Are you taking iodine? You do if you are my patient. I recommend iodine to all of my patients because I believe it will prevent breast and prostate cancers. Even though there's no direct proof of this, there's a substantial amount of indirect evidence. But one thing is for sure. Taking iodine will prevent the most serious form of the most common cancer there is. I'm talking about thyroid cancer.
Do you know how common thyroid cancer is? Well, if you're over 60 years old, you might be interested to know that you have thyroid cancer. That's right. Autopsy studies have shown that 100% of men and women over 60 have thyroid cancer. Fortunately, the overwhelming majority of these cancers is benign, rarely causes a problem, and is often only accidentally discovered. That's because thyroid cancer comes in several different flavors. The most common form and the least dangerous is papillary carcinoma. The potentially dangerous forms are the follicular and the anaplastic carcinomas. Here's what we know about iodine and thyroid cancer.
According to one review article entitled, "Iodine intake and thyroid carcinoma — a potential risk factor," the authors say: "Circumstances and conditions which cause iodine deficiency, through suboptimal intake in water and food... have been associated to increased risk of thyroid cancer, most notably follicular and anaplastic carcinomas." Note that these are the most dangerous forms of thyroid cancer. They go on to say, "At least in some countries (Switzerland), a favorable impact of the introduction of iodized salt on mortality from thyroid cancer has been reported." Another review article entitled, "Iodine and cancer," has more to say on the subject.
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In that paper the author states, "Animal experiments have demonstrated a clear increase in incidence of thyroid epithelial cell carcinomas after prolonged iodine deficiency." He then goes on to say, "However, the overall incidence of differentiated thyroid carcinoma is generally not considered to be influenced by the iodine intake of a population, whereas the distribution of the types of thyroid carcinoma seems to be related to the intake of iodine, with fewer of the more aggressive follicular and anaplastic carcinomas and more papillary carcinomas in iodine rich areas." The underline is mine. What this amounts to is that taking more iodine, although it will not prevent the benign forms of thyroid cancer, will prevent the aggressive, dangerous forms. And since all of us over 60 already have thyroid cancer, all we need to really be concerned about is whether or not the cancer we have is the aggressive kind or not. Here's how it works.
Iodine is critical for the formation of thyroid hormones. And thyroid hormones are essential for life. They are the hormones that specifically tell the cells to do what they are supposed to do. So when you're iodine deficient, your cells stop working and things start falling apart. The brain then registers this and sends stimulating signals to the thyroid to produce the hormones the body needs so badly. This causes the thyroid to overwork, and eventually the over stimulation of the thyroid gland can result in the formation of an aggressive thyroid cancer.
The best form of iodine is called Lugol's solution. It was developed way back in 1829 by, you guessed it, Dr. Lugol. It is a mixture of potassium iodide and elemental iodine. You can buy it at Amazon.com in either a liquid or a tablet. The tablet form is the best way to take it. The dose I recommend for all adults is one 12.5 mg tablet per day. But what about testing, you say?
About 15 years ago, a challenge test for optimum iodine levels was developed. I started doing the test on all of my patients. But guess what? Every single one of the hundreds of tests I did indicated that no one had adequate levels of iodine. Absolutely no one. So I called the director of one of the labs and asked him about it. And he confirmed that he had never seen a normal test on someone who was not already taking an iodine supplement. So naturally I asked him, "Then why should I do the test if everyone is going to end up being low anyway?" His answer was, "It just seems like a reasonable thing to do." So instead of doing an initial test, I simply started giving everyone 12.5 mg of Lugol's every day. Then I did the test after they were on it for a few months. And sure enough, that was all that was needed to establish a normal result.
By the way, 12.5 mg is the average amount of iodine that Japanese men and women get in their diets. And the Japanese have lower risks for both prostate and breast cancer. But here's an interesting statistic. When Japanese men and women move to the U.S. and adopt an American diet, which contains only a fraction of the iodine the traditional Japanese diet has, they have the same cancer risks as Americans have.
Yours for better health,
Frank Shallenberger, MD
Franceschi S. Iodine intake and thyroid carcinoma--a potential risk factor. Exp Clin Endocrinol Diabetes. 1998;106 Suppl 3:S38-44.
Feldt-Rasmussen U. Iodine and cancer. Thyroid. 2001 May;11(5):483-6.