The History of Iodine

History of Medicine

Aug 19
Sample of Raw Iodine

The discovery of iodine, like many, many discoveries, was a fortuitous accident.

The most fortuitous accident in the history of medicine is one story many of us are familiar with: the discovery of penicillin. We’ve all heard the stories of the mold ruining the cultures, and how suddenly a mind-shift occurred and bingo, the birth of antibiotics. Few realize that penicillin had been discovered a lot earlier, back in the late 1800’s by a medical student.1 But, sadly, the world wasn’t ready for it and, the haughtiness of physicians at that time would not allow them to look upon a mere student’s discovery with more than condescending curiosity. Even fewer are aware that Pasteur discovered and wrote up the first antibiotic experiment, in which he watched a substance gobble up his bacteria specimens. That “substance” was garlic.

In 1811 when Bernard Courtois (1777-1838) discovered iodine, he was not searching for a way to heal his fellow humans. On the contrary; he was looking for a way to kill his fellow humans. Napoleon’s army at the time required huge quantities of gunpowder, and supplies were running short. Saltpeter (potassium nitrate—KNO3—sometimes spelled salpeter) is a major component in gunpowder, and requires an abundant source of potassium carbonate in order to be manufactured. Potassium carbonate is extracted from wood ashes, but the war had gone on so long that they’d run out of willow wood, the preferred source. Someone suggested using dried seaweed (burnt to ash), which seemed to be abundant off the coasts of Normandy and Brittany. The suggestion worked and the French were back in business, making gunpowder and killing people.

However, in the process of making saltpeter, excess sulfur compounds were created, forcing them to add sulfuric acid to the mixture to clean the compounds from their vats. Courtois accidentally added a bit too much acid one day, and poof, a violet vapor cloud appeared and condensed onto the colder, metal objects, forming lustrous crystals. Courtois, a working chemist, realized he’d created something new. He performed a few minor experiments with this new substance and noted that it combined well with phosphorous, hydrogen, and a few metals, but did not combine easily with oxygen or carbon. Furthermore, he discovered that it was quite explosive when mixed with ammonia and did not decompose when burned.

He suspected he’d discovered a new element, but the war (Napoleon having stretched the government’s coffers to the point of bankruptcy) was the focus of France’s spending at the time, and without funding, he could experiment no further. Besides, there was a war to fight. So he turned his discovery over to the French chemist (and physicist) Charles-Bernard Désormes (1777-1862), who, with the help of his son-in-law Nicolas Clément (1779-1841) performed the scientific investigation into this new element.

Courtous, for some reason, also gave samples to Louis-Joseph Gay-Lussac (1778-1850) and André M. Ampère (1775–1836).

Both teams went to work investigating this new substance, and in November of 1813, at a meeting of the Imperial Institute of France, Désormes and Clément announced their discovery. A few days later Gay-Lussac and André M. Ampère published that this was either an element or a compound of oxygen. No one yet knew for sure exactly what it was, until the English chemist Sir Humphry Davy got into the picture (you might recall Davy as being the Father of Stoners in our essay The History of Anesthesia) and did some experiments with samples given him by Ampère.

Davy published, on the 10th of December, 1813, a little piece in which he described this substance’s qualities as being similar to chlorine, and that it was quite analogous to both Fluorine and Chlorine. He named it Iodine from a Greek word for “violet colored,” but the hubbub did not stop there. Suddenly the priority rights over the substance were in dispute (who did what first and so on) while both Gay-Lussac and Davy acknowledged that Courtois was the discoverer.

Later, Jean Lugol discovered that bonding iodine to a mineral (potassium) made it water soluble, and allowed for the later discovery of iodine’s antiseptic qualities. Iodine naturally dissolves in alcohol but not in water until it is first bonded to the elements potassium or chlorine.

The general use of antiseptics and acceptance of the theory of germs, was far off. Iodine made its leap into medical history when a Swiss physician, Dr Jean François Condet announced that iodine could reduce goiters (enlarged thyroids).

The Future is Fun!

(Our thanks to the Firesign Theater. This sound clip is from their classic album, I Think We’re All Bozos On This Bus. It’s fun to note that at the time this album was released, few realized that the term “Bus” referred to a computer bus.)

At this moment, modern medical science is born. For the first time in history we have a specific disorder that is relieved by a specific treatment, which was discovered through empirical reasoning (experimentation based upon trial and error).

Please note: this treatment is a nutritional substance, and designated as a mineralThe human body was designed to ingest minerals from the sea. This is nutritional medicine, not chemical medicine. Please note this, because medicine abandons this mindset later when, 46 years later, Dr Paul Erlich produces a compound made from arsenic that cures syphilis, and chemotherapy is born.

Iodine suddenly became hip, and people consumed it till they turned blue in the gills. It was a powerful stimulant loaded with uncomfortable side effects and when a group of under-worked physicians, with little to do, got together, the first regulations of medicine were initiated, and iodine became a semi-controlled substance. Like most controlled substances, the controllers knew very little about the substance they were controlling, and for the sake of the public safety, they came up with an off-the-wall RYA (Required Yearly Amount) for iodine that had nothing to do with empirical science. Just one more example of people with control issues thinking they know what’s best for you and me. Luckily a true scientist, with an appropriate name to boot, in 1917, published his findings on the study of thyroids in fish, dogs, and humans found in the Great Lakes region. His name was David Marine. He discovered that the amount of iodine our medical authorities had limited we humans to in a year’s period was most likely the amount our bodies needed in a two week period. The medical establishment poo-pooed these findings, and Marine’s work has never been endorsed by the medical establishment. Keeping humans ill is profitable for drug companies, and by 1917 pharmaceuticals were the most profitable businesses around, and growing faster than a modern day, climate-change-enhanced forest fire in California during a wind storm.

But it was an Indian (from India) who is credited with ushering Iodine into the Medical Hall of Fame. His name is Sunker Bisey. He won a contest run by an English Manufacturing firm in which the winner would get a full scholarship at a major British university. Bisey boarded a ship to jolly old England, waved goodbye to his family, but never made it to the university. Arriving in England dying of Malaria, he was treated to the best physicians the British Isles had to offer, but to no avail, and he soon opted to die in his homeland, and set sail. At a stopover in France where firing up kilns of seaweed was now the latest craze, someone suggested treating the dying lad with Iodine. Long story short: Bisey finished his education in England and set sail for New York where he intended on bringing this magnificent new treatment for disease to the world.

He had some minor successes with local physicians, but nothing to write home about. In 1927, out of total frustration, he wrote a letter to a crackpot psychic and requested a reading on iodine. When he received his reply, it brought tears to his eyes, according to Phil Thomas, an Edgar Cayce historian. The letter confirmed Bisey’s overall assertions and outlined an electrification process by which the iodine could be exposed to a magnetic field while suspended in a wet battery; a process that would transmute the iodine into a state the body could fully recognize and fully assimilate.

As Phil Thomas writes in his paper “IODINE — The Once A Century Element,”

Sunker Bisey wasted no time in assembling the necessary equipment and running the experiment. Having worked with the element for many years he knew instantly, upon tasting the detoxified form that Mr. Cayce’s suggestion had finally cracked the coded mystery of the once unruly element. He set about replacing the raw form with the new iodine … and within days he started hearing back positive reports of his new found discovery. In the months and years which followed thousands of people were routinely cured of a wide assortment of ailments, most of which had no viable treatment … prior to the advent of atomic iodine.

Now here is where the story goes sour. I’m not big on conspiracy theories, so I’ll let you construct your own conclusions.

Sunker Bisey built up his iodine empire because he had no competition. His simple, inexpensive nutritional therapy was all the rage. Edgar Cayce did more readings on iodine, especially his new form which had such names as Detoxified Iodine and Atomic Iodine, but eventually it would be called Atomidine. But there was only one person marketing this form of iodine and he was about to be put out of business. Put out of business by the Government.

Gee, I seem to recall a tenth amendment and something to do with restriction of free trade.

The government, in its almighty wisdom, decided to iodize salt. This would guarantee that every American got their daily requirements for iodine. The amount the government would require to go into salt was not based upon David Marine’s research (which was scientific) but rather it was based upon the 100 year old recommendations by that group of busybody physicians with few patients to treat and way too much time on their hands. The required daily amount (RDA) of iodine is just enough to keep our thyroids from expanding, not unlike the RDA of vitamin C today which is just enough to keep us free of scurvy, but not enough to prevent a pre-scurvy disorder known as CVD, or Cardiovascular Disease. (See Nutrients and Supplements for Preventing and Reversing Cardiovascular Disease).

The average American was lulled into a false state of security, and Bisey’s business eventually crashed. He died a pauper in 1935, passing on his business, what was left of it, a few notes and lots of Atomidine no one wanted, onto his son. His son, who apparently had no interest in following in his father’s footsteps (and die a pauper), turned around and sold the process to a pharmaceutical company that immediately buried it and forgot about it.

Even Edgar Cayce quit doing readings about Atomidine, since it was no longer available, but near the end of his life, he resurrected a slew of iodine readings and introduced a theory of “vibrational” medicine that many are still investigating to this day. For more on Edgar Cayce, how he’s been labeled a quack by some and a prophet by others, see: Edgar Cayce.

From the Cayce readings, we get this:

Knowing the tendencies, supply in the vital energies that ye call the vitamins, or elements. For, remember, while we give many combinations, there are only four elements in your body: water, salt, soda, and iodine. These are the basic elements, they make all the rest! Each vitamin as a component part of an element is simply a combination of these other influences, given a name mostly for confusion to individuals, by those who would tell you what to do for a price.

This is an amazing statement, laughed at by the so-called scientific community, but investigated by others. Scientific types will tell you that water, salt, and soda (calcium carbonate) are not elements, while iodine is. Cayce was not an educated man. Recordings of his readings are hard to understand at times, because he went into a trance. In other words, he was asleep and sounded oftentimes like someone talking in his sleep. When he uses the word element, he is not using a chemistry denotation, but rather a loose connotation.

He often said that three or four drops of Atomidine three or four times a week were all you needed to stay healthy. How much exactly? That’s hard to determine since it’s your body that needs it at your levels and not at mine or your neighbors’.

How much? Where can you find it? What does it do? Well, lucky you, my dear reader. Allow me to review for you some bottles I received from two different companies. Click here to read the: Review of Atomidine. Click here to read a Review of Magnascent (the most powerful form of Atomidine from Cayce’s readings).

1. Penicillin was originally isolated from the Penicillium chrysogenum (formerly Penicillium notatum) mould. The antibiotic effect was originally discovered by a young French medical student Ernest Duchesne studying Penicillium glaucum in 1896 but his work had no lasting consequences. [Wikipedia]