This editorial expresses the opinions of the author, Ute Aurin, who represents a German self help group for iodine allergy, Graves disease and hyperthyroidism. for more information, or to comment, write Ute at Ute.Aurin@gmx.de.
The practice of putting iodine into food had been banned in West Germany since after World War II. In more recent times, an "Iodine Deficiency Study Group" was also founded here, a study group that supported the ICCIDD, the International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders, with their aim of iodizing all salt. It is known, however, that iodizing people´s salt could apparently trigger thyroid illnesses among a segment of the population.
Despite the laws against iodizing foods, the government has slowly but gradually loosened the protective laws, in response to the ICCIDD’s recommendations that all nuclear states add iodine to foods as a prophylactic measure against unforeseen nuclear exposure.
So as not to worry the general public, the iodization of German food was however not advertised in connection with nuclear radiation dangers, but rather with the idea of the eradication of goiter.
Since 1993, this campaign has been in full swing. The Federal Ministry has called upon all food producers by way of circulars to only use iodized salt, which means that nearly all products contain iodized salt. Bakeries, butchers, canteens, restaurants, refectories and snack bars are no longer legally obliged to declare that they use iodized salt.
Animal feed is also affected by the use of iodine, therefore all animal related food already contains iodine before it is consumed. So that means that most German milk, yogurt, cream, chocolate, eggs or cheese have iodine added. When consumers buy animal related products, they are not aware that the food they are buying is usually iodized.
The Iodine Deficiency Study Group has urged Germany to continue to adopt broader iodization programs. In Germany, those who favor broader iodization argue that nobody would be harmed by it. They say that people who do get harmed by it are genetically prone to diseases of the thyroid gland. They say that iodizing food merely triggers thyroid illnesses in people who are already prone to it. That raises the question whether the state has the right to trigger illnesses in those who are in danger of developing them, or if the state should instead protect those who would be affected.
For the victims, whether they become ill at the age of 20 or 70 makes a big difference, given the difficulties associated with the illnesses of the thyroid gland and the side effects of the medications. The illness not only puts a burden on your whole life but it can also cause problems with pregnancies. One must not forget that illnesses of the thyroid gland can also end fatally.
German doctors regard these arguments in the conflict surrounding the eradication of goiter as insignificant. Goiter has, however, already decreased drastically since the 1960s - and without the iodization of food!
Politicians have also unanimously told victims that individuals should be prepared to endure such setbacks for the good of the nation´s health.
Whether it should be in the hands of the general public to decide whether they would like iodized salt is an idea that Dr. Hans-Christian Blossey rejects:
"Any legal regulations concerning the general use of iodized salt in the production of food is seen as an infringement on human rights and are therefore rejected on legal grounds. From a medical point of view, there would be some kind of ‘right to goiter.’ Obviously we nevertheless strive for legal regulations for the provision of iodine."
Whoever has become ill through the consumption of iodized food is further burdened with the problem that it is now difficult to find any non-iodized foods. For someone with an overactive thyroid gland, that means the body produces an excess of hormones. Because iodine is a component of these hormones, its intake stimulates their production. It is not clear whether the intake of iodine can cause damage when one has an underactive thyroid gland.
The German government, is on principle, against the notion that there are people who react negatively to iodine in their food and when someone complains or expresses concern, they are sent leaflets produced by the Iodine Deficiency Study Group. Doctors have also called upon to promote the use of iodized salt among consumers without any reservation.
That leads to some patients, who may have contraindications to iodine, no longer being told the facts about it. Furthermore, those affected, who tell their doctors about their negative reactions to iodized salt, even get intimidated. Even patients in hospitals suffering from illnesses of the thyroid gland get iodized food forced upon them.
People with illnesses of the thyroid gland therefore suffer from the government´s policy of disinformation, the absence of the provision of any non-iodized food options, and a lack of proper medical care.
The media has been slow to report on this.
While I still had the fortune to be enlightened by a program on ARD about the damage caused by iodine -- by which, accordingly to expert estimations, roughly 10% of the population are affected! -- the media has decided in the meantime to support the government and has rejected any ideas about "upsetting" the general public with any negative reporting.
In a press statement issued on 12 March 2002, the Iodine Deficiency Study Group declared that the Iodization Program had unfortunately not so much managed to eradicate illnesses of the thyroid gland, but had rather replaced it. While there are now less cases of goiter there are however more autoimmune illnesses that destroy people´s thyroid glands.
German self help group for iodine allergy, Graves disease and hyperthyroidism
For information in German on thyroid disease, including the controversy over iodine, see Mary Shomon's book, Die gesunde Schilddrüse: Was Sie unbedingt wissen sollten über Gewichtsprobleme, Depressionen, Haarausfall und andere Beschwerden.