Bromine toxicity is a definite danger from some surprising sources, and it can wreak havoc on your health. Many of us are regularly exposed to bromine and aren't aware the sources and potential health risks.
Bromines are common endocrine disruptors, and are part of the halide family, a group of elements that includes fluorine, chlorine and iodine. What makes it so dangerous is that it competes for the same receptors that are used to capture iodine.
If you are exposed to a lot of bromine, your body will not hold on to the iodine that it needs. And iodine affects every tissue in your body -- not just your thyroid.
You are already exposed to far too much chlorine and bromine. Bromine can be found in a number of places in your everyday world, including:
Pesticides (specifically methyl bromide, used mainly on strawberries, predominantly in California)
Plastics, like those used to make computers
Bakery goods and some flours often contain a “dough conditioner” called potassium bromate
Soft drinks (including Mountain Dew, Gatorade, Sun Drop, Squirt, Fresca and other citrus-flavored sodas), in the form of brominated vegetable oils (BVOs)
Medications such as Atrovent Inhaler, Atrovent Nasal Spray, Pro-Banthine (for ulcers), and anesthesia agents
Fire retardants (common one is polybromo diphenyl ethers or PBDEs) used in fabrics, carpets, upholstery, and mattresses
Bromine-based hot tub and swimming pool treatments
According to van Leeuwen, who has extensively studied the effects of sodium bromide on thyroid function:
“Although the bromide ion is widely distributed in nature, the main route of exposure in man stems from bromide residues in food commodities as a result of the abundant use of bromide-containing pesticides, like methylbromide and ethylene dibromide, for soil fumigation in intensive horticulture and for postharvest treatment.”
One clinical consequence of overexposure to bromine is suppression of your thyroid, leading to hypothyroidism, which will be discussed shortly. Another is bromide toxicity.
Bromine -- The Bully of the Halide Group
When you ingest or absorb bromine, it displaces iodine, and this iodine deficiency leads to an increased risk for cancer of the breast, thyroid gland, ovary and prostate -- cancers that we see at alarmingly high rates today. This phenomenon is significant enough to have been given its own name -- the Bromide Dominance Theory.
Aside from its effects on your endocrine glands, bromine is toxic in and of itself. Bromide builds up in your central nervous system and results in many problems. It is a central nervous system depressant and can trigger a number of psychological symptoms such as acute paranoia and other psychotic symptoms.
In fact, in an audio interview, physician Jorge Flechas reported that, between 1920 and 1960, at least 20 percent of all hospital admissions for “acute paranoid schizophrenia” were a result of ingesting bromine-containing products.
In addition to psychiatric problems, bromine toxicity can manifest as the following:
Skin rashes and severe acne
Loss of appetite and abdominal pain
Baby Boomers might recall a popular product from the 1950s called Bromo-Seltzer. These effervescent granules, developed by the Emerson Drug Company of Baltimore, were used to treat heartburn, upset stomach, indigestion, headaches and hangovers.
Bromo-Selzer’s original formula contained 3.2 mEq/teaspoon of sodium bromide -- hence the name. The sedative effect probably explained its popularity as a hangover remedy. Bromides were withdrawn from the American market in 1975 due to their toxicity.
Bromo-Selzer is still on the market but no longer contains bromide.
Bromines in Your Bread Box: Potassium Bromate
The ban on bromines has not prevented them from sneaking into your foods and personal care products.
Nearly every time you eat bread in a restaurant or consume a hamburger or hotdog bun you are consuming bromide as it is commonly used in flours. The use of potassium bromate as an additive to commercial breads and baked goods has been a huge contributor to bromide overload in Western cultures.
Bromated flour is “enriched” with potassium bromate. Commercial baking companies claim it makes the dough more elastic and better able to stand up to bread hooks. However, Pepperidge Farm and other successful companies manage to use only unbromated flour without any of these so-called “structural problems.”
Potassium bromate is also found in some toothpastes and mouthwashes, where it’s added as an antiseptic and astringent. It has been found to cause bleeding and inflammation of gums in people using these products.
Mountain Dew, one of the worst beverages you can drink, uses brominated vegetable oil as an emulsifier. Not only that, it contains high fructose corn syrup, sodium benzoate, more than 55 mg of caffeine per 12 ounce can, and Yellow Dye #5 (tartrazine, which has been banned in Norway, Austria and Germany.)
A weapon of mass destruction -- in a can.
Even drinking water can be a source of bromide. When drinking water containing bromide is exposed to ozone, bromate ions are formed, which are powerful oxidizing agents. Such was the case in 2004 when Coca Cola Company had to recall Dasani bottled water.
Sodium bromate can also be found in personal care products such as permanent waves, hair dyes, and textile dyes. Benzalkonium is used as a preservative in some cosmetics.
Finally, bromine and chlorine were the most common toxic elements reportedly found in automobiles, according to the blog of David Brownstein, MD (March 2007). They showed up in the seats, armrests, door trim, shift knobs and other areas of the car.
Think about how much time you spend enclosed in your outgassing Chevy… windows up with no air circulation.
The United States is quite behind in putting an end to the egregious practice of allowing bromine chemicals in your foods. In 1990, the United Kingdom banned bromate in bread. In 1994, Canada did the same. Brazil recently outlawed bromide in flour products.
What’s taking us so long? Why is our government protecting big industry -- instead of protecting us?
Iodine Levels and Cancer Risk
Iodine levels have significantly dropped due to bromine exposure; declining consumption of iodized salt, eggs, fish, and sea vegetables; and soil depletion. In the U.S. population, there was a 50 percent reduction in urinary iodine excretion between 1970 and 1990.
What’s this doing to our country’s health?
The Japanese consume 89 times more iodine than Americans due to their daily consumption of sea vegetables, and they have reduced rates of many chronic diseases, including the lowest rates of cancer in the world. The RDA for iodine in the U.S. is a meager 150 mcg/day, which pales in comparison with the average daily intake of 13800 mcg/day for the Japanese.
There is a large body of evidence suggesting that low cancer rates in Japan are a result of their substantially higher iodine levels. Iodine has documented antioxidant and anti-proliferative properties.
A strong case can be made that your iodine RDA should be closer to what the Japanese consume daily, if breast cancer rates are any indication. Low iodine can lead to fibrocystic breast disease in women (density, lumps and bumps), hyperplasia, and atypical mammary tissue. Such fibrocystic changes in breast tissue have been shown to reverse in the presence of iodine supplementation after 3-4 months.
If you are interested in being tested for iodine deficiency, the urine iodine challenge test is the best way to assess your iodine level.
Bromine and Your Thyroid
Adding to the negative health effects of bromine, the damage to your thyroid health deserves special mention.
As stated in the first part of this article, bromine exposure depletes your body’s iodine by competing with iodine receptors. Iodine is crucial for thyroid function. Without iodine, your thyroid gland would be completely unable to produce thyroid hormone.
Even the names of the different forms of thyroid hormone reflect the number of iodine molecules attached -- T4 has four attached iodine molecules, and T3 (the biologically active form of the hormone) has three--showing what an important part iodine plays in thyroid biochemistry.
Hypothyroidism is far more prevalent than once thought in the U.S. The latest estimates are that 13 million Americans have hypothyroidism, but the actual numbers are probably higher. Some experts claim that 10 to40 percent of Americans have suboptimal thyroid function.
Many of these folks may actually have nothing wrong with their thyroid gland at all -- they may just be suffering from iodine deficiency.