Iodine, the 53rd element, so highly regarded for the health of the the thyroid and the functioning of thyroid hormone, was first discovered by French scientists, not in interests of keeping humanity on the road to well-being, but rather interests of keeping Napoleon on his throne. It seems that the diminutive dictator was running out of willow wood, the preferred source of saltpeter (potassium nitrate) which was, at the time, the military’s explosive material of choice and he was looking for another source of combustible substances. As it turned out the coast of France is a rich source of seaweed, from which potassium nitrate (KN) can also be derived. Napoleon charged his scientific experts with the task figuring out a way to efficiently extract KN for the ocean vegetation and within months, the French chemist Bernard Cortois, who has previously been among the first scientists to isolate morphine, had come with a process of pulling out the potassium nitrate and the French military was back in business.In the process, it was discovered that by adding a little bit extra sulfuric acid to the potassium nitrite extract a purple cloud of vapor would form that over time would crystallize into shiny crystals. When Cortois examined the crystals he realized he had discovered a new element Later on, as the newly produced substance’s properties were elucidated, it was determined to be a fundamental element and it as given the name “iodine”, a derivative for the Greek word for violet.
The important role that iodine plays in human health was first exploited shortly thereafter, in 1820 when the French physician, Jean Lugol created the iodine solution which bears his name. Lugol noticed than when iodine was bonded to a mineral it became water soluble and much easier to work with and these days, so-called Lugol’s Solution considered to be the standard pharmaceutical dosage form for iodine supplementation. Dr. Lugol originally used his solution to treat infectious conditions, he was especially interested in using it to heal tuberculosis, but within 100 years it was being used a s treatment of choice for addressing hypothyroidism. The Nobel Prize winner biochemist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, who is best known as the discoverer of the Vitamin C molecule was a big fan of iodine. In his biography, Dr. Szent-Gyorgyi calls iodine “the universal medicine”. He actually quotes a little rhyme that he learned in medical school:
“If you don’t know what, where or why, prescribe ye then K and I”, KI standing for potassium iodide, which is the active ingredient ion “Lugol’s Solution”.
These days Dr. Jonathan Wright of the Tahoma Clinic in Washington, talks about using Lugol’s Solution and it’s alternative SSKI, which stands for saturated solution of Potassium Iodide, for purifying drinking water to treating urinary tract infections, to eliminating acne pimples. For UTI’s he recommends adding 10 to 15 drops of SSKI or Lugol’s into a glass of water and drinking it down every 3 or4 hours until the infection is gone and for purifying drinking water he recommends using 2 or 3 drops per glass of unclean water.
Iodine which is a pretty rare element to begin with (of all the essential elements in the earth only selenium is found in lower concentrations than iodine) is easily leached from the soil, which basically means that if you’re not living near an ocean there’s a real good chance you could be iodine deficient. In fact this was such a serious problem a hundred years ago (as the impact of poor farming techniques was beginning to be felt that the occurrence of goiter in Midwest United States, was becoming a significant problem. Thus was born iodized salt, which for the most part eliminated goiter. However, while full blown iodine deficiency may have been eliminated salt iodization but may have a caused the even bigger problem of subclinical iodine deficiency, deficiencies not bad enough to cause blatant symtomology, but bad enough to cause other mis-diagnosed health issues, like hypothyroidism and brain development issues in children.
In my opinion, of the biggest problems when it comes to our understanding of iodine is the crazy medical notion that iodine is simply required for the functioning of the thyroid. Because of this mythology about iodine, the medical community feels like if you don’t have a goiter which is big old swollen thyroid you’re OK, but becomes there are so many different important roles this stuff plays in the body, just because you don’t have a goiter, a swollen thyroid doesn’t necessarily mean you have enough iodine.
For example, besides the well-known connection to thyroid health, iodine is important for mental functioning. According to researchers writing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition iodine deficiency can prevent children from attaining quote "their full intellectual potential". Deficiencies in iodine are considered to be the most preventable cause of brain damage in infants and children and according to the World Health Organization over one third of kids are iodine deficient. Last week, in an article published in the Lancet, researchers in the U.K, found that pregnant women with mild to moderate iodine deficiency during faced an increased risk of giving birth to babies with suboptimal cognitive And, it’s not just kids who are at risk. Again according to the World Health Organization, iodine deficiency in adults can lower adult IQ’s by up to 15 points. Now considering the average adult IQ is around 90 to 100 and 80 is considered dull, losing 15 IQ points can be pretty significant!
[See also: Clearing up the Iodine Confusion]