Iodine and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): What You Need to Know

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
Published on , Last Updated on

A woman is holding her stomach. PCOS occurs when the ovaries are not functioning properly and cannot release an egg.

It’s no secret that iodine plays an important role in hormone production and has a special relationship with the thyroid. What’s discussed much less is that, for women, the ovaries contain the second highest concentration of iodine in her body (behind the thyroid). [1] Thus, it goes without saying that maintaining normal iodine levels is a must for promoting the health of the ovaries. This importance is compounded as research has linked iodine deficiency to polycystic ovary syndrome, also known as PCOS.

Background: The Problem of Iodine Deficiency

Before we look at how PCOS relates to iodine deficiency, it’s important to lay groundwork and understand that even though iodine deficiency has long been written off as a third world problem, it exists everywhere, including the USA. [2] Most people don’t hear a lot about iodine aside from a periodic glance at “iodized salt.” Nice try, but a 2008 study found that less than half of tested table salt met FDA requirements for iodine content. [3] If you’re counting on iodized salt to provide all your iodine, you’re coming up short.

Environmental toxins and pollutants also contribute to iodine deficiency. Iodine, along with chlorine, bromine, and fluorine, belongs to a family of compounds known as halogens which are all absorbed by the same receptors in the body. Although iodine is beneficial, the others are not. Regardless, most food and water is full of the stuff and ingesting it severely disrupts iodine absorption.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome is when cysts form on the ovaries. This happens when the ovaries are not functioning properly and cannot release an egg; often they are producing too many male hormones. [4] Insulin resistance, obesity, genetics… basically anything that disrupts hormone disruption can influence the onset of PCOS; and so does iodine deficiency. [5] [6] When iodine levels are low, thyroid activity is thrown out of whack. If iodine is low in the thyroid, it’s a sure bet that the ovaries are also deficient and struggling. Hormone problems are almost a given. It’s no surprise that women with PCOS have a higher incidence of thyroid disease. [7] Women with PCOS are also more likely to have an enlarged thyroid. [8] And, PCOS is the most common cause of excess hair growth in women, nearly three out of every four cases. [9]

Iodine and PCOS

Every woman needs to know that it’s not only her thyroid that requires iodine, but her ovaries too. And although PCOS has multiple causes, it’s clear that getting enough iodine is one of the most important steps a woman can take. [10] A healthy diet that includes foods rich in iodine, and, if necessary, iodine supplementation, are easy ways to get adequate iodine. When supplementing, be aware that there are a wide variety of iodine supplements on the market and some are better than others. I generally recommend nascent iodine.

Circumventing PCOS

When PCOS was first described in 1935 it was rare. Now, one in fifteen American women suffer from it. [11] Without healthy lifestyle choices, that number is likely to increase. Have you struggled with PCOS? How have you coped? Please leave a comment below and share your experience with us.

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References (11)
  1. Slebodziski AB. Ovarian iodide uptake and triiodothyronine generation in follicular fluid. The enigma of the thyroid ovary interaction. Domest Anim Endocrinol. 2005 Jul;29(1):97-103. Epub 2005 Apr 7.
  2. Hoption Cann SA. Hypothesis: dietary iodine intake in the etiology of cardiovascular disease. J Am Coll Nutr. 2006 Feb;25(1):1-11.
  3. Dasgupta PK, Liu Y, Dyke JV. Iodine nutrition: iodine content of iodized salt in the United States. Environ Sci Technol. 2008 Feb 15;42(4):1315-23.
  4. Gandar R, Spizzo M, Collin D. Diagnosis and treatment of polycystic ovary syndrome. J Gynecol Obstet Biol Reprod (Paris). 1999 Oct;28(6):510-8.
  5. XIE, Yong ping, GE Xiang jin, JIANG Yu, FENG Ming ying, FAN Ying yi, Wang Fu lun, WEI Zeng fu, ZHAO Gui lu, QIN Ai qio. Clinical Study of Effect of High Fluoride on the Func7on of the Pancrea7c Islet B Cells. Chinese Journal of Endemiology, Volume 19, Issue 2, March 2000, pp. 84-85.
  6. Li L, Lee KJ, Choi BC, Baek KH. Relationship between leptin receptor and polycystic ovary syndrome. Gene. 2013 Sep 15;527(1):71-4. doi: 10.1016/j.gene.2013.05.074. Epub 2013 Jun 13.
  7. Anaforoglu I, Topbas M, Algun E. Relative associations of polycystic ovarian syndrome vs metabolic syndrome with thyroid function, volume, nodularity and autoimmunity. J Endocrinol Invest. 2011 Oct;34(9):e259-64. doi: 10.3275/7681. Epub 2011 Apr 26.
  8. Kachuei M, Jafari F, Kachuei A, Keshteli AH. Prevalence of autoimmune thyroiditis in patients with polycystic ovary syndrome. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2012 Mar;285(3):853-6. doi: 10.1007/s00404-011-2040-5. Epub 2011 Aug 25.
  9. Bode D, Seehusen DA, Baird D. Hirsutism in women. Am Fam Physician. 2012 Feb 15;85(4):373-80.
  10. Flechas, M.D., Jorge D. Orthoiodosupplementation in a Primary Care Practice. (last accessed 2014-02-10)
  11. Miryam Asunción, Rosa M. Calvo, José L. San Millán, José Sancho, Sergio Avila and Héctor F. Escobar-Morreale. A Prospective Study of the Prevalence of the Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in Unselected Caucasian Women from Spain. Home, 2000 Archive , July 2000, Asunción et al. 85 (7): 2434.

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