Your Paleo Practitioner
Dietary Supplements: Probiotics & Iodine
Herbal supplements have a long history in almost all ancient human cultures. The practice of herbal medicine is using extractions from plants in the treatment of disease and other medical conditions. Using herbs was the primary way of treating human ailments prior to the advent of modern western medicine.
To maintain a healthy body requires vitamins and minerals which are compounds that our bodies require. Most all must be obtained in our diet (vitamin D is one exception as it is obtained from UV light synthesis in the skin). We require these vitamins and minerals so our bodies can function well, carrying out all the chemical and metabolic processes to keep us in optimal health. Eating a healthy, varied diet high in vegetables and healthy meats will usually provide all the vitamins & minerals you need. If you do suffer from a vitamin or mineral deficiency, it may be only enough to make you feel more fatigued, difficulty concentrating, poor sleep, weight gain, lack of well-being and other manifestations. True vitamin deficiencies are only seen in third world countries or in people suffering from malnutrition (obesity, alcoholism).
Recently, herbal and other OTC supplements have come under fire. Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York found four major retailers were allegedly selling store brand herbal supplements that either could not be verified to contain what was on the label or which were found to contain ingredients not listed on the labels. GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreens were instructed on February 3, 2015 to stop the sale of certain popular products including Echinacea, Ginseng and St. John’s Wort among others. Product evaluation was conducted through DNA testing with 79% of products tested coming up empty for ingredients that were on the label. Walmart was the worst with only 4% of the products tested showing any DNA for the plants listed on the product’s labels.
One of the few supplements I do recommend are probiotics. It is a healthy trend in holistic medicine. These are the “good” bacteria that live in our gastrointestinal tracts from our mouth to our colon. As I’ve stated, 60-80% of our immune system resides in our gut so a healthy microbiome is essential to a healthy immune system as well as healthy digestion. Those two are closely linked. There is a lot of research out there to support the use of probiotics as a daily supplement. In the absence of malnutrition or an inherited vitamin or mineral deficiency, I don’t often recommend supplementation, but there are a few that I do. Probiotics are one of them.
The main function of our internal probiotics, or microbiome confers many benefits:
1. Helps to maintain an intestinal barrier between what we should absorb (nutrients) and what we don’t want to absorb (toxins) in the gastrointestinal tract
2. Strengthens our body’s immune function to resist the overgrowth of “bad” bacteria, fungus and viruses
3. Production of short chain fatty-acids to aid in the fermentation of carbohydrates
4. Production of vitamins, specifically B and K in the colon
Irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal problems are often related to a damaged microbiome. Chronic diarrhea, chronic constipation, chronic gas and other problems are often food related. Intolerances to foods like wheat, soy, milk (lactose intolerance) and other highly allergic foods can cause chronic gastrointestinal symptoms. Although eliminating the offending agent from the diet can often solve these problems, the gut may be in need of microflora replacement with probiotics.
Another supplement I find important is iodine. Some people know iodine as an important element for a healthy thyroid. It is actually an important element for every cell in your body with high concentrations in our body’s glands (thyroid, breasts, prostate and salivary glands). The human nervous system is also in need of adequate iodine for optimal brain function and cerebral spinal fluid. It is essential for a healthy immune system as iodine has natural antibacterial, antiviral, anti-parasitic and anticancer properties. Women in particular, need adequate iodine levels as it is effective in combating fibrocystic breasts and ovarian cysts. Cancer of many endocrine and sex glands (thyroid, prostate, breast, endometrial, ovaries) is more prevalent among the iodine deficient. Unfortunately, these cancers are on the rise.
Iodine can be easily obtained by eating ocean products such as fish, seaweed and algae. Iodine has also traditionally been in adequate levels in the Earth’s soil. Therefore the foods grown and the grass eaten by our domesticated animals (cattle, cows and sheep) help keep human iodine levels in the right range. However over the last 100 years or so, our soil is becoming increasingly iodine deficient. In 1924 in a U.S. lead a global initiative. Iodine was added to white, refined table salt in response to the increase in thyroid goiter development in the population. The problem is that many people for the last twenty to thirty years have been cutting down on salt. This is actually a good thing as white refined salt is poison. I use Himalayan Pink salt or Sea Salt which are both rich in minerals, but alas, no iodine.
The U.S. recommended daily allowance (RDA) for iodine is 150 micrograms/day for adults, 220 micrograms/day in pregnancy and 290 micrograms/day during lactation. Iodized white, refined table salt provides only 77 micrograms of iodine per 1000 milligrams of salt. This is far too inadequate to keep you healthy. Current estimates of iodine recommendations made by iodine knowledgeable health care providers for someone known or suspected of being deficient may be up to 12-50 milligrams of Lugol’s solution daily. I strongly recommend you see an integrative or functional medicine professional for the proper tests to see if you should use daily iodine supplements. You probably do!