A few weeks ago, I took the iodine loading test and bromine test from Hakala Labs. I’ve been meaning to report my results, as they were pretty surprising, but I’ve just been too busy. First though, let me tell you about the test.
The test requires that you take a 50 mg dose of Iodoral, then you collect your urine for 24 hours. You send the lab a sample of that urine, along with a report of the total amount of urine collected. The lab reports back your iodine and bromine levels in a few days. (You can test just for iodine, if you like.)
The test was relatively easy to do. You have to be at home for 24 hours to take the test — unless you wish to carry your jug of urine in a cooler to the grocery store. (No? I didn’t think so.) The jug of urine has to be refrigerated, so going to the bathroom requires some advance planning. Next time, to make the process easier, I’ll likely set up the jug in a cooler in the bathroom. Of course, you have to make sure to remember to collect every last drop of your urine. (That’s harder than it sounds.) Oh, and I discovered that my bladder had just slightly more capacity than the 16 ounce cup provided. (That was awkward!)
I had to stop taking my usual 20 mg per day dose of iodine for the two days before the test. The results were surprising: my digestion became sluggish almost immediately, and I felt like a bloated whale again for the first time in weeks. That disappeared shortly after I took the 50 mg dose of iodine for the test.
When I took the test, I’d been taking more than one milligram doses of iodine in the form of Iosol and Lugol’s for 19 days, working my way from 1.8 mg to 24.7 mg. On average, I took nearly 19 mg per day.
So … without further ado … what were my results?
I excreted 46.2 mg of the 50 mg loading dose, over 90%. That’s supposed to mean that I’m totally iodine sufficient.
That result made no sense whatsoever to me. Clearly, I have been iodine deficient, based on the remarkable improvements I’ve felt from supplementing with iodine. Yet I’d not been supplementing long enough to reach whole-body sufficiency, as that takes about 3 months of 50 mg of iodine per day. Plus, I felt the effects of just two days without iodine. So I can’t be sufficient.
So what in the heck was going on? Here’s what the lab report says:
If you excrete 90% or more, and are not taking iodine supplementation, this may be caused by:
1. A symporter defect in which iodine is absorbed but not taken into the cells properly.
2. An iodine organification problem where the iodine gets into the cell but does not attach to the lipid complex for activation.
3. Bromide may be interfering with the body’s utilization of iodine.
I’m not sure about the first two possibilities, but I did have my bromine levels checked. And I excreted 37.8 mg of bromine in that 24 hours. That’s quite high: the upper normal value is 10 mg.
Dr. David Brownstein discusses bromine at some length in his book Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It. He writes:
The halides are a group of elements that share a similar size and shape. … Fluoride, bromine, iodide, chloride and astatide make up this family. Iodine and chloride are the only halides that have therapeutic effects in the body. Bromide is a toxic element that has a chemical structure very similar to iodine. This similarity can cause bromine to bind to iodine receptors and possibly interfere with iodine transport in the body. Bromine is found in many food items such as bakery products, and some sodas, as well as many prescription items. In addition, bromine is found in many fire-retardant chemicals added to furniture, carpets, etc. Crops are sprayed with bromine as a fumigant for agriculture. When there is iodine deficiency present, bromine toxicity will be exacerbated. (Iodine, pg 82-3, citations omitted)
What are the effects of bromine on a person?
Bromine intoxication (i.e., bromism) has been shown to cause delirium, psychomotor retardation, schizophrenia, and hallucination. Subjects who ingest enough bromide feel dull and apathetic and have difficulty concentrating. Bromide can also cause severe depression, headaches, and irritability. It is unclear how much bromide must be absorbed before symptoms of bromism become apparent. Recent research has demonstrated that symptoms of bromide toxicity can be present even with low
levels of bromide in the diet. (Iodine, pg 98, citations omitted)
Dull and apathetic? Difficulty concentrating? Depression? Gee, that sounds familiar! Those symptoms definitely improved with high dose iodine for me.
Also, Dr. Brownstein reports that fluoride has similar harmful effects on thyroid function. When added to drinking water, it doesn’t affect rates of dental cavities. I’m dubious of its benefits when used topically, e.g. in toothpaste. My teeth and gums were in terrible shape, despite using a prescription-strength fluoride toothpaste for some years. I’ve enjoyed huge improvements in dental health with eating paleo, plus supplementing with cod liver oil and butter oil — without that high-fluoride toothpast. So fluoride for dental health seems overrated, at best.
Exposure to high levels of bromine and fluoride in modern society might be why many people seem to need so much iodine — about 12 mg per day as a maintenance dose — for optimal health.
Notably, I’m definitely not endorsing these claims about the effects of bromine and fluoride and their relationship to iodine as the gospel truth. While they seem to fit my own experience, I’m hardly qualified to judge the underlying scientific claims. (I hate being a layperson, particularly where my very capacity to live a meaningful life is at stake!)
So… supposing that bromine and fluoride toxicity is a genuine problem for me, what do I do?
Mostly, I take my daily dose of iodine, in the form of Iosol and Lugol’s. I’m currently varying between 24 and 50 mg per day, somewhat at random. Dr. Brownstein’s tests of his patients show that high-dose iodine supplementation enables the body to excrete bromine over the course of several months, until levels fall to normal. Fluoride seems to be excreted with iodine supplementation too, but more quickly. Happily, that supplementation is super-easy and super-cheap.
As an extra preventative measure, I’ve been trying to identify and eliminate sources of fluoride and bromine in my diet and environment. We bought an under-sink reverse osmosis system for our drinking water. That filters out everything — including the natural fluoride in our water (2 ppm average), as well as pesticides, herbicides, and the like. I’ve stopped brushing with toothpaste with fluoride. (I use what I used as a kid: baking soda.) Tea apparently contains some fluoride, but I don’t think the cup per day that I drink poses much of a problem.
I’ve not been able to identify many clear sources of bromine in my diet or environment. It’s in hair dye, and I’ve dyed my hair continuously for the past few years. (That’s now stopped, at least temporarily.) I don’t eat bread any longer, and I’ve never drunk Mountain Dew or other sodas. My father never used bromine in our swimming pool when I was a kid. I don’t know whether it might be in our carpets or my clothing, but if so, I can’t do much about that. I could switch to organic vegetables, but I’d like to avoid that hassle and expense, if possible. (But I hope to grow plentiful vegetables in my own garden this summer!)
I do wonder — as a super-sketchy hypothesis — whether my own fat stores might have been a major source of bromine. Bromine seems to be stored in fat tissue. Perhaps I’d accumulated it from various sources over the years, then retained it in fat tissue due to insufficient iodine intake. Losing about fifteen pounds over the course of six months in 2008 on a paleo diet might have released a good amount of bromine into active circulation in my body. Due to my super-low iodine intake at the time, I couldn’t excrete it. Instead, it took the place of iodine in my body, and that interfered with thyroid function. Notably, I had low-grade symptoms of hypothyroidism before I switched to a paleo diet, so I’m sure that was in my future, but perhaps the bromine contributed to my hard crash this past fall. Mostly though… I have no clue!
In any case, I plan to repeat the iodine and bromine test in a few months. Hopefully, I’ll see lower levels of bromine excretion and greater iodine uptake.