This is a question I am frequently asked by thyroid patients. As with most questions of this nature the answer isn’t a simple yes or no, additional questions need to be addressed.
3 most important questions to ask before taking any supplement:
What problem are you trying to solve?
Can the “solution” actually make the problem worse?
Why would you be deficient in iodine and need to consider supplementation?
What are thyroid hormones T4 and T3 and why are they significant?
First a little background. Your thyroid makes many hormones but the two most commonly talked about are T4 and T3. The numbers 4 and 3 refer to how many iodine molecules are on the thyroid hormone. T4 means there are four iodine molecules, T3 means there are 3 molecules.
Your body has roughly 100 trillion cells, all vying for hormones and to be metabolically active. Cells have receptor sites which are specific to the hormones needed like T4 and T3. Metabolic activity occurs when T4 and T3 successfully enter the cell. If the cells are not functioning well, tissues, organs, your whole body in fact begins to degrade. You may feel this as thyroid symptoms including: fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, brain fog, depression, constipation, and infertility to name a few.
When you are healthy and your thyroid is functioning properly it will predominantly produce T4, then the T4 will travel through the body on a mission to be converted to T3 to maintain the correct hormonal balance. Some T4 will be converted to T3 in the liver, more will be converted in the small intestines, and yet more T4 will be converted to T3 by tissue it passes along the way. This conversion process is critical; remember the thyroid predominantly produces T4 but the more active form of thyroid hormone is T3.
And one more important consideration before I discuss iodine and the need for iodine:
“70% to 90% of hypothyroid patients are actually suffering from an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s.”
This is a condition where the body is destroying its own thyroid gland. The point is, even though you might be suffering from the results of a hormonal (endocrinological) issue, the underlying cause may actually be an immunological issue.
4 Groups of people who usually consider taking iodine supplements.
1) People with no known thyroid problem who “just want to supplement.” For this group adding foods to the diet with naturally occurring iodine, like fish, some dairy products, sea vegetables, kelp, dark leafy greens like Swiss chard, mustard greens and spinach should be more than adequate to maintain health.
2) People who have developed or are at risk for developing goiters because of an iodine deficiency. The deficiency may cause the thyroid to enlarge and in turn develop nodules. Many people with goiters will have an enlarged thyroid with few “thyroid” symptoms and should consider taking iodine in combination with Selenium to mitigate adverse reactions to the iodine.
3) People with hypothyroid conditions not related to an autoimmune condition often consider supplementing with iodine, but this can become complicated. Your thyroid condition may be the result of underactive thyroid, problems with converting T4 to T3 including stress induced under-conversion of T4 to T3, hormonal imbalances which will down regulate conversion of T4 to T3 or will deregulate transportation of T4 and T3 through the body. Just taking iodine may not be the answer to your problem. But once again should you decide to supplement with iodine a healthy suggestion would be to include a selenium supplement to mitigate adverse reactions to iodine.
4) If you have an active autoimmune condition like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, taking iodine will create more activity in the thyroid gland. The body may see this increased activity as an increased attack on the body. The body’s response will be to increase an immune reaction thereby causing more inflammation. Even though you might be deficient in iodine, the supplementation may cause more harm than the iodine deficiency alone. Once again, if you consider taking iodine, a healthy addition might be to add selenium. But an even healthier alternative would be to investigate a whole body approach that looks for the cause of your iodine deficiency. Do you have Intestinal Permeability? Do you suffer from food sensitivities? Are you reacting to other triggers that might be the cause of an autoimmune condition?
There is no simple answer to the question “Should I take iodine if I have a thyroid problem?” All aspects of your health should be taken into consideration before taking any supplement. A truly heathy diet should be sufficient to maintain health; however a body in crisis needs to be addressed using different criteria that should include consideration of all systems of the body.