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Iodine and the Thyroid – An Ever Delicate Balance

Iodine and the Thyroid – An Ever Delicate Balance

Our clinic sees many different thyroid disorders and one of the main questions that we get from patients is about whether supplemental iodine will be helpful for their thyroid.  While we wish that the answer to this question were simple, the role of iodine in the thyroid is a complicated one.  We will outline the basics of iodine’s function in the thyroid here for those who want a little more information on the subject.

In short, iodine is essential for production of thyroid hormone within the thyroid gland.  In order for the thyroid gland to make enough thyroid hormone, it needs the right amount of iodine; between 100 and 300 micrograms per day of iodine intake is generally recommended for the average person.  Iodine is also a powerful antioxidant in many other organs in the body besides the thyroid and can be very beneficial to tissue healing and decreasing inflammation.

Although this nutrient can be very beneficial in the right amount, it can also be harmful if there is too much in the system.  Because our bodies are so good at regulating themselves, too much iodine in the bloodstream doesn’t automatically create more thyroid hormone.  When iodide (the form of iodine in our blood) is in the thyroid gland cells, it is converted to iodine by an enzyme known as thyroid peroxidase (or TPO) to be used to make thyroid hormone.  This process is called oxidation, and produces what most people know as free oxygen radicals, which can damage nearby cells and cause inflammation in an area.  Normally these radicals are reduced by other antioxidants in the body; however, if there are not enough antioxidants to help offset the oxidation of iodine in the thyroid tissue, it produces a lot of inflammation and damage to the nearby thyroid cells.  This condition, where free radicals damage the tissue in response to things like higher iodine blood levels have been linked to autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.  In Hashimoto’s,  antibodies attach to cells in the thyroid gland and damage the cells and surrounding tissues.

But here is where the major complication arises – we need iodine to make thyroid hormone, and without it we can’t make enough thyroid hormone and therefore become hypothyroid.

So if too little iodine can make you hypothyroid and too much iodine can make hypothyroidism worse in autoimmune conditions, how can we find a balance?  It is always important to make sure to identify the underlying cause of what is causing your thyroid to malfunction (if possible) if it is not working correctly.  If there is an iodine deficiency present (which is possible even in the United States), then iodine may help to improve symptoms and increase production of thyroid hormone.  In relation to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and other chronic autoimmune thyroid diseases, it is often better to decrease the amount of iodine until antibody levels can be reduced, so that you are not aggravating the inflammation already present in the thyroid gland with additional iodine.

If you are looking to check your iodine intake in relation to your thyroid, generally 100 – 300 micrograms per day is the standard intake.  If you have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, it is ideal to keep your iodine intake below 600 micrograms per day to avoid causing complications with your condition.  Pregnant women need to be additionally careful and should consult with their physician on what an appropriate intake of iodine should be.

Of course, if you have any type of thyroid condition, it is important to work with your doctor to improve your thyroid function on all levels.  Free-radical oxidation can happen due to a number of triggers including environmental toxicity, food allergies, or other inflammatory triggers.  It is important to figure out which triggers are specifically affecting your thyroid and treating it at the root cause.  If you have questions about how you can treat your thyroid disease and reduce thyroid antibodies, call our clinic today to speak with one of our physicians.

Looking for more information on autoimmune diseases? Get our FREE ebook The 5 Foundations of Autoimmune Diseases, register for one of our FREE online webinars, or check out our blog for additional articles.

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