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One of the benefits of using natural remedies is their versatility. While one condition can have many potential causes (and therefore therapies), one remedy may have dozens of potential benefits. Iodine supplementation is no exception.

Used for decades to treat bacterial and viral infections, iodine may even be effective against the novel coronavirus. Unfortunately, iodine deficiency is still very common, with many in the developed world having at least mild deficiencies. This is why it’s important to understand how iodine works, what doses are needed, and what iodine-rich foods or supplements are best. 

Iodine Versus Bacterial And Viral Infections

You may be already familiar with iodine as a yellow staining topical solution used to prevent infections in wounds. However, this goes far beyond your old school nurse patching you up after a grazed knee. A letter titled Iodine, A Preventive and Curative Agent in the COVID-19 Pandemic? was published in May 2020, to raise awareness of its far-reaching benefits. 

The authors explain that iodine has been used for many years to fight infections, including in epidemics. When the Asian flu hit in 1957, Mandl’s paint (a type of iodine formulation) helped to prevent influenza. Only 2.8 percent of the treated group developed the viral infection, compared to 14 percent in the control group. If patients already had influenza, iodine sped its clearance, with an effect seen after only two days of treatment. 

Recent Studies On Iodine Supplementation

Additionally, a 2013 study on newborn lambs found that iodine treatment reduced lung lesions and viral antigens after infection with a respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). In three-week-old lambs, iodine was also shown to reduce the severity of RSV infection. As for humans, population data shows that Japan has a far lower number of deaths linked to COVID-19 compared to other countries.

The average iodine intake in Japan is much higher than in other nations, which may explain their increased resistance to infection. This is most likely because their traditional diet involves regular consumption of sea vegetables, which are high in iodine. Japan’s population is also has the largest percentage of older adults in the world, and their national lockdown has been milder than that of other countries. The difference between immune-boosting, virus-fighting nutrients, and lockdowns is that one provides broad-spectrum protection against a range of infectious diseases. The other has serious implications for the economy and personal autonomy. 

To this day, iodine is used as an antiseptic in the United States because of its broad antimicrobial properties. Besides its antibacterial and antiviral effects, iodine is necessary for healthy immune function. While iodine deficiency contributes to an impaired ability of white blood cells to “eat” harmful microbes, supplementation increases antibody production. 

Can Iodine Help Fight COVID-19?

What about the coronavirus itself? A laboratory study found that povidone-iodine (PVP-iodine) as an oral antiseptic rapidly inactivated the virus. The control treatment, a 70 percent ethanol solution, couldn’t completely disable the SARS-CoV-2 virus after 15 seconds of exposure but was successful at 30 seconds. PVP-iodine was more effective, able to eliminate the virus at a low concentration of 0.5 percent after only 15 seconds.

Another lab study exposed SARS-CoV-2 to PVP-iodine at concentrations between one and five percent. This was in the form of nasal antiseptics and mouthwashes. After just 60 seconds of exposure, these iodine solutions were able to inactivate the virus. Other test-tube studies, this time involving a 0.23 percent solution of PVP-iodine mouthwash, demonstrated the inactivation of both SARS-CoV-2 and the more dangerous MERS-CoV after 15 seconds of exposure. 

What about clinical studies? A pilot trial compared the effects of mouthwash of one percent PVP-iodine, essential oils, and tap water on viral clearance, versus no treatment, in 20 patients with COVID-19. All treated groups gargled their assigned intervention for 30 seconds, three times daily. On day six, the virus was completely cleared in all five patients taking PVP-iodine. The essential oils groups showed 80 percent clearance, while the tap water group only had 20 percent clearance.

No one in the control group achieved viral clearance. However, as Dr. Mark Sircus warns us, PVP-iodine is meant for topical use only. Swallowing it will likely cause diarrhea “or worse” in large amounts, but Lugol’s solution or nascent iodine is safe. 

Iodine-Rich Foods For Immunity

Iodine deficiency isn’t only seen in poorer countries. The large-scale NHANES study estimates that almost 60 percent of women of childbearing age have some degree of iodine deficiency. Among pregnant women in the USA, the average urinary iodine level is 134ug/L, which is in the deficient category. When another study tested over 6,000 patients, a staggering 97 percent were deficient in the mineral. Although salt is often iodized, many people avoid it because of the relationship between a high salt intake and hypertension. 

How much iodine does the body need? A healthy person will carry 15-20mg of iodine inside their bodies at any given time, with 70-80 percent of this stored in the thyroid. The best food source of iodine can be dried kelp, which contains anywhere from 19 to 2,984 micrograms. This is 11 to 1,989 percent of the recommended daily value. Avoid excessive intake of sea vegetables, as too much iodine can lead to an overactive thyroid. 

Dried wakame seaweed contains approximately 66 micrograms per gram (44 percent of the daily value). Dried nori, the seaweed used to wrap sushi, contains 16-43 micrograms per gram. Certain fish, such as cod, which contains 158 micrograms per three ounces – roughly the recommended intake – have significant iodine content. While dairy products can be rich in iodine too, this depends on whether the cows have been given supplements, and if iodine was used to clean milk-processing equipment. Iodized salt will provide 71 percent of the daily value per quarter-teaspoon. 

It Isn’t Too Late To Optimize Your Iodine Levels

Iodine-rich foods, and supplementation when necessary, are more important than ever. During outbreaks of a novel pathogen, iodine deficiency becomes riskier as it affects the immune system’s ability to function. In some good news, it is quite easy to correct an iodine deficiency, and your immune system could thank you for it with increased resistance to viral infections. 

Alexandra Preston

Alexandra Preston is an Australian naturopath, passionate about empowering others to take charge of their health and healing the planet. Her special area of interest in natural health is antiaging; she also loves the beach and is a semi-professional dancer.

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