The Ugly Truth About Radioactive Iodine Treatment & Graves Disease

Published August 19 2011

In the United States, radioactive iodine is the most common treatment method recommended for people with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease.  In some other countries it isn’t as commonly recommended, but many people still receive this harsh treatment method unnecessarily.  Although some people do need to receive radioactive iodine treatment, many endocrinologists take obliteration of the thyroid gland too lightly.

The thyroid gland has many important functions, and so unless if it is an urgent situation which requires radioactive iodine treatment, one should try everything they can to prevent their thyroid gland from being obliterated through RAI, or removed through surgery.  But there are many people with mild cases of hyperthyroidism who are told to receive radioactive iodine treatment, which in my opinion is absurd.  I’ve consulted with patients who were just about asymptomatic and were told to receive RAI simply because they had a low TSH.  But even for those who have obvious symptoms, like I did when I was diagnosed with Graves’ Disease, radioactive iodine treatment should usually be the last resort.

Why Can’t Endocrinologists Agree?

The strange thing is that endocrinologists don’t agree as to whom should receive radioactive iodine therapy.  For example, if you were to take ten different endocrinologists in the United States, about seven would recommend radioactive iodine therapy initially for someone with Graves’ Disease, and three would recommend antithyroid medication.  And in this example, it’s not as if those seven patients who received radioactive iodine would have a better outcome than those three patients who took antithyroid drugs.  One important factor to consider is that if one first takes antithyroid medication or chooses to follow a natural treatment protocol, then one can always receive radioactive iodine treatment at a later date if these other treatment options don’t help.  On the other hand, someone who receives radioactive iodine treatment and has problems after this treatment procedure might not respond well to natural treatment methods.

Some people choose to receive radioactive iodine because they know someone else who received it and did fine afterwards.  The truth is that some people do fine after receiving radioactive iodine treatment.  However, I’ve come across many people who received radioactive iodine and regretted that they received this treatment procedure.  Plus, if one can avoid becoming hypothyroid and having to take thyroid hormone on a permanent basis, then every attempt should be made to avoid radioactive iodine.  On the other hand, if someone really does want to receive radioactive iodine, then that’s fine too.

Radioactive Iodine Does Not Cure Hyperthyroidism or Graves’ Disease

The main point I want to make here is that some endocrinologists will tell patients that this is the best option because it will “cure” their hyperthyroid condition, and then all they need to do is take synthetic thyroid hormone for the rest of their life.  But the truth is that radioactive iodine does not cure either hyperthyroidism or Graves’ Disease.  What it does is in most cases eliminate the hyperthyroid symptoms.  But it does nothing to address the underlying cause of the disorder.  And this is a common problem with just about every endocrinologist, as they never look into the cause of the hyperthyroid condition.  Their main focus is on symptom management, which is very important, but getting to the actual cause of the problem is important as well.

For example, many people with hyperthyroid conditions have compromised adrenal glands which are causing or contributing to the disorder.  While a competent holistic doctor will evaluate the adrenal glands, most medical doctors don’t do this.  And those that do evaluate the adrenal glands usually do nothing more than a one-sample morning cortisol test, which is better than nothing, but still isn’t sufficient.  And every endocrinologist knows that Graves’ Disease involves a compromised immune system, and yet radioactive iodine doesn’t address the cause of this.  In other words, why did the person develop an autoimmune thyroid condition in the first place?  People with one autoimmune condition are likely to develop another one, and so by not addressing the actual cause you’re not doing anything to prevent future autoimmune conditions from developing.

Get A Second, And Perhaps A Third Opinion Before Receiving Radioactive Iodine

I can’t tell anyone to receive or not to receive radioactive iodine, as this is ultimately something they will need to decide on their own.  However, if someone doesn’t want to follow a natural treatment protocol in an attempt to restore their health back to normal, then I would at least recommend for them to receive more than one opinion if they are initially told to receive radioactive iodine treatment.  Another option is to request to receive antithyroid medication first, even if the medical doctor strongly suggests radioactive iodine treatment.

Of course I’m biased and would recommend for most people with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease to at least consult with a natural endocrine doctor.  While not everyone with a hyperthyroid condition is a candidate for natural treatment methods, most people can benefit from following a natural treatment protocol, and many can have their health restored back to normal.

In summary, radioactive iodine treatment is recommended by many endocrinologists as the first line of treatment in people with hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease.  And while some people do need to receive radioactive iodine, many people can have their health restored by following a natural treatment protocol.  Others who don’t want to utilize natural treatment methods might be able to manage their symptoms with antithyroid medication without having their thyroid gland obliterated.  Either way, if you are told to receive radioactive iodine then it’s a good idea to seek a second, and perhaps even a third opinion before you choose this treatment option.