Greetings from the salty, seaweed-laced shore of Pensacola Beach, Florida, which hints at hidden health riches of the sea (the core subject of our summer Groovy Booby
Spring boarding from the "lymphatic ocean" metaphor we used in "Love Your Lymph
," let's explore the deeply significant, yet seldom discussed, connection between breast health and thyroid function--a connection literally originating in the sea...
There is a unique, shared ability of mammary and thyroid glands to concentrate the nutrient iodine. Iodine is a trace mineral prevalent in the sea. It is an element known as a halogen, from the Greek (háls
), "salt" or "sea" and (gen-
), "come to be."
Second only to the thyroid gland, the highest concentration of iodine is found in women's breast tissue. Iodine is perhaps most well known as the necessary nutrient for the production of thyroid hormones. But did you know there is also an association between low thyroid function and breast disease? Moreover, the scientific evidence linking iodine deficiency to breast cancer is overwhelming. Iodine deficiency may not be the sole cause of the epidemic of breast cancer today, but it plays a significant role.
Both our mammary glands and our thyroid glands have been linked from the time we were embryos and both have a special ability to store iodine. This function is vital
during pregnancy and breast-feeding. Low thyroid hormones during pregnancy can lead to neuropsychological consequences such as mental retardation and problems with growth, behavior, hearing, and speech. Babies need lots of iodine for neuroendocrine development, and they're supposed to get it from breast milk. Milk ducts are designed to draw iodine from the bloodstream, concentrate it, and transmit it to the baby via the milk. Unlike breast milk, baby formula contains no iodine.
During lactation, breast tissue actually outpaces the thyroid in iodine capture! But non-lactating tissue expresses another iodide transporter, and iodine is clearly important
beyond lactation. Iodine in its various forms has antiproliferative, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in breast tissue. The book at left takes a look at what 50 years of iodine research already knows. While there are other iodine books with less dramatic titles, consider that it is written from the perspective of someone who healed
from life-threatening disease once an undiagnosed iodine deficiency was recognized. This information is only recently gaining momentum.
How's Your Iodine Intake
In adults, iodine insufficiency results in sub-optimal levels of thyroid hormones, which are highly correlated with almost 60 other disease conditions including chronic fatigue, depression, frequent illness, obesity, heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
The body does not make iodine, so it is an essential part of the diet. Iodine is found in unrefined sea salt, sea vegetables like kombu, kelp and dulse, foods grown near the sea such as coconut products, seafood, and vegetables grown (and meat, butter and dairy products from cows pastured) on iodine-rich soil.
Certain geographic regions have little or no iodine in the soil. ''The Goiter Belt'' is a nickname bestowed on a region of the country (most notably the Great Lakes region) for its high incidence of thyroid trouble. Just a few generations ago, goiters (swelling of the thyroid gland) began to develop in adolescence in Michigan and Ohio, and more commonly affected girls than boys. High-buttoned Victorian collars often concealed unsightly swellings. Two Cleveland doctors made medical history when they conducted a study of 10,000 Akron, Ohio schoolgirls from 1916 to 1920. By giving iodine treatments to half of the students, the doctors demonstrated how to prevent thyroid enlargements of the throat and neck.
As a result, by 1924 iodized salt was commonly available in the U.S. However, popular health advice has steered most people away from the use of table salt. In the 1960's, the commercial bread baking industry used flour with iodine added as an anti-caking agent. By the 1980's, industry discontinued adding iodine and substituted it with potassium bromide. This occurred because the Governments RDA of iodine, 150 mcg
daily (enough to treat goiter, not optimize health), was feared to be too much iodine in the American diet. (Compare this to the average Japanese diet, in which 1-3 mg
of iodine are ingested daily, through seaweed and seafood, and where breast cancer rates are notoriously low). Such trends have resulted in American's iodine intake dropping nearly 50% over the last 30 years.
To boot, the myth that you can get enough iodine from iodized salt has now been debunked by scientists. This is due to poor bioavailability of iodine from table salt, the natural evaporation of iodine in iodized salt over time, and other factors. We have found a pleasant analysis of the superior health benefits of natural sea salt (an un-processed whole food) by Redmond Real Salt
Beware "The Competition
One of the most intriguing and disturbing health care discoveries I have made is regarding our daily exposure to halides. As mentioned, iodine is a halogen, or halide. Other halides you recognize include chlorine, bromine and fluorine. The latter are not nutritive halides, they are toxic, non-beneficial and banned for use in food and drugs in Europe and Japan, but still used widely in the US
. When ingested by mouth, through our skin or from breathing fumes (e.g., "the new car smell") these toxic halides compete with iodine at iodine receptor sites. Fluoridated, chlorinated tap water, swimming pools, hot tubs, toothpaste,
, Sucralose or Splenda ® (chlorinated table sugar), fireworks, fumigants for termites, nasal sprays, certain inhalers, pesticides (and commercial bakery goods provide unsuspecting consumers ample unhealthful exposure to the halides fluorine, chlorine and bromine. Bromide in particular is also a common fire retardant and is found in most new plastics, carpets, household goods, new cars. These harmful halides "hog up" the space where iodine works its life-giving magic, and end up weakening our immune system, energy, vitality and metabolism, insidiously over time. Children and infants are especially vulnerable.
Avoiding these halides is very difficult in our current culture. Reading labels carefully, finding alternative ways to sanitize hot tubs (e.g., silver colloid or H2O2), avoiding over-exposure to chlorinated swimming pools, drinking well water instead of fluoridated, chlorinated tap water, avoiding plastic, buying second-hand/vintage furniture and clothing (instead of brand new items, which out-gas these compounds) are some of the lifestyle changes you can select to protect the health and vitality of your family. Some individuals experience halide-detox reactions
when they begin increasing their iodine intake and reducing their exposure to other halides.
Iodine in Breast Research
In 1966, Russian researchers showed that iodine effectively relieves signs and symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease. In 1997, Dr. Guy Abraham, a former professor of obstetrics and gynecology at UCLA, mounted what he calls the Iodine Project, which showed iodine does indeed reverse fibrocystic disease. Demographic studies show that a high intake of iodine is associated with a low incidence of breast cancer
, and a low intake with a high incidence of breast cancer
In this very smart three part video series
on breast disease and thyroid health, Alexander Haskell, ND, a physician devoted to research, education & treatment, discusses breast disease, breast cancer and fibrocystic breast disease and their relationship to iodine, thyroid hormones, Hashimoto's Thyroiditis and enlarged thyroid. Dr. Haskell found administering high-dose iodine therapy to individuals with Hashimoto's can severely aggravate the condition, further destroying the thyroid gland. Thus, it is a good idea to have a complete thyroid panel, including thyroid peroxidase antibodies, before commencing an iodine supplementation program, if you suspect you may have undetected or underlying thyroid deficiencies. High dosing of iodine, even through foods, can do more harm than good in certain individuals with particular thyroid issues, sometimes jump starting the auto-immune disease Hashimoto's in individuals who were previously only hypo-thyroid. But iodine is a necessary nutrient, and with proper nutrition counseling, it can be re-introduced appropriately in individuals with such issues.
Finally, for women in particular, the symptomology of sub-optimal levels of thyroid hormones are often not well understood, considered or evaluated. The limited approach of mainstream healthcare does not test for the full spectrum of thyroid hormones, necessary for fully understanding thyroid function. Finding a health-care practitioner that is willing to go the distance to serve our healthcare needs can be a daunting task, but one well worth it if we can restore quality of life.
The Amazing Breast-Thyroid connection is a well researched but not well-publicized fact. Understanding breast health is just an in-road to whole body health, part of a healthy lifestyle. A lifestyle is how we live all the time in every aspect of life, whether the company we keep, the food we eat, the values we hold, the work we do, our beliefs, our consumer choices, our hobbies or our home.
These educational bulletins are written on topics I personally explore and practice. They are part of my healthy lifestyle. I hope they are of service and inspiration.
Oceans of Love,
Najma Lynn Waters (. ) (. )