Iodine deficiency wrecked my life.
How did this happen?
No, I didn’t live in a Third World Country where iodine deficiency is the leading cause of mental retardation. I grew up in New Jersey eating plenty of seafood and vegetables sprinkled with iodized salt. Still, for years I endured daily headaches and bouts of brain fog so bad that I lost my driver’s license for speeding through stop signs without being aware. I slept so much my family called me Rip Van Winkle. Eventually I could no longer drag myself to work even with caffeine and Darvocet, a prescription painkiller.
I moved from teaching college full time to working as a journalist part time. To make things worse, pounds began to pad my middle. What was wrong with me? At least fifty doctors reviewed my case and ran tests. I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, adrenal exhaustion, epilepsy, ovarian cysts, TMJ, candida, and multiple chemical sensitivities. They prescribed remedies but nothing worked. Did I have a disorder? A disease? And how did I finally land on iodine deficiency — the correct culprit?
The last doctor on my medical mystery tour shrugged. “There are things worse than brain fog.”
Turned out he was right. I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.
Through what sounded like a metal tunnel, I heard these word: “After surgery you need to see an oncologist for chemotherapy and a doctor who will perform radiation.”
My reaction wasn’t, oh crap, I could die from this; I was just too sick to be worried about death. After headaches, brain fog and exhaustion, cancer was the last straw. How would I ever get the energy and concentration to meet with surgeons and oncologists? The list of appointment cards stuck to my refrigerator with magnets. Then they said something about meeting with the doctor who would perform radiation.
I had no choice but to put one foot in front of the other and show up. So I did, one appointment at a time, scared but loaded with caffeine and Darvocet. Nothing in life prepares you for facing people in whose hands you place your life. Especially when they don’t have many answers.
Each cancer specialist laid out a plan. When I asked, “What’s the evidence this treatment will improve my survival?” The doctors answered that it was “their consensus.”
But what was the evidence for this consensus I wondered. “The Guidelines,” they said.
I had to agree to three disclaimers before reading their sacred published guidelines. Double espressos fueled my research for months as I plodded on. The published evidence was not compelling. The radiation guidelines even spelled out that there was no overall survival value.
Could I be reading the studies wrong? After all, I wasn’t credentialed like these doctors who had practiced oncology for years. Could “no overall survival value” have an obscure meaning my un-credentialed, caffeinated brain was missing? Who the hell was I to ask, why are you prescribing this when your own medical literature states that I won’t live a day longer with this radiation treatment?
Finally, when I asked one final surgeon about my findings, he candidly shrugged his bearlike shoulders. “We don’t know what else to do. We have to do something.”
They obediently followed “consensus guidelines” to avoid any legal complications. In other words, a Breast Cancer Industrial Complex had offered me their best guess. From my reasoning, that just wasn’t good enough. I’m sure others would choose differently and do well. But I had to walk away.
Time for Plan B
I had the surgery but couldn’t find a compelling reason to go with the further recommended radiation and chemotherapy. I needed to dig deeper to see what research was out there beyond the official guidelines.
If my life were a play, the initiating scene would be my cancer diagnosis. By an accident of reading the fine print for evidence I had uncovered an entire world of well-meaning cancer professionals, most of whom had never read the research for the procedures they recommended. They obediently followed “consensus guidelines” to avoid any legal complications. In other words, a Breast Cancer Industrial Complex had offered me their best guess. From my reasoning, that just wasn’t good enough. I’m sure others would choose differently and do well. But I had to walk away.
Thus I began the second act of my life with the words of physicist Richard Feynman: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” This means we are often left to fend for ourselves when it comes to truly getting better.
I decided to attend medical conferences. I didn’t know what to expect, but conferences were supposed to be the best places for new ideas to be presented. So I used my savings to attend as many as I could. Out of the blue, at a medical conference in Orlando, I struck what would turn out to be gold. In a private conversation, a well-known doctor asked me if I knew about iodine for fibrocystic breast disease. What? Iodine? Surely, she didn’t mean that little brown antiseptic bottle in the medicine chest? What was iodine anyway? Didn’t we get enough iodine from iodized salt? And what did fibrocystic breast disease, which I was told was normal, have to do with breast cancer?
Though I was tempted to dismiss iodine as just one of the many remedies thrust at cancer patients, the conversation stayed in my head on the plane back home. Why on earth did rats get breast disease and tumors when you blocked iodine to their chow? Why did the breasts heal when the iodine was added back and iodine deficiency reversed? How would I begin to investigate something as mundane as an additive in salt? I felt all alone in my research because I had never dug into anything like iodine so I didn’t know where to start.
The Universal Medicine
I struck the jackpot when I searched PubMed’s online medical articles. Two weeks passed in a flash and I hadn’t even scratched the surface. I kept digging, connecting the dots from the breast to the thyroid to infection. I couldn’t read about iodine deficiency fast enough. To learn more, I hunted down old and out-of-print medical books. I found antique iodine products from eBay, some still with the instructions and a 100 year-old iodine bottle that was still intact. When a pharmacist’s ledger, dated 1901, went to auction, I snapped it up.
Sure enough, the old ledger was filled with countless iodine prescriptions. Records of iodine medicine stretched the globe, going back a hundred and fifty years when it was called “The Universal Medicine.”
I discovered iodine went even further back, 15,000 years further. Archaeology records in Monte Verde, Chile, document how prehistoric peoples stashed certain seaweeds in a medicine hut. The Ancient Egyptians used seaweed for breast cancer, Medieval doctors used burnt sponges for the thyroid. Van Gogh even used iodine for Syphilis. Iodine became the Swiss Army knife of both ancient and recent medicine.
So how come nobody had heard of iodine? It took me the next two years to find out.
Iodine Epidemic And The Lost Universal Medicine
Turns out, the invention of antibiotics around World War II created the impression in the latest medical journals that iodine was old-fashioned. But according to pharmacy records it was still widely used over antibiotics. Do you remember the episode of All Creatures Great and Small when the vet James Herriot proves to the other vets that iodine works better than the new-fangled antibiotics for the sick sheep?
Iodine remained one of the most prescribed medicines in the old Merck Manuals. Then, bang, iodine was stolen from common use in the 1950s and 60s after two prestigious researchers claimed it shut down the thyroid in mice. This became known as The Wolff-Chaikoff Effect. The researchers’ new opinion was contradicted by all the previous decades of liberal use for everything from syphilis to breast cancer.
No matter. Prestige and profits matters more than facts. Somehow iodine’s historic benefits were suddenly snatched from the medical text books and a moratorium banned iodine human research in the US. Medical school professors passed along the Wolff-Chaikoff Effect theory to the next generation, and the following generation, so the misinformation and iodine deficiency persists today.
That The Universal Medicine could be abandoned and vilified when a disproved research article got published, well, this set my hair on fire. Guy Abraham, MD, noticed the scientific error and began writing about it. So did doctors David Brownstein and Jorge Flechas. They started a small research venture called The Iodine Project. Trouble was, hardly anybody had heard of them in 2004. I set a goal to publicize their work and whistle-blow about iodine to anyone who would listen.
But, hold on. The medical disappearance of iodine in the 1950s is only the tip of the iceberg. By the 1970s a full blown nutritional iodine crisis had begun with a kind of accidental ignorance in the bread making business, contributing to the iodine deficiency epidemic we are experiencing now.
Something Bread and Bromate
A Perfect Storm occurs when specific unrelated events come together at the same time to cause a disaster that might be minimal in significance if only one event occurred. Combine the removal of iodine from the food supply with the simultaneous addition of bromines to bread, methylbromide pesticides, brominated fire retardants, brominated vegetable oils (BVO) added to many soft drinks — and our environment is assaulted with a full-blown public health disaster.
The perfect storm started in the 1970s.
Wave One. Iodine Purged From Our Food
In the 1970s bread contained added iodine in the form of potassium iodate. A few slices of potassium iodate-fortified bread a day in 1970 would provide over a milligram of iodine. Everybody ate bread or muffins or cookies. Between iodized salt and bread most people got a decent amount of iodine.
But then iodine was removed from flour. Iodine wasn’t just removed from baked goods, it was replaced with an anti-iodine—potassium bromate. Meaning if you happened to get iodine from milk or seafood, it would have to compete with the bromate, which now had been added to bread. Iodine and bromide (or bromate) compete for the same receptor.
By 2000, NHANES, a nutritional department of the Centers for Disease Control, reported people consumed half as much iodine than 30 years earlier. Conspiracy or just goofy negligence? Of course, they were consuming less. Headlines advise against salt, the main source of iodine in flour is removed and a sneaking iodine purging chemical arrived on the scene.
Wave Two. Bromine, Anti-Iodine Blasts The Environment
During the 1970s bromine pesticides and PBDE bromine fire retardants blasted the marketplace, creating an endocrine disruption nightmare. Numerous studies confirm this. Overnight the environment stumbled as bromines were added to mattresses, furniture, carpeting, agriculture, foods, electronics, children’s pajamas and other consumer products, purging much of our dietary iodine.
The final wave in The Perfect Storm of Iodine Deficiency came with the Bromine-ization of America with a fire retardant chemical called polybrominated diphenyl ethers or PBDE for short. PBDE are characterized as a “persistent toxin” because it refuses to breakdown and go away. We breathe the dust and it gets into our bloodstream. You throw away that bromine fire retardant-filled sofa and the dust dissolves into landfills and eventually seeps into the water supply, contaminating sea animals that swim thousands of ocean miles.
Now we not only have an iodine deficiency crisis, we have a true public health disaster. How much of a disaster? For starters, thyroid and breast disease skyrocketed between 1970 and 2000. Thyroid cancer alone rose by 180 percent. Breast cancer rates went from one in 28 to one in seven or eight depending on where you live. Lower iodine levels means IQ levels dropping and obesity rates rising. The iodine crisis made us sick, fat, and stupid. But help is on the way if you get tested and supplement iodine.
My Excellent Iodine Adventure
I heard about a new 24 hour urine test that became available and decided to check to see how much of an iodine deficiency I had. One Monday morning I started the test by swallowing 50 mg of Lugol’s iodine tablets. Boing! Within 90 minutes my brain came to life. Years of brain fog vanished. In the months that followed, all the other conditions plaguing me disappeared. And other people I corresponded with were reporting the same. Not everybody got “the boing” or such a wholesale improvement but enough have reported dramatic response that I know my case and others were not outliers.
My energy improved and my weight normalized. I was no longer so cold I needed to wear two pair of socks. Even superficial things improved. I used to slather my dry hands with hand lotion, day and night. Now, I can’t imagine why my hands ever needed extra moisture. The iodine experience seemed too good to be true. If iodine was so great why didn’t everybody know about it?
How could one cheap nutrient reverse so many conditions? A small group of others was asking the same question. As the newly minted Iodine Project founded by pioneer iodine doctors Abraham, Brownstein, and Flechas began to publish more. Here was the mother lode of iodine detective work! The doctors were already on the case of iodine deficiency and had been quietly and carefully piling up documentation. Online groups formed to discuss research and investigate taking iodine. More doctors familiarized themselves with iodine and tried it themselves. The Internet began to rescue iodine from the dustbin of history.
Predictably, skepticism reared its ugly head with online hecklers predicting that, since iodine was a “poison,” soon we would all die. Some reported temporary side-effects, but no one could argue with success stories and the reversal of profound medical complaints such as hypothyroidism, fibrocystic breast disease, heart arrhythmias, and many other conditions.
By 2006, a grass roots Iodine Movement had emerged as more and more websites and doctors began to report the benefits of iodine, challenging the rapidly disappearing theory that iodine was toxic.
Someone needed to write a book exposing how one of the most useful recorded medicine in history had been stolen and rescued. I waited but no one wrote about it. Finally I decided iodine couldn’t be lost again so I wrote a book explaining the theft of iodine combined with a how-to guide, reporting ways the long time iodine takers used iodine.
While writing The Iodine Crisis: What You Don’t Know About Iodine Can Wreck Your Life, many people contacted me with their personal reports on how supplementing iodine had changed their lives in big and small ways. I needed to include their stories as part of the history of reviving The Universal Medicine.
History tells us when you let people speak in their own words, a revolution begins. Thus, the thousands of first-hand iodine reports carry the message better than any second-hand description ever could. The growing Iodine Movement created a simple message that’s simple. Look at the iodine information. Fact check everything. Ask, how can anybody argue with the hundreds of thousands of success stories?
Don’t let The Universal Nutrient be lost to the vapors of history again.
Lynne Farrow is a journalist, researcher, former college professor and speaker. She’s also the author of The Iodine Crisis: What You Don’t Know Can Wreck Your Life. Her own experience with breast cancer led to the discovery that iodine had been lost as a traditional remedy with proven benefits reaching back 15,000 years. She currently serves as the Director of Breast Cancer Choices, Inc., a nonprofit organization. Lynne is the editor of IodineResearch.
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