regularly released from shower and tub water freshly drawn from water supply taps. This also displaces iodine.  


Not all fluoride is created equal. There are many types - both naturally occurring and synthetic. This natural version of fluoride is called calcium fluoride and is usually found in soil and natural water sources/springs and is not harmful. 

Another common type of fluoride is sodium fluoride. This is a synthetic, industrial version and has been shown to be far more harmful. Sodium fluoride is actually capable of eating through concrete! It was the first compound to be used within our country’s tap water system in 1945; today, fluorosilicic acid is used.

Fluoride is often freely found in tap water, toothpaste, Teflon & aluminum cookware/bakeware, some teas and kombucha, non-organic fruits, vegetables, juices and wine.  Also, non-organic meat and bone broth, canned seafood and processed foods.

One other BIG issue

Since 1945, every human has been repeatedly exposed to radioactive fallout from both known and unknown nuclear explosions, power plants, and continual radioactive iodine-131 from nuclear weapons facilities and nuclear power plants.

For nearly 5 years a 100,000 page report prepared by the National Institutes of Cancer was suppressed until the hard work of several senators brought it to light. It showed that hundreds of thousands of delayed thyroid pathologies have come about because of radioactive iodine-131. In particular, we have seen alarming thyroid pathologies in the residents downwind of Hanford in Washington State.

The major health problems from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986 are all related to the huge releases of radioactive iodine-131 into the atmosphere within 1000 miles of the Chernobyl site.

Within five years, large increases in thyroid disorders of all sorts began to occur, directly attributable to Chernobyl iodine-131 releases. It continues on today, as cancer rates from short-term radiation exposure tend to peak 20-30 years after a disaster such as Chernobyl (watch the recent HBO show on this whole disaster if you have the stomach for it).

The radioactive iodine we are exposed to on a daily basis is released in "bursts" due to nuclear fission.  It is stated that is within legally allowable amounts and therefore, of no health hazard. However, these amounts are calculated on a per day basis rather than high-amount bursts.

Why the thyroid?

It's the largest endocrine gland in the body and it's twice as large in women, on average, then in men. It takes just 18 minutes for all the blood in the body to pass through the thyroid gland; it is the most thoroughly vascularized of all the endocrine glands. Any toxicity of the blood will likely test the health of the thyroid gland first. 

From the physiologic standpoint, the thyroid gland is one of the most sensitive organs in the body - it's shaped like a butterfly (a delicate being itself) and sits front and center in the neck- with very little protection. In essence, it's our "canary in a coal mine". 

Our bodies aggressively absorb iodine and conservatively excrete it. If we are at all iodine deficient, we will readily take in radioactive iodine-131 and deposit it in our thyroid glands just as we do with non-radioactive iodine-127. 

Another reason iodine-131 is so dangerous is that it has a relatively short half-life of about 8 days; this means it has a radiogenic life of about 60 days in total. The short half-life means that most iodine-131 taken into the body will decay in the body rather than being excreted. This is terrible for the sensitive thyroid gland and surrounding tissues. 

After the thyroid gland, the breast tissue is the heaviest user of iodine in the body. Iodine is readily incorporated into the tissues of the breast as it is essential healthy functioning.

If we have a full, whole-body saturation of iodine-127, our bodies tend to not take up any iodine-131. This means that eating iodine-rich seaweeds regularly in the diet, will provide both dietary iodine and protection against the ongoing iodine-131 hazards.

Other causes of thyroid dysfunction

  • Low selenium levels

  • High mercury levels

  • Trauma

  • Severe stress

  • Cumulative X-ray radiation exposure

  • Aspirin and anticoagulants like Warfarin (di-coumerol) increase iodine excretion


Dietary dosages of 3-5 grams daily of high quality powdered seasweed provides iodine and many essential trace elements, including potassium, zinc, calcium, magnesium, manganese, chromium, selenium, and vanadium

Any type of seaweed contains more available dietary iodine than any landplant. The seaweeds with the most available iodine are the giant kelps of the northern hemisphere:

  • 8000 ppm (parts per million) in Icelandic kelp

  • 4000 ppm in Norwegian kelp

  • 1-2000 ppm in Maine and California kelp

The seaweeds with the least amounts of iodine are:

  • 15 ppm in Nori

  • 30-40 ppm in Sargassum

Seaweed which might be contaminated with iodine-131 can be managed by storing for 50 days prior to consumption; this will give enough time for 99% of any iodine-131 to radioactively decay.

There is some weak literature to suggest that excess kelp consumption may induce hypothyroidism. If this is true, it is likely due to very high dietary consupmtion doses and a unique individual sensitivity.

Other dietary support

  • Lots of fresh green vegetables in the diet, including dandelion, parsley, spinach, and beet greens

  • Brassicas should not be consumed in excess due to their potential goitrogenic activity

  • Garlic (especially if grown near the sea), root crops, vegetables such as turnips, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, and sweet potatoes

  • Avoidance of flour products so to reduce bromine intake (also to avoid blood sugar spikes, which further stresses the body physiology)

  • Non-organic meat and meat products should be avoided as xenoestrogens (chemicals that act as estrogen) can disrupt thyroid function

  • Caution with dairy products because of growth hormones unwanted antibiotic residues

  • Avocados, organic eggs, and sardines to provide quality fats.

  • Grass fed red meat will provide some exogenous thyroid hormone and some dietary iodine. 


Hashimoto's patients should take caution to consult with their physician regarding iodine therapy.  Symptoms, medication dosages and antibody levels need to be tracked judiciously during therapy. 

Do not stop thyroid medication without the close watch of a physician. Thyroxine is essential for life and has a long ‘half-life’ in the body (1+ weeks). This means it will metabolize out of the body very slowly so can provide a false sense of non-dependency (in some cases for up to 2 months) before severe hypothyroidism can manifest, which can be life-threatening!

Those who have had surgical or radiation removal of the thyroid glands must take thyroid hormone medication containing thyroxine to stay alive.


  • Water filter (a whole house filter is ideal, but at least for drinking water): Berkey is a good option:

  • Shower/bath filter: A great one is Aquasana:

  • Shower with the window open if possible

  • For baths, fill the tub with the hottest water and allow to off-gas while the water cools to a preferable temperature 

  • Stress Management: This is a HUGE factor in thyroid conditions - especially when autoimmune in nature. No quick fix here but I am a fan of restorative yoga, meditation and hypnosis. 


All of the above is what I have learned from a dear mentor and teacher of mine, highly respected in the field of natural medicine, Ryan Drum, PhD.  The majority of the above information is summated from his paper entitled: Thyroid function and dysfunction

I had the honor of learning from Dr. Drum during a botanical medicine retreat off a remote island, where he lives without indoor plumbing or refrigeration and is an all around bad-ass.