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Testosterone and Iodine

I recently got the following question on the Peak Testosterone Forum:

"OK, [I have not] done this but on [the cure zone] they have a group that has been painting iodine on there scrotum -yep scrotum - and they swear by it for libido and T levels. Now I have to say that there is iodine information on that site along with links is very intriguing. Supposedly 20mg a day (building up to it) is optimum and is close to what the Okinawa people consume. Any thoughts on this?" [1]

I joked with the guy about this being a little tribal, but, in reality, it is possible for iodine to help with both testosterone and libido a little and I'll explain why below.  But first, let's look at just what these men are actually doing, i.e. their "protocol:"  For example, one early senior-aged man claimed massive improvements with his morning erections by doing the following: [6]

  • Painted half his scrotum with 20 drops of iodine
  • The next night painted the other half with 20 drops of iodine
  • Repeat
  • Take 15 mg Vitamin K (MK4)
  • Another guy on the same thread claimed to have increased his testosterone by 60% by taking 100 mg of iodine per day. I'll cover dosing below, but this is a MASSIVE amount of iodine.

    Now why would iodine increase testosterone?  It turns out that the well-known thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, contain iodine.   In fact, T3 has three iodine molecules and T4 has four.  And since some people are actually low in iodine, i.e. have an iodine deficiency, this can lead to hypothyroidism, since the thyroid gland lacks sufficient substrate.  The thyroid itself often enlargens as well, a condition called goiter.  (Goiter can also be caused by excess iodine, something we will discuss below.)

    However, the interest in iodine comes from the fact that hypothyroid patients have been found to have signficantly lower testosterone - perhaps by as much as 36%.  And, what undoutedly caught the attention of the iodine fans, is that fact that high dosages of T3 and T4 can bring testosterone back to a normal level quite often. [7]

    Somewhere along the way, someone got the idea that that taking a lot of iodine would increase thyroid output and get rid of any hypothyroidism and, therefore, increase testosterone.  And, apparently, this actually works in some cases.  But is it safe?

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    Potential Dangers of Excess Iodine

    There are two primary concerns with consumption of excess iodine:

    1. Elevated TSH. Overconsumption of iodine has been shown to elevate TSH. Of course, TSH is the signaling hormone from the pituitary that triggers the thyroid to release its hormones. A classic sign of hypothyroidism is rising TSH.
    2. Goiter.  A goiter is basically an enlarged thyroid gland and is associated with hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism and in some cases probably thyroid cancer. 

    Now those taking extra iodine or painting the scrotum with iodine would argue that they are not taking enough to trigger iodine-thyroid issues.  This idea would would seem debatable, because the RDA for iodine (in an adult male) is actually a very small number:  150 mcg/day.  Those using iodine are definitely megadosing.  And, what they seem to be ignoring, is  the fact that a number of studies show that TSH levels begin to rise at relatively low iodine levels in the 1,700 mcg/day range. [2]

    I am not trying to be insensitive toward someone trying to boost their testosterone through what they see as a reasonable alternative, but I just do not see the wisdom here. For example, let's take a hypogonadal male that has total testosterone of 300 ng/dl who starts megadosing iodine.  He might get a boost up to 450 ng/dl.  Now that increase is a nice increase, but it is probably not going to make that much of a difference for him.  And he is risking hypothyroidism and goiter for this relatively small boost.

    So why do iodine fans do it then?  Well, there is some grey and poorly understood areas of the research.  In fact, the evidence seems to point that some people can consume extra iodine and be affected less than one might expect.  In fact, there is even one study of northern Japanese seaweed workeers, who consume a lot of seaweed - between 50 and 200 mg/day! [3] Of course, this is about a 1,000 times the RDA and yet the prevalence of goiter is only about 6-12%. Of course, that is a high rate of goiter, but pro-iodine advocates like to point out that hypothyroidism is not common there, a fact that has baffled the researchers.

    Again, though, there is ample research that megadosing iodine can cause problems.  For example, a number of studies that show high iodine levels in the diet can really causes problems.  One study of Peace Corp volunteers in Ghana found that 44% had goiter from excessive iodine in their water filters.  When this was taken care of, their "mean serum iodine decreased from 293 ± 306 to 84 ± 46 μg/liter." [4] And, correspondingly, their TSH dropped from a high 4.9 to a very sound 1.8 mU/liter.

    So, to me it seems like risky business to consume extra iodine. One of the partipants in the above-mentioned forum had her rheumatoid arthritis flare up when she took 15 mg per day.  It got worse from there:

    "At about 20 mg per day, my throat starting closing in. I didn't know it at the time but it was a goiter developing. At 30 mg per day, I experienced very scary double vision, heart palpitations, light headedness, cold tingly numbness in my head  and nausea" [5]

    Better safe than sorry...





    3) Kenneth L Becker 2001, Principles and Pracice of Endocrinology and Metabolism, p. 957

    4) The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism December 1, 2002 vol. 87 no. 12 5499-5502, "Effects of Chronic Iodine Excess in a Cohort of Long-Term American Workers in West Africa"



    7) Journal of Andrology, May-Jun 1988, 9(3):215-219, "Serum Levels of Total Testosterone and Sex Hormone Binding Globulin in Hypothyroid Patients and Normal Subjects Treated with Incremental Doses of L-T4 or L-T3"

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