An Iodine Primer

Allow me to go off topic for a post. While this has nothing to do with wheat and its destructive effects on human health, the issue of thyroid dysfunction and failed weight loss come up often enough that I thought it would be helpful to cover this important topic.

What if your diet is perfect–no wheat, no junk carbohydrates like that from corn or sugars, you are physically active–yet you fail to lose weight? Or you hit a plateau after an initial loss?

First think iodine.

Iodine is an essential nutrient. It is no more optional than, say, celebrating your wedding anniversary or obtaining vitamin C. If you forget to do something nice for your wife on your wedding anniversary, I would fear for your life. If you develop open sores all over your body and your joints fall apart, you could undergo extensive plastic surgery reconstruction and joint replacement . . . or you could just treat the scurvy causing it from lack of vitamin C.

Likewise iodine: If you have an iodine deficiency, you experience lower thyroid hormone production, since T3 and T4 thyroid hormones require iodine (the “3” and “4” refer to the number of iodine atoms per thyroid hormone molecule). This leads to lower energy (since the thyroid controls metabolic rate), cold hands and feet (since the thyroid is thermoregulatory, i.e., temperature regulating), and failed weight loss. So iodine deficiency is one of the items on the list of issues to consider if you eliminate wheat with its appetite-stimulating opiate, gliadin, and high-glycemic carbohydrate, amylopectin A, and limit other carbohydrates, yet still fail to lose weight. A perfect diet will not fully overcome the metabolism-limiting effects of an underactive thyroid.

Given sufficient time, an enlarged thyroid gland, or goiter, develops, signaling longstanding iodine deficiency. (The treatment? Iodine, of course, not thyroid removal, as many endocrinologists advocate.) Your risk for heart attack, by the way, in the presence of a goiter is increased several-fold. Goiters are becoming increasingly common and I see several each week in my office.

Iodine is found in the ocean and thereby anything that comes from the ocean, such as seafood and seaweed. Iodine also leaches into the soil but only does so coastally. It means that crops and livestock grown along the coasts have some quantity of iodine. Humans hunting and foraging along the coast will be sufficient in iodine, while populations migrating inland will not.

It also means that foods grown inland do not have iodine. This odd distribution for us land dwelling primates means that goiters are exceptionally common unless iodine is supplemented. Up to 25% of the population can develop goiters without iodine supplementation, a larger percentage experiencing lesser degrees of iodine deficiency without goiter.

In 1924, the FDA became aware of the studies that linked goiters to lack of iodine, reversed with iodine supplementation. That’s why they passed a regulation encouraging salt manufacturers to add iodine, thought to be an easy and effective means for an uneducated, rural populace to obtain this essential nutrient. Their message: “Use more iodized salt. Keep your family goiter free!” That was actually the slogan on the Morton’s iodized salt label, too.

It worked. The rampant goiters of the first half of the 20th century disappeared. Iodized salt was declared an incredible public health success story. Use more salt, use more salt.

You know the rest. Overuse of salt led to other issues, such as hypertension in genetically susceptible people, water retention, and other conditions of sodium overexposure. The FDA then advises Americans to slash their intake of sodium and salt . . . but make no mention of iodine.

So what recurs? Iodine deficiency and goiters. Sure, you eat seafood once or twice per week, maybe even have the nori (sheet seaweed) on your sushi once in a while . . . but that won’t do it for most. Maybe you even sneak some iodized salt into your diet, but occasional use is insufficient, especially since the canister of iodized salt only contains iodine for around 4 weeks, given iodine’s volatile nature. (Iodized salt did work when everybody in the house salted their food liberally and Mom had to buy a new canister every few weeks.)

Iodine deficiency is common and increasing in prevalence, given the widespread avoidance of iodized salt. So what happens when you become iodine deficient? Here’s a partial list:

–Weight loss is stalled or you gain weight despite your efforts.
–Heart disease risk is escalated
–Total and LDL cholesterol and triglyceride values increase
–Risk of fibrocystic breast disease and possibly breast cancer increase (breast tissue concentrates iodine)
–Gingivitis and poor oral health increase (salivary glands concentrate iodine)

(Naturopathic doctor Lyn Patrick, ND, has written a very nice summary available here.)

So how do you ensure that you obtain sufficient iodine every day? You could, of course, eat something from the ocean every day, such as coastal populations such as the Japanese do. Or you could take an inexpensive iodine supplement. You can get iodine in a multivitamin, multimineral, or iodine drops, tablets, or capsules.

What is the dose? Here’s where we get very iffy. We know that the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), the intake to not have a goiter, is 150 mcg per day for adults (220 mcg for pregnant females, 290 mcg for lactating females). Most supplements therefore contain this quantity.

But what if our question is what is the quantity of iodine required for ideal thyroid function and overall health? Ah, that’s where the data are sketchy. We know, for instance, that the Japanese obtain somewhere between 3,500 and 13,000 mcg per day (varying widely due to different habits and locations). Are they healthier than us? Yes, quite a bit healthier, though there may be other effects to account for this, such as a culture of less sweet foods and more salty, less wheat consumption, etc. There are advocates in the U.S., such as Dr. David Brownstein in Michigan, who argues that some people benefit by taking doses in the 30,000 to 50,000 mcg per day range (monitored with urinary iodine levels).

As is often the case with nutrients, we lack data to help us decide where the truly ideal level of intake lies. So I have been using and advocating intakes of 500 to 1000 mcg per day from iodine capsules, tablets, or drops. A very easy way to get this dose of iodine is in the form of kelp tablets, i.e., dried seaweed, essentially mimicking the natural means of intake that also provides iodine in all its varied forms (iodide, sodium iodate, potassium iodide, potassium iodate, iodinated proteins, etc.) This has worked out well with no ill effects.

The only concern with iodine is in people with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or (rarely) an overactive thyroid nodule. Anyone with these conditions should only undertake iodine replacement carefully and under supervision (monitoring thyroid hormone levels).

Iodine is inexpensive, safe, and essential to health and weight management. If it were a drug, it would enjoy repeated expensive marketing and a price tag around $150 per month. But it is an essential nutrient that enjoys none of the attention-getting advantages of drugs, and therefore is unlikely to be mentioned by your doctor, yet carries great advantage for helping to maintain overall health.

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Comments & Feedback...

  1. Adrian

    Dear Dr. Davis,
    My TSH is at 2.90. Otherwise, I have fibromyalgia, am about 60 pounds over what I consider my ideal weight of 138 (I’m 5’8″), can no longer take tramadol for pain (I suspect this is a blessing in disguise), have reflux that got worse with a flu I just had eating mostly the BRAT diet with a lot of saltines that when I started to eat them I found I could not stop. “Coincidentally” I happened upon your book and am now three days wheat free. Yesterday felt like I had the worst PMS of my life (I am fifteen years post-hysterectomy and take no estrogen) but today feel less agitated and so on and I am looking forward to continued benefits. But hands and feet cold, scaly dryness and bumps on my face (dermatologist called it perioral dermatitis but months on antibiotics have not touched it), once very thick hair somewhat thinning. I anticipate that WF will ultimately clear up the skin problems (and I have no problem at all avoiding other gluten-free high carbs, but would be very unhappy to have to give up milk and yogurt, though can easily limit these to 1-2 servings a day also; same with fruit). Would like to hear what you have seen in terms of WF helping with fibro. And, do you think that a reasonable place to start would be with kelp supplements and daily miso soup with seaweed, and then see about overall thyroid with my doctor? I can also tell you that I began the Furhman program last spring (fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts only) and lost weight very rapidly but soon felt that I was starving, so went back on “normal” eating and gained back the 15 pounds lost within about two months or so. Thank you for any insight you may have, and thank you for this great work.

    • Dr. Davis

      Hi, Adrian–

      A few thoughts:

      1) Iodine is necessary for every human. I have patients supplement 500 mcg per day, e.g., as kelp tablets. However, this may not be enough to fully correct thyroid, as you likely have mild hypothyroidism. Note that most people’s hypothyroidism is NOT corrected with levothyroxine, but a combination of levothyroxine and the T3 thyroid hormone, liothyronine. However, you will need a healthcare practitioner versed in this, e.g., functional medicine doctor or naturopath. Whatever you do, don’t waste your time with an endocrinologist who should all be banished from the country along with terrorists and other misfits. It would indeed be reasonable to start with a trial of iodine for a few months then re-evaluate.

      2) You have been experiencing wheat-withdrawal, the withdrawal from the opiate in wheat.

      3) We’ve witnessed many, though not all, cases of fibromyalgia respond positively to this approach. Note that there are no prescription, no procedures, no “cleansing,” etc. to find out: Just eat no wheat!

      • Adrian

        Thank you! I have started the kelp supplement, and on this the fifth morning of no wheat, starting to feel clear (and though no weight lost so far, my belly about half the size it was last week). I’ll ask for a new thyroid panel in a couple of months, and hopefully will have some sense of how this helps the fibro by that time, too. (And, I feel about “cleansing” the way you feel about endocrinologists, so no worries there!)

        Thanks again!

  2. Jackie

    Dear Dr. Davis,

    I always thought there was something in my diet that was making me fat and feel sluggish so I was thrilled to realize that it was a simple as eliminating wheat from my diet. My husband and I have been wheat free since October. For years I have also suspected that I have a thyroid problem and as you point out over and over again, doctors just won’t listen. I haven’t lost any weight in years even though I am very careful about what I eat. I work out regularly and have for years. I went in for my annual physical last week and after testing my thyroid yet again, my doctor’s advise (again) to get my weight moving was to work out 5 days a week rather than 3 (I currently work out 3 days a week for an hour but am more active in the warmer months). Here is my thyroid history (TSH levels only): April 2005 – 1.48, June 2008 – 1.80, December 2010 – 2.68, December 2012 – 3.79. It scares me that it is been increasing so dramatically! In April of 2008 I weighed 155 pounds; I now weight 180. I’m 5′ 5″, 51 years old. I started taking 750 mcg of kelp in November. I recently doubled that.

    Do you think I need to push for medication or should I keep taking the kelp for a while longer to see if it will eventually help? Or could there be something else going on?

    Thank you so much for this work and the research you have done. You’ve helped my husband and I so much. His blood sugar is way down and continuing to fall. The last reading he took showed it at 110 – down from 124. He’s lost 7+ pounds and his blood pressure is also improving. My 77 year old parents are also wheat free and continue to feel great.

    • Dr. Davis

      It’s great that you signed your family onto the wheat-free life, Jackie!

      Yes, I would push for better answers for your thyroid, particularly if you have cold hands and feet, constipation, or low energy in addition to your stalled weight. However, it is highly likely that you need a new doctor to do so, preferably someone in functional medicine or naturopathy. Push your current doctor, but if he/she balks, go someplace else. It’s sad, but it should not be our jobs to educate my colleagues, but such is the sad state of affairs in thyroid management.

  3. Beverly Haddad

    I started WF two weeks ago. Coicidently had my annual exam that week. Cholesterol over 300 with LDL at 242. Could that high number be from my body releasing fat faster than usual? My tricycerides were 44 and HDL was 72. Also discovered a 3.4 cm nodule on my thyroid. She wants me to see an endrocrinologist ASAP. In a previous post you stated to stay far away from them and that they should be banned. Where do I go to find out if its cancer?

    • Dr. Davis

      It sounds like you may have a genetically-determined reason for the really high LDL. However, if weight loss is ongoing, it is virtually impossible to decipher a lipid panel due to the marked shifts in these values with the flood of fatty acids that is part of weight loss. I always ask patients to have the blood work repeated after weight loss has plateued for at least 4 weeks.

      My choice: an ear, nose, and throat specialist. They can do everything that an endocrinologist can do for this issue, but with none of the useless BS.

  4. Gaylyn

    I take 100MCG of Levothyroxine daily. Is it safe to also supplement with iodine tablets? I am starting my Wheatbelly journey today. The number one reason is stalled weigh loss. I am 47 and in the middle of perimenopuase. I also am looking to feel better and have some skin issues that i hope will clear up. My doctor has been pushing Wheatbelly for some time. Thanks for the cookbook Dr. Davis it has inspired me!

  5. Dee Burr

    Dr. Davis,
    You have commented in several posts to NOT go to an endocinologist. I have been going to one and have felt much better with my thyroid issues.

    I am just beginning my wheat free /grain free journey and have lots to learn. I’m clearing the house of the bad stuff and trying to get in the things I need to cook. Its going to be a radical change from the typical diet my husband and I have.

    I have fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis.. I live in pain daily. My husband has arthritis and Type II diabeters. I am determined to get us as healthy as possible with food…and reduce what medications I can. This Wheat Belly seems so doable. I’m looking forward to my book coming in.

    Thank you

    • Dr. Davis

      Hi, Dee–

      You must have one of the VERY rare reasonable endocrinologists!

      Hang onto him/her. They are truly rare. And let us know what you experience with your wheat-free adventure!

  6. Lisa

    Good Afternoon Dr. Davis,

    I read your article on Iodine. I do have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and my multi vitamin contains 200 mcg of iodine. Do I need to be concerned about it and switch my multi. I’m taking Armour 1 1/2GR. My levels were normal when last tested. Would that show in my thyroid tests?

  7. Kathy

    Hello Dr. Davis,

    Some background on me about 9 years ago I was diagnosed with Graves’ disease. After spending the first year going through 3 endocrinologists that only wanted to treat me with killing off my thyroid with radiation.
    I finally found a endocrinologist that is and has been treating me with medication after a year with this endocrinologist my thyroid has normalized and I eventually weened off the medication. 
    The past 3/4 years my thyroid did dipped under active for few months. I started taking Levoxyl and I am still on it now. My thyroid has been in the normal range, but on the low end of normal. (sorry I don’t have my last test results on hand at the moment).

    With being diagnosed with Graves’ I did my best with staying away from iodine, I switched to Sea Salt which says it has “no significant amount of iodine” and the rare occasions I ate shrimp or canned tuna I normally stay away from seafood. I am wondering if I should add iodine back into my diet? 
    These past 3/4 years I have gain a lot of weight and I feel don’t have a  lot of energy. At the time I thought maybe it was birth control which I haven’t been on any for the past 2 years or that maybe I am entering premenopausal I just turned 42 last week.
    I should also mention my last blood test I am Vitamin D deficient. 
    Which I find strange since I do eat a lot of eggs at least one every day. I am suppose to take a Vitamin D3 supplement, but I’ll admit I do forget to take it. 
    ( I know bad me) With the Levoxyl I am not suppose to take vitamins or supplements until 4 hours later, so I do forget a lot.
    Thank you!

    PS. I just got your cookbook and I am for some of the ingredients to be shipped to me, I will be starting my Wheat Free living this week or next week.

    • Dr. Davis

      If there’s something wrong with your program, Kathy, it’s the failure to address the T3 thyroid hormone.

      You are taking T4: levothyroxine. But most people do best by taking both T4 and T3: weight loss, increased energy, increased warmth. You will likely have to find a new doctor to do this, but the rewards are substantial.

  8. Connie

    Dear Dr. Davis

    I recently purchased your book, I am taking my vacation in a few weeks to just read through it all and try all your recipes, I cannot wait. I did get a chance to read the first pages regarding wheat and I know consuming wheat is a problem with me. I had been allergy tested several years ago and Wheat, rye and Barley showed up very high. I also had for four years straight a rash on my face and forearms that wouldnt go away, although never properly diagnosed, my own research led me to dermatitis hepeformis (I know I spelled that wrong) I had been to so many dermatologists, medications, treatments etc in the four years. It finally went away on its own, After I started watching what I was eating. It all came back to the gluten. Which I now know is not the only culprit it itself. I am also hypothyroid, diagnosed in 1998. Actually, I have Hashimoto’s. They initially started me on Synthroid. It helped a bit. My symptoms would not go all away -brain fog, fatigue, weight, so they increased it. I was overwhelming tired then. A new doctor put me on the Armour. Although my tests results for all thyroid came back okay, in range, and the doctor was very proud of himself for getting everything in range, I was sitting in his chair in near tears saying, ” I am still overweight, didnt loose a pound, my hair is thinning and falling out, my skin has problems and I am crawling out of my skin with anxiety. And I still had overwhelming fatigue. Here is the question. Each time my thyroid peroxidase antibodies test and my Immunoglobulin E wouild come back elevated. The Thyroid peroxidase was >1000 and the Immunoglobin E was >391. Doctor said it was allergy. I told them to take me off armour. I insisted on the Synthroid BUT, I wanted the dye free Synthroid. (the 50mg tablet has no dye) since I am on .125 mg, I take two and split the other in half twice. My test came back within range again, I felt a little better but not quite. Doc then prescribed the T3 cytomel .05 very small dose and told me to play with it. find my dose, if I did better, he would up the dose. BUT the T3 caused me to crawl out of my skin again. So we withdrew it. —Is it possible for a thyroid patient who still has their thyroid NOT need a T-3? Could my thyroid still be making it? And since I do have the high antibodies indicating an allergy (wheat) wouldnt that be the reason for my thyroid malfunction? By decreasing the wheat and grains, I could possible look into deceasing meds (doctor approved of course) does that happen? As for the iodine. I tried using kelp tablets and the iodine makes me break out something terrible. I then try to take fish oil gels for the omega-3, and they have iodine in them as well, it causes face and chest to break out terribly. Could I just be getting to much Iodine with the Synthroid AND kelp tablets?
    Also, do you know if there could just be a Reverse T-3 uptake problem, what would cause that?
    Thanks for listening.

  9. Tracey Zwozdesky

    Have been hypothyroid since my first baby (20 yrs. ago) and on medication all these years. Now I understand that if the Dr. would have waited a few months, I probably would not have been put on medication and my thyroid hormone may have leveled out. Anyhow, I am 48 yr. old female, have always struggled with weight loss despite following a clean diet, and exercising 4-6 times per week. My last blood work was:
    TSH 1.05
    T3 1.49
    T4 1.33
    In Canada, so don’t know if we show our lab numbers the same as the US, but hopefully you understanI tried taking iodine tablets last year, and my TSH skyrocketed to 8.57. I went off the iodine and it came back down. My question is whether or not I should try the supplementation with T3, and why the iodine had such an effect? I just started reading your blog, very interesting, and just ordered the Wheat Belly books. Plan to give gluten free a shot and see if it can kick start my weight loss. Over the last year and a half, have lost 40 lbs. with plenty of hard work and clean diet, but since December just cannot lose a thing. Tried increasing/decreasing calories, increasing type/frequency of workouts, eliminating all sugar. etc., etc., etc., but could definately use a second opinion. Also, I am either freezing all the time, or having hot flashes (menopausal), other than that I feel pretty good. Thanks in advance.

  10. Anastasia

    Hi Dr. Davis,

    I was diagnosed as hypothyroid while I was pregnant with my daughter last year. I was given synthroid 25mg and had horrible side effects from it. My doctor told me my symptoms were not from synthroid and to continue taking it. I ended up stoping the synthroid after my daughter was born and tried to find a doctor who could help me or prescribe me armour ( this was almost impossible to find). My TSH ended up going up to 6.7 and my doctor put me on a medication similar to synthroid made at the compound pharmacy. Still gave me side effects so I ended this as well. I found a longevity doctor who helped me and gave me armour through the compound pharmacy but I am still on 30mg and retested my TSH was 3.7. When I called the doctor the nurse said my results looked fine and to continue my 30mg dose of armour. I still am having trouble losing weight however…
    I gained 65 pounds with my pregnancy and have been working out 90 minutes a day and started this wheat free diet but have only lost 7 pounds from cutting the wheat out. Can you tell me if I should request to up my dosage, or do you have any doctors to refer me to? I live in Milwaukee. Thank you!

    • Dr. Davis

      You are being done a disservice by ignorant doctors, Anastasia. I am grateful that this does no compromise your pregnancy, as even marginal hypothyroidism can have grave consequences for your baby.

      Have you tried Dr. Michelle Nickels in Brookfield? She is a naturopath but is very knowledgeable about thyroid issues.

      • JoAnne

        Dr Davis, do you know any functional medical doctors or naturopaths in the Baltimore, MD area? I’ve got hypothyroidism and haven’t had any success in finding a good doctor. I heard that hypothyroid can cause elevated cholesterol… My cholesterol is thru the roof — TC 383. HDL is 123, and LDL is 250, Triglycerides 52.

        On a good note – in July 2012, on this blog, you diagnosed me as pre-diabetic with a HbA1C of 5.8. I just had my HbA1C redone. It is now 5.4.
        I’ve been wheat-free for one year and sugar-free for 6 months. Thank you for showing me the detour off the path to diabetes.

        • Lily

          Just so you know, you can buy Nutrimeds or Thyro Gold dessicated thyroid from their websites without a prescription. It is the whole gland, including the hormones (unlike most OTC thyroid glandulars). I am using nutrimeds at the moment and find that it works better for me than Erfa, but you do have to take more with Nutrimeds. Apparently Thyro Gold is a lot more potent, so I ordered that and hopefully it will work well.

          Ps. The 150mg or 300mg aren’t the same as normal armour mg. Apparently one 150mg capsule of Thyro Gold = 1 1/4 Armour and for me, two 130mg capsules of Nutrimeds seems to equal about one Armour.

  11. Anastasia

    Thank you Dr. Davis. I did see two endocrinologists who both said they do not treat patients with a TSH below 10. The second endocrinologist I saw even said I had a goiter but that I still did not need meds and that she would not recommend armour at all…
    This is when I found the longevity dr. in Brookfield. He did tell me that my 3.7 TSH is now normal and that I could stay on my 30mg armour. I asked for a 60mg dose to try. I would like to regain energy, sleep better and lose the extra weight I have gained. I have been on weight watchers and exercising since the birth of my daughter in April but have had a very hard time losing the weight. I feel like I have to almost starve myself to lose even a small amount of weight.
    It has been such a struggle to find help, reading blogs online that other hypothryoid patients wrote have given me the most information and help. I will have to try Dr. Nickels, thank you.
    I have been taking Iodoral Iodide from the compound pharmacy, they told me to take one every two weeks. Is this what you would suggest as well?
    I hope the wheat free diet will help, I have already been able to lose seven pounds by following this and hope the rest of the weight will come off as well.

    Thank you!!

  12. Angie Craig

    I also really need some help and advice. I have three children 5 and under, with the youngest being 7.5 mos. I currently weigh 146, 15 to 20 pounds more than my body should be. I’ve been under a battle wih my doctors because after my first child and between my second I’ve been overly tired and unable to lose weight ( I used to never have issues losing). In fact after my first child I was back to pre pregnancy weight two weeks after baby. It just thankfully happened. They tend to blow me off since I’m a mom and assume that I’m not getting any sleep. But it’s different… I will be exhausted, not just tired. I had my bloodwork done a few months ago and my TSH was a 1.62 and T4 was 5.4. Can anyone let me know if these numbers seem low? I’m actually in the waiting room of my doctor and was looking on the blog to see the thyroid comments. I have been wheat free for a month and lost 2 lbs.

    • Dr. Davis

      No, those are pretty good values. But you can STILL have thyroid issues.

      To obtain normal thyroid function we need to:

      1) Supplement iodine at a dose of around 500 mcg per day (micrograms, not milligrams)

      2) Have free T3 assessed. You will likely need a smarter doctor for this, however, who can interpret for you.

      • Angie Craig

        So at my doctors visit I begged the doctor to re-explore my thyroid complaint. She was resistant as she said most people have the same symptoms and complaints, but they’re actually okay. Anyhow, she said she would have my blood retested and the following are the results:

        TSH: 4.31
        T3: 106
        T4, Free: 1.15
        Thyroid Peroxidase: 11

        I was worried about my TSH. Also, since going wheat free Jan 1, my husband has lost 14 lbs and none for me. I had started lifting weights and working out and I’ve actually gained a couple pounds. I’m frustrated, but on a positive note… Since being wheat free my cholsterol numbers are soooo much better and my blood sugar levels have also improved, so I’m really happy about that!

        But still… My concern is my thyroid. For my body type, I should be 15 pounds lighter.

        Thanks Dr Davis… So inspiring!

        • Dr. Davis

          Your thyroid panel shows hypothyroidism without question, Angie. TSH is sufficiently high, for example, to not only account for slowed metabolism and failed weight loss, but substantial increase in risk for cardiovascular disease.

          Get rid of your doctor. You don’t need this kind of ignorance or resistance to self-empowerment in health in your life. She will likely tell you that you don’t need thyroid correction, anyway. Find a functional medicine practitioner who will listen and work with you.

  13. Sheila

    I recommend going to a doctor of osteopathy. My situation was/is similar to Angie’s. My DO will do blood tests but his primary diagnostic tool is the question “How do you feel?” He adjusts my natural thyroid Rx accordingly.

  14. Sharleen

    Possibly you need to do more research because not all Thyroid disease is caused by low iodine and in fact taking iodine when you have Hashimoto’s Thyroid disease can make your disease worse.


  15. Darren

    Seeing how for some people, desiccated thyroid works better than synthetic…. would it be a stretch of the imagination to think that desiccated thyroid contains an amount of iodine, which would be absent from the pure synthetic variety? Unfortunately nothing is available to me here except synthetic T4. It’s all very annoying! but iodine certainly is and has made a big difference for me (32.5mg Potassium Iodide tablets)

    • Dr. Davis

      Whoa, Darren: Be careful. That dose of iodine is potentially toxic if taken long enough.

      And, no, the benefits of adding T3 or taking a desiccated thyroid preparation go beyond just supplementing iodine. Iodine is indeed helpful and can improve thyroid function, but ONLY if you are iodine deficient to start.

      • Katie

        How can I tell if I am Iodine deficient? Can you please list the exact ideal levels for TSH, T3 & T4 ? Which of those numbers if too high tell me if I need to supplement Iodine or something else?

          • Boundless

            I might add, that if the Stop the Thyroid Madness book is correct, 50% of people with thyroid problems also have an adrenal problem, and that also needs correcting.

          • darren

            Thanks Boundless, that has been a revelation, STTM. I’ve also managed to get ahold of natural desiccated thyroid from Thailand with very good results.

            Indeed the adrenals and iron need to be looked at too. Synthetic T4 seems to be quite taxing on the adrenals.

  16. Tiffany

    Dr. Davis,
    I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism about 5 years ago. I am 23 years old. I have gained so much weight over the past 5 years. I went from 125 lbs to 175 lbs. (Note that I am 5’1). I recently started the wheat belly diet and lost about 7 pounds in the first couple weeks. I have struggled with it and have fallen off the diet over the past week and woke up today feeling dizzy and weak. I plan to start back on it tomorrow. I am tired of feeling exhausted. I know it has to do with my thyroid as well. I had never heard about taking Iodine before I read this. My recent labwork says that my thyroid is fine.
    TSH: 2.4 mL
    T4 Free: .98 dL
    T3 Free: 3.2 mL
    I take 50mcg of Levoxyl and 5mcg of a generic Cytomel. So my question is how much Iodine do you think I should take? Do you think that going on the wheat belly diet will help my thyroid?

  17. Linda

    I too am hypothyroid with Hashimoto’s disease. I started the wheat belly diet on January 2nd. I lost 9 lbs the first week and a total of 18 pounds since then. It seems to be coming off very slowly, but I have decided to persevere because for once the weight is actually coming off. I have struggled for years, with lots of exercise and eating well, but this is the first time that I am actually losing and not gaining. My suggestions at this point in my diet is: cardiovascular exercise only, no weights. get your Vitamin D levels checked. I am finally sleeping through the night after years of insomnia. I do not have issues with Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I have not had a problem with acid reflux and am hoping to reduce and possibly eliminate all of the meds that I have been taking for years for my rheumatoid arthritis.Thanks for the info. on possible iodine deficiency, I will be checking with my doctor on this topic. Good luck.

  18. lisa douglass

    I have no thyroid. It was removed 18 years ago when I was diagnosed w Hashimoto’s and thyroid cancer. I do take Synthroid.
    I have read about your suggestions regarding iodine and wonder if these apply to me. I have struggled a bit lately (after age 40) with slow but steady weight gain – and I exercise like crazy (run 40 miles/week and lift weights 2x/week).
    I’m really interested to know if iodine might help me – a person w no thyroid.

    • Dr. Davis

      The benefits of iodine in someone who has had a thyroidectomy are less, but can involved improved breast and oral health, since both breast tissue and salivary glands concentrate iodine. With regards to breast health, I believe we could argue that iodine is among the most neglected issues, with deficiency associated with increased potential for fibrocystic breast disease and breast cancer.

      But that is not your problem. More than likely, your doctor has failed to assess your T3 thyroid status, as you are only taking the T4 hormone (Synthroid). Get a new doctor, one who will address the T3 issue and you will be astounded with the results. Then go back to your old doctor to show off your results and give him/her a piece of your mind!

      • Lisa Douglass

        Thank you for your reply Dr Davis
        This is especially intriguing bc my mother has also had thyroid and breast cancer. Therefore I am at pretty high risk for breast cancer.
        I assume you believe my T3 is low. I will have it checked immediately.
        Will 500-1000mcg of iodine help with that T3 level?
        Or do you suggest a different thyroid replacement other than Synthroid?

        • Dr. Davis

          The iodine will like NOT help convert T4 to T3.

          To obtain T3 you can replace the Synthroid with a preparation like Armour thyroid or just add T3 as liothyronine.

          Also, see the useful discussions on Janie Bowthorpe’s

  19. Shelly Ratcliff

    Hi I have had thyroid symptoms going on for about 2 years now and I still cant get a doctor to diagnose me. My TSH is 2.821 Free T4 0.93 Free T3 2.5…..My symptoms are fatigue, eye problems( sore, dry and red), depression/anxiety, cold hands and feet but then sweaty hands at times too, hands and feet tingling, waking up from full nights sleep and feeling terrible, puffy eyes, cold intolerance, itchy legs, irritable, scanty periods, constipation, ringing in my ears, shortness of breathe………I used to be a runner and am athletic but have put on weight and I can’t tolerate exercise like I used too! My TSH is slowly rising. I have been looking into doing a wheat free diet. Is it common to have all the symptoms of thyroid and continue to suffer without a diagnosis. I also have a a grandmother, mother, aunt and great aunt who have hypothyroidism…….Please any advise would help!

    • James

      Hi Shelly,

      My wife suffered from the same symptoms not so long ago (she’s only 32). We went wheat / grain / sugar / starch free, increased fat intake, been eating real foods, etc, since October 1st 2012. I was (and still am) thriving on this diet but she did not show the same big improvements. We decided to check her hormonal balance and bingo, she had VERY LOW estrogen and progesterone. She’s been on natural supplements for 3 months (arctic root, agnus castus, nt factor, omg-3 FA, etc) and it is the FIRST TIME she had not experienced ANY PMS, not one bit. She was so surprised when her menses came without any signs they would come, she had to celebrate :D


      • Shelly Ratcliff

        Did she see a naturalpathic doctor? I have seen just my regular OB/GYN and he tested my hormones and made sure that I wasn’t going in to menopause because of my symptoms but he says its ok but then wants me to try birth control…….I am afraid that is going to mess me up more. Thanks for your reply and am glad that your wife is feeling better!

    • I had the same problems you described and could not get anyone to listen to me, finally a cardiologist sent me to an excellent endocrinologist and he actually listened. We ran tests and my even did a sonogram on my thyroid, and except for a couple of small (less than 1mm) nodules, everything was fine. He then decided to do a cortysyn stimulation test to test my adrenal (cortisol) function. Non-existent. It wasn’t my thyroid, but my adrenals. I am now on Hydrocortisone and feel like a different person. Perhaps it’s not your thyroid, but your adrenals are insufficient (Addison’s disease). Talk to you doctor about this. If he/she won’t listen, FIND A NEW DOCTOR.

  20. Kristin Groepper

    I have recently finished your book Wheat Belly and have eliminated gluten and wheat from my diet to the best of my knowledge. My 14 year old daughter was diagnosed with Celiac disease about 5 years ago as well. I have been suffering terribly for the past few years with bloating, stomach pain, constipation/diarrhea, brain fog and headaches, extreme fatigue, skin rashes, joint pain and I have had hypothyroidism for the past 9 years. I have seen many doctors for my issues from neurologists to allergy specialists and so on. I have such a distaste for doctors at this point due to their lack of knowledge and because they just throw another prescription at you every time you walk in the door. My health has been so bad over the past 3 years I have put on 45 pounds and have no energy to go anywhere outside of work.

    Because of my daughters diagnosis I have gone gluten free before for a few months at a time yet I have not seen or felt any of the benefits. This last time around, after reading your book, I initially lost 5 pounds and the bloating decreased but after 2 weeks the weight and bloating returned. I also am not seeing other health benefits. I do take many vitamin supplements and thyroid medication. I also had a complete hysterectomy 7 years ago. What could be going on here and is there something I may me doing wrong that I am not aware of? I live in Des Moines, Iowa and wonder if you know of a knowledgeable and capable doctor to help me? Thank you.

    • Boundless

      > I do take many vitamin supplements and thyroid medication.

      What vitamins, but more importantly, what thyroid meds?

      Most thyroid patients are extremely poorly served by the medical profession, and get meds that amount to merely managing the metrics on the nearly meaningless “thyroid” tests that they run (like TSH and total T4), and which do nothing for your symptoms – may even aggravate symptoms. There’s a reason why books exist with titles like “Stop the Thyroid Madness”.

      See also:

  21. Kayte

    If i’m hypothyroid is gluten free the best diet for me?
    My thyroid was hyper and out of control, I was given RAI treatment over 2 years ago which resulted in hypothyroidism and now my ENDO says looks this is where I have levelled out, she sent me back to my family doctor with my Synthroid presription and said I no longer require her treatment, she’s done her job, numbers are what they are. I was left sitting there jaw hitting the floor, how come i’m left feeling worse then ever and 30lbs heavier then before RAI? I tried weight watchers and low cal, etc, but I have continued a steady weight gain. I love being active but with little/no energy alot of the time i’m definately not as active as I’d like to be. I started doing my own research and a gluten free diet was suggested more then once.
    Has anyone been through similar healthy issues and have success with a gluten free diet?

  22. Jo

    Dr Davis would you recommend 1 iodoral tablet with hashimotos . My antibodies was 259 . Or should I just leave it out of my supplement daily intake ? Thanks

    • Dr. Davis

      Iodine replacement, especially high-dose Iodoral, needs to be conducted VERY carefully and with supervision. This dose is likely to activate your Hashimoto’s.

      It is very important to identify a healthcare practitioner knowledgeable about thyroid and iodine. You may have to look hard, but they are out there!

      • Jo

        Thanks Dr Davis ! I think I have a dumb one he told me to start at 1 pill and move up . I think I will follow your advice !

      • Dr. Davis, could taking hydrocortisone for Addison’s disease be causing me to NOT lose weight. I have been on a wheat-free, dairy-free, soy-free diet since July 25 and have lost 4 pounds. I feel better, but the weight and inches are just not going away. I think it’s the HC, what else can I do?

  23. Janice DeRossett

    While my husband was in the hospital recovering from a frightful accident (he is now expected to make a full recovery) I had a constant craving for sushi. I first tried it in the hospital cafeteria when he had elective surgery, and then, with this recent accident, I couldn’t stop eating it. With lots of wasabi!

    I have hypothyroidism and fibromyalgia. The stress of my husband’s hospitalizations have been devastating to my health, say total meltdown, though I would not admit it, if this topic had not come to my attention.
    My husband had go on a strict low sodium diet two years ago, and ever since then I have watched him get even trimmer and I have gained weight when I have been stable for years. I do eat the perfectly healthy diet because I’ve done it forever ( or starved myself) and have to make my husband tow the line. No way could I ever lose the weight from my pregnancies or from being on the wrong medication, or from when I was trying to get a diagnosis in the first place.

    I quit eating wheat because I went through a low carb phase, and found that wheat free cured my spastic colon. You would think a girl would lose a pound without pasta. Ha! Or swim a mile and be svelte. No such luck!
    And then. The sushi! I should have been all bloated and horrible from lack of sleep and the grinding stress when my husband had his accident. I should have gained weight. I did, from a few sleepless nights. But then it went away and I even weigh less by a pound or two. Amazing! I feel like I have so much more resiliency! I am going to try Iodine and see what it does.
    My mother had to eat a low salt diet and I wonder if low iodine has been a chronic problem my whole life.
    Also, I lived next to a busy freeway as a child, when they still had lead in gas. Does lead affect thyroid function or inhibit mineral absorbtion?

  24. Elizabeth (@destinycoach)

    How to tell if we are Iodine deficient? A simple way is to use the Iodine solution for wound treatment and paint a small dot on the skin of the wrist. If the yellow color completely disappears within a minute, you are deficient.
    I am waiting for my order of 5% Lugol’s Iodine and while waiting, I am painting some of this Iodine on my feet and arms daily. My energy level increases almost instantly each time!
    I just found out that I must have had Iodine deficiency for at least 30 years. My daughter was born with Attention Deficit, and it is because of my Iodine Deficiency and Hypothyroidism. Over the last 20 years my weight went up dramatically as well, even though I eat small, healthy meals, never junk food, no sodas, alcohol, tobacco. In the past 8 years I stopped eating grains, except a few crackers, and still, I could gain as much as 30 lbs in 6 months! I do walk 3-times a week, do yoga daily and swim 3 times a week.
    Just recently did I realize, after listening to a great herbalist, how I can help regain the health of my thyroid by supplementing with Lugol’s Iodine PLUS Potassium Iodide and Boron.
    For best absorption of Iodine it is also important to check for Selenium and Zinc levels. If those are low, they need to be added so the Iodine can really work. Also, it is important NOT to take Iodine at the same time with Vitamin C, as Vit. C cancels out the uptake of Iodine.
    I am on the beginning steps of my journey with Iodine supplementation, and just hope it will be available for the masses. I hear that in Europe they already made it unavailable for the public. Let’s hope things don’t get worse. ~.~

  25. Jerrod Soldier

    I suffered from enlarged prostate (diagnosed benign prostatic hypertrophy and prostatitis with PSA =10) with bleeding, obstruction of semen and urine, pain, urgency, frequency of urination etc (up to ten times per night) with symptoms increasing over a period of 30 years. Within one week of iodine intake (5mg tincture of iodine per day added to liquids) the bleeding and obstruction stopped, enabling me to have an external ejaculation which I hadn’t had in several years. Before that, ejaculations (with blood) had been internally obstructed until up to 12 hours later when the semen mixed with blood would leak out. The pain, urgency and frequency of urination is now reduced to near zero. My prostate feels much different now, almost as if it is anaesthetized when I urinate. I had had so much irritation for so many years when urinating, that it is peculiar now to not feel anything when I go. There is zero doubt that all of this improvement (which has continued for about 3 months now) is due to the iodine. I have switched to nutritional iodine 5-10 mg per day rather than tincture and the dramatic improvements remain. I have had no blood whatsoever, and no semen retention since that first week on iodine.

  26. Becky Trenor

    I have been taking 12.5mg Iodoral for a few months and have noticed a positive difference in my skin and hair. The really crazy thing is, I have been suffering with menopausal hot flashes for many years, and they have dwindled down to practically nothing. I am 56, menopause at 55. Can I attribute this wonderful benefit to Iodine supplementation? I have been on and off BHRT stopping the hormones many, many months ago (too expensive, worry about increased breast and uterine cancer risk, increased risk of stroke, on and on). I wonder if other women my age have had this same response to Iodine, or if it is simply a coincidental occurance.

    • Alan Inselberg, C.C.N.

      Becky Trenor, You are correct, it is the Iodine. You may want to get more information and if so.look at the on-line info from Dr. Jorge Flechas; a lecture entitled “Iodine and Whole Body Sufficiency” or the lecture on Iodine by Dr. David Brownstein that was done in 2011 at the American Nutrition Conference. Dr. Jorge Flechas and Dr. Guy Abraham (the creator of Iodoral) were mentors of Dr. David Brownstein. And Dr. Brownstein was my mentor in the use of Iodine. I eventually became an Iodine literate practitioner. Please consider supplementing with Selenium for the proper conversation of Thyroid Hormone, once it is made, using the Iodine and the Amino Acid Tyrosine. To continue the iodine’s journey to reach all of cells you also need the “symporter”, consisting of B2, B3, C, and E. The symporter is discussed in Dr. Flechas lecture that I mentioned earlier. Finding an Iodine literate practitioner in your area will prove enormously beneficial toward your journey of the best health.

  27. While looking for something else, I found this recent response on another topic:
    in which the reader reported an apparent direct correlation between fluoridated water exposure and thyroid problems.

    I’m wondering some things:
    1. Is fluoridated water a significant contributor to our widespread thyroid problems?
    2. Should people on such water systems take steps to avoid drinking it, and switch to bottled* water?
    3. Does toothpaste contain a metabolically significant amount of fluoride?

    Fluoride is added to water and toothpaste to reduce cavities. People on diets free of grains and simple saccharides (sugar) are probably getting vastly more immunity to cavities than fluoride provides.
    * which opens the question of whether the bottled water is also free of adverse halides, given that a lot of brands are from “municipal sources”.

  28. Robie

    Dear Dr. Davis,
    I regularly read your blog, have bought both your books, and I have been wheat free for more than two years with greatly improved health and a loss of 21 pounds.

    I am writing about a friend with hyperparathyroidism.
    It is a disease which exhibits , among others , symptoms of high calcium levels and high parathyroid hormone levels as well as extreme fatigue. She has been diagnosed with osteoporosis and is also a diabetic who is taking insulin injections. She is taking 2000 IU of vitamin D and takes insulin injections at mealtimes.
    A scan has not revealed any tumour on the parathyroid glands.
    Have you encountered anyone who obtained relief from symptoms of this disease by withdrawing wheat from the diet?
    I would like to hear any positive comments to pass along to her. She has yet to be convinced that wheat is unhealthful.
    Robie from Canada

    • > … hyperparathyroidism …

      Not being a medical professional, I’m completely unqualified to diagnose or prescribe anything related to this condition. Indeed, this is the first I’ve heard of it.

      > … relief from symptoms of this disease by withdrawing wheat from the diet?

      Why not try it for 90 days and find out? Nobody, as in no one, NEEDS to have wheat in their diet. And wheat is a subset of the wider truth that no one needs carbs generally. Of the three macronutrients, carbs are the only one that people can live entirely without (as many peoples do, if they are beyond the reach of Twinkies).

      If people with rare conditions wait until all the facts are in from randomized double-blind tests conducted on low-carb populations, most of them will be dead first. Relief from condition XYZZY upon going wheat-free may be anecdotal, but when you are the one with XYZZY, and the symptoms come roaring back on re-exposure, it’s all the hard data you need.

  29. Robie

    Has anyone seen my previous comments?
    I would like an opinion if possible from someone who has encountered this problem.

    • Neicee

      Robie, since you’ve asked about hyperparathyroidism here are my thoughts. A year ago October I had had a few heart palpitations which interestingly calmed down with calcium. Went to see a GP and the tests came back of huge numbers of calcium in the blood. She shuttled me off to a endo that immediately ordered another regular blood test in his onsite lab. Still showed calcium loss in the blood serum. The endo was convinced it was my parathyroid. Immediately sent me off to a surgeon and they refused surgery until after $6000 in scans and other tests. Then the surgeon ordered two ionized blood tests a week apart. The scans and ionized blood tests shot the theory of needing surgery for parathyroidism to pieces. But, I do have osteoporosis. Then, the prescription for Fosamax and possible injections. I refused the prescription and came home to read hundreds of articles about osteoporosis. I have a niece that had taken Fosamax and is a mess. So, I’ve added a number of minerals and supplements, the heart palpitations are gone, I’ve been wheat free for close to 3 years, grain free for 2 years, and no sugar for 1 year. My triglycerides consistently come in at 55-60 and that’s with a couple of glasses of wine with dinner. Magnesium is your friend along with Vita K-2. Hope your friend is doing well and didn’t get shuttled off for a surgery that may, or may not have been warranted and has to take medication the rest of their lives. Oh, I also eat shellfish a couple of times a week, salmon or other fatty fish at least once a week. That and a few drops of Lugol a day is all I’ve done but feel terrific after weight bearing exercises. Read and read some more.

  30. Suzanne

    What is the significance of taking the kelp tablets when you do have hashiomotos ? Verses just having hypothyroidism.

    • > What is the significance of taking the kelp tablets when you do have hashiomotos ?
      > Verses just having hypothyroidism.

      If you actually have Hashimotos or Graves, more iodine can aggravate the condition.

      You can find massive amounts of frequently contradictory advice about this on this on the web. Most of the saner advice starts with:
      1. get your iodine level test (urine test) and see if you actually are deficient
      2. get your thyroid competently assessed

      I have no idea what a correct #1 Iodine baseline is. I can tell you that getting #2 results is a battle. The standard panel, as with the standard lipid panel, is close to worthless. See:

  31. Hi,
    I have Hashimotos Hypothyroidism and with it the total sensitivity to iodine. My thyroid function is poor not due to iodine deficiency but due to genetis and a faulty gene. This has killed my thyroid and stops me converting normal thyroid medication (Levothyroxine – T4) into the active hormone that your body needs (Liothyronine T3).
    Taking iodine quickly brings back all my hypothyroidism symptoms and makes me feel very ill.
    I notice the question and response on 3 Jan 2014 but would be happier if there was a rider on the actual blog about this to prevent others having potentially severe reactions to taking iodine with a low thyroid.
    Eliminating wheat from my diet has helped me to manage my thyroid, to lose weight and to reduce the thyroid anti-bodies that are destroying my health. This will all slow down the progression of this auto immune illness.
    I have a great life now and the knowledge I have gained, I share at, will help me to keep an active life for as long as possible.

    • > … would be happier if there was a rider on the actual blog about this to prevent
      > others having potentially severe reactions to taking iodine with a low thyroid.

      Both the base article here on iodine, and
      include appropriate cautions. I make a point of it in my chatter here (and if I don’t, be sure to scold me :)).

      The thyroid diagnosis and treatment situation is at least as screwed up as the diet and cardiovascular situations. There are multiple books and web sites concerning it. A typical book title: “Stop the Thyroid Madness” (Bowthorpe).

  32. Sandra

    Need advise, had throidectomy because of thyroid cancer, preparing for RAI treatment and am on low iodine diet. Not easy to combine with GF and high protein low carb…any suggestions? Thanks!