Fibrocystic Breasts and Iodine | A Functional Medicine Perspective

by Dr. Kilcup | Sep 22, 2016 | Articles, Womans Health

Fibrocystic Breasts

[13. Image courtesy of dream designs at]

One of the most overlooked causes of fibrocystic breasts is a lack of iodine. Fibrocystic breast disease is a common condition affecting about 70% of women at some point in their life. [1. Ader DN, Shriver CD. Cyclical mastalgia: prevalence and impact in an outpatient breast clinic sample. J Am Coll Surg 1997;185(5):466-70]

What Does Iodine Have to do With Fibrocystic Breasts?

Hey, I’m glad you asked! Apart from the thyroid, the ovaries and breasts have the highest concentrations of iodine in the body. Iodine is needed in the breasts as both an antioxidant and for proper estrogen function.[2. Smyth PP. Role of iodine in antioxidant defence in thyroid and breast disease. Biofactors. 2003;19(3-4):121-30] Without enough iodine, breast tissue is more susceptible to oxidation. Cellular oxidation is one of the common ways many diseases start, including fibrocystic breast disease and even cancer.[3. Venturi S. Is there a role for iodine in breast diseases? Breast. 2001 Oct;10(5):379-82] [4. Stadel BV. Dietary iodine and risk of breast, endometrial, and ovarian cancer. Lancet. 1976 Apr 24;1(7965):890-1] Iodine is also needed for proper estrogen balance.  There are three forms of estrogen: estriol, estrone and estradiol. When there isn’t enough iodine, the body makes too much estrone and estradiol and not enough estriol. Estriol has been found to be very important in the prevention of fibrocystic breasts and breast cancer. [5. Benign Breast Disease and the Risk of Breast Cancer. N Engl J Med 2005; 353:229-237July 21, 2005DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa044383]

Don’t I Get Plenty of Iodine from my Diet?

Unless you’re eating a very traditional Japanese diet, I doubt it. Japanese ladies have very low rates of fibrocystic breasts and breast cancer. In addition to eating foods high in iodine, like seaweed, Japanese women are not getting bromine and fluoride like American women.

Bromine and fluoride compete with iodine in the body. If a person is already low in iodine and then consumes bromine (most flour in America has bromine in it in, but not in Japan) the bromine will occupy the “space” that is intended for iodine.[6. Effects of Environmental, Chemicals and Drugs on Thyroid Function, David Sarne, MD] Over time the bromine levels rise and then, even if iodine is added, it will take months to replace the bromine with the needed iodine.

Interestingly, I was taught, and many docs today still believe, that only a very small amount of iodine is needed, and more than a little amount of iodine will cause thyroid pathology. It’s true that in certain situations supplementing with iodine can be dangerous. If there are insufficient cofactors to iodine usage, like selenium, iron or magnesium for example, and a patient is given iodine, the body can’t use the iodine and then bad things happen. In Japan it is common for women to get amounts of iodine in their diet that is far above the RDA here in America. Yet thyroid disease in Japan is one of the lowest in the world.[7. Fuse Y, Saito N, Tsuchiya T, Shishiba Y, Irie M. Smaller Thyroid Gland Volume
with High Urinary Iodine Excretion in Japanese Schoolchildren: Normative Reference Values in an Iodine-Sufficient Area and Comparison with the WHO/ICCIDD Reference. Thyroid 2007;17(2):145-55.]

Is there any research that shows iodine helps fibrocystic breasts?

Yes! Studies are clear that not only is iodine a safe and effective treatment for fibrocystic breasts, but the form the iodine is in makes a big difference. [8. Iodine replacement in fibrocystic disease of the breast. Can J Surg. 1993 Oct;36(5):453-60][9. Kessler JH. The effect of supraphysiologic levels of iodine on patients with cyclic mastalgia. Breast J. 2004 Jul-Aug;10(4):328-36][10. Giagulli VA, et al. Role of iodine, selenium and other micronutrients in thyroid function and disorders. Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. 2009 Sep;9(3):277-94][11. Age-related changes resembling fibrocystic disease in iodine-blocked rat breasts. Arch Pathol Lab Med. 1979 Nov;103(12):631-4][12. Eskin BA. Iodine and mammary cancer. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1977;91:293-304]

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If I Have Fibrocystic Breasts Should I Take Iodine?

No! Before adding iodine it’s important to find out several things. Is there actually a need for iodine? Are there toxins like bromine, fluoride or chlorine? Are there sufficient levels of selenium, iron and magnesium? The answers to all these questions will ensure that the therapy works great and there are no problems.

What Are My Treatment Options for Fibrocystic Breasts?

Look, the standard medical approach to fibrocystic breast disease is not healthy. Birth control pills, and various drugs are the typical treatments, and none of them are actually healthy or do anything to fix the problem that causes fibrocystic breasts. As you can see from this article, the functional medicine approach is to look for the root of the problem and fix it. If you want to take a functional medicine approach I can help you. Regardless of where you live, schedule a “Get Acquainted” visit today and let’s get to the root of your fibrocystic breast disease!

Darrell Kilcup, DC, CFMP

Hi there! I’m Dr. Kilcup. You know that health problem you’ve been dealing with – the one that doctors can’t seem to solve, that’s stealing way too much of your time, energy and joy? I can help you get to the bottom that. I am passionate about using the best of science and nutrition to find and fix root causes of health issues. Start your journey towards healing and relief today.

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