The health of the UK population should be at least as good as in any country in Europe, but despite the efforts of those who are employed in the NHS, the Department of Health and the Medical Research Council, this is not the case. Something must be fundamentally wrong within the administration system that is being overlooked. Whatever it is that is wrong causes needless suffering besides overloading the services which are devoted to health care.
The majority of common modern diseases are either caused by or closely associated with a form of malnutrition which despite providing ample carbohydrate, fat and protein fails to supply sufficient minerals and vitamins. Despite this, most sick people are not tested for these deficiencies and are not prescribed food supplements. Instead they are prescribed drugs despite it being impossible to correct a nutritional deficiency by using a drug. Many drugs induce adverse side effects and once taken some require to be taken daily for months or years. Instead of curing people the NHS frequently supplies treatments which induce permanent dependence and morbidity.
Of the 21 effects associated with clinical hypothyroidism which are tabulated in a biochemistry textbook1 many are commonplace. The decrease in basal metabolic rate with its implied decreased rate of ATP synthesis either directly or indirectly affects all the tissues in our bodies and is associated frequently with weight gain. Over 100 enzyme systems are known to be responsive to thyroxine. When decreased amounts of ATP are being synthesised the decreased activity of Na+/K+ ATPase lowers body temperature, and the decreased activity of Ca2+ ATPase increases the concentration of intracellular calcium ions. The latter induce smooth muscle contraction and can cause the production of prostaglandins and similar compounds. Decreased glucose utilisation increases dependence upon the supply of fatty acids as the source of energy and causes glucose to accumulate in the blood together with cholesterol derived from sugars which have been incompletely utilised.
The thyroxine molecule needs four atoms of iodine but its most active form needs to have one of these removed by a selenoprotein enzyme. Consequently the hypothyroid condition can be induced by a deficiency in the food of either iodine or selenium. The acute form of iodine deficiency known as goitre is seldom seen today but it was once found in many parts of the UK. Despite this, iodine deficiency may still be present here just as it once was upon the continent. In 1994 in reply to an enquiry from the WHO the Department of Health stated ‘Population affected O, population at risk O … No national data … it is generally considered that the status of the general population is adequate’2. Consequently the UK is one of the few developed countries in the world where common salt fortified with iodine remains unavailable. The Department of Health does not appear to have attended to this matter with due care and attention and the situation should be urgently investigated with the intention of introducing appropriate legislation.
Legislation is also required to attend to the problem of selenium deficiency. No action has been taken to rectify the fall in dietary selenium which has taken place during the last 20 years since the importation of Canadian wheat was stopped3. This failure is perhaps unsurprising as it is closely connected to the neglected problem of iodine deficiency. It is no coincidence that the incidence of obesity and diabetes 2 have increased as the intake of selenium has decreased.
The discovery at the Rowett Institute that deiodinase I is a selenoprotein and that deiodinase II is inhibited by increases in thyroxine should rank with the most important biochemical discoveries. Yet it has never been developed and research into the consequences of selenium deficiency has languished. Selenium deficiency is readily corrected by taking 200 micrograms a day. Within less than a month mood improves, indigestion caused by acid reflux ceases and cold feet are no longer an inconvenience. The concentrations of glucose and cholesterol in the blood may decrease almost as rapidly while the symptoms of asthma are alleviated. The indications are that in the long term an improvement in selenium status improves immune responses and decreases the incidence of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis and certain cancers4. The reason why vital research into the relationship between selenium deficiency and disease is not pursued is that usually those who make proposals cannot obtain funding. Perhaps those who control funding have their own agenda and fear that the results from experimental work into the consequences of selenium deficiency might be so dramatic as to demonstrate the inadequacy of many medical policies and practices.
The health of the Finnish population has improved as their diet has improved and attempts are being made in Scotland to achieve the same results. Unfortunately in Scotland the importance of adding selenium to fertilisers as has been done in Finland has been ignored. The result is likely to be that the dietary initiatives that have been taken will be only marginally effective in improving public health.
The claim that selenium is a toxic substance does not stand examination for all trace elements are toxic when taken in excess, nor does the claim that because high nitrogen fertilisers are acidic trace element deficiencies are rare in agricultural crops and livestock. High nitrogen fertilisers do not induce deficiencies when used on the calcareous soils which predominate in the south and east of England, but when used upon the mostly acidic soils of Scotland they often induce severe problems and financial loss. The Mediterranean diet is only healthy when it contains adequate amounts of iodine, selenium and polyunsaturated fats.
Those of us who imagined that the establishment of the Food Standards Agency would improve matters have been disappointed. A letter from the Food Standards Agency5 makes it clear that the function of the Agency is to be directed by the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition whose job it is to assess the scientific evidence. This should be effective but because the funding of research by the Departments of Agriculture and of Health is biased against research that could discredit their own long-term policies the relevant scientific papers seem
unlikely ever to be written. Alternatively, they may be written but never become available for scrutiny. The intakes of iodine and selenium are clearly below the recommended amounts so that those in the lowest quintile must be severely deficient. Is the Department of Health failing in its duty of care? The Food Standards Agency needs more powers and the authority to direct research into problems like iodine and selenium deficiency. If exposure to weak electromagnetic fields leads to the distal configuration of triiodothyronine being changed into the less active proximal form it is essential that sufficient iodine and selenium is provided by common foods, but even so the widespread use of energy saving mercury vapour light bulbs could cause a medical disaster. Alternatively, people should be discouraged from keeping sources of electromagnetism in their bedrooms and living rooms.
A hypothyroid labour force is an unfit labour force which can never become fully productive. The hypothyroid condition can induce depression and mental illness as well as throbbing legs and other forms of physical discomfort. These symptoms may cause some to resort to the use of drugs and alcohol and be associated with social misconduct.
by Tom Stockdale.
1 Smith E L et al (1986) Principles of Mammalian Biochemistry 7th Ed.
p436 McGraw-Hill Book Co.
2 Wynn M and A (1998) Human Reproduction and iodine Deficiency: Is it a
problem in the UK? J. of Environmental Medicine 8, 53-64.
3 Rayman M P (2002) The argument for increasing selenium intake.
Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 61, 203-215.
4 MAFF Food Surveillance Information Sheet No 191, Nov 1999 p 15.
5 Personal letter dated 1/8/07.