Dotting the I

Dotting the I 

Colorful bindis are being handed out to tribal women in India by a philanthropic organization. When worn on the forehead, each dot delivers a daily dose of 100-150 micrograms of iodine (chemical symbol: I) which is absorbed by the skin. At least 70 million Indians suffer from iodine deficiency disorders. Sure, oral supplements or iodized salts are more efficient, but the tribal women won’t take them. The bindis are a socially more acceptable, and creative, approach to dietary compliance! 

Bad Air: Iodine deficiencies were described by ancient Roman writers and medieval travelers, who would encounter entire villages in the Alps or southern Europe struck by cretinism.  Thought to be due to “bad air” or “stagnant water” in the mountains, we now know that dwarfism, deformed bones and intellectual disability are due to lack of iodine-rich thyroid hormone. Goiter belts characterized the more mildly afflicted inland regions of Europe and N. America, where populations were marked by enlarged thyroids and grossly swollen throats. Along the coast, however, wave action disperses natural iodine salts from sea water into the air, from where it enters our ecosystem. No wonder, sea air was recommended for recuperating invalids. 

The Rise and Fall of I: After the discovery of iodine in 1811, Lugol’s solution (mostly potassium iodide, or KI) became the universal panacea of western medicine. Medical students were advised:

If ye don’t know where, what, and why 

Prescribe ye then K and I

But too much of a good thing led to the discovery that excess iodine actually blocked thyroid hormone production (known as Wolff-Chaikoff effect). Today, the Reference Daily Intake or RDI has decreased from 1 gram, to 150 micrograms, which many practitioners believe is too little. Proponents of iodine therapy point out the benefits in preventing breast cancer, skin disorders and more. For a fascinating history of the controversies and facts see the article in the reference. 


Video: Jeevan Bindi- The Life Saving Dot (1 min long)

Photo: Subir Basak


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122 Responses to Dotting the I

  1. At one point, the RDI was one gram of iodine?! Wow, that’s a huge amount of anything considered a trace nutrient!

  2. nice woman looking mother feel

  3. Rajini Rao says:

    David Archer yup! It was prescribed for pulmonary, skin and other ailments. Apparently, we modern Americans have very little iodine in our diet. Iodized salt loses much of its iodine content upon storage, and many of us have cut back on salt use anyway. 

  4. Rajini Rao says:

    Dr. John Cassone you may be interested in the source of that medical ditty. It comes via Dr. Albert Szent Györgi (1893-1986), who won the Nobel prize for the discovery of Vitamin C. He said: “When I was a medical student, iodine in the form of KI [potassium iodide] was the universal medicine. Nobody knew what it did, but it did something and did something good. We students used to sum up the situation in this little rhyme..”  🙂

  5. I love the practicality of using a body decoration for delivering nutrients. No need to worry about forgetting to take your supplements – social convention will make sure you do.

  6. Rajini Rao says:

    Exactly, Richard Healy – “sticker bindis” are a routine part of most Indian women’s daily cosmetic ritual. 

  7. Kansu Lal says:

    Very nice & attractive

  8. Dr. Cassone says:

    Rajini Rao​ this still holds true regarding iodine. Many of my patients describe it as if a switch was flipped upon taking it. However, I’m very conservative in suggesting its use.

  9. Rajini Rao says:

    For the Bollywood aficionados, via One Million People who accept Evolution who reminded me of this nostalgic song Tere Bindiya Re


  10. I don’t understand. There was the same problem in west Africa. Now, any salt extraction site is treated with iodine. It is working.

  11. Rajini Rao says:

    Olivier Malinur could you explain what you don’t understand? Iodine deficiency is seen in mountainous, inland regions, not at salt extraction sites. These tribal women refused iodized salts so this alternative approach of iodine patches is being tried. 

  12. Pam Adger says:

    Rajini Rao not that it matters (other than my personal curiosity ) but do you know why the salt /tablets were refused?

  13. Rajini Rao  I had to watch the video, because I did some genealogy a few years ago. One reason I started the research was that I had been told since I was a kid that one of my great-great-great-something grandmothers was American Indian, but nobody could give me any details, like what tribe she was from.

    Turns out that she was indeed Indian, but she wasn’t American Indian, she was Indian Indian! It was kind of disappointing to find out that I don’t have the blood of noble Plains warriors thundering in my veins. On the other hand, I have an ancestral connection to India, so there’s a whole new world of heritage for me to explore.

    Namaste, y’all.

  14. Jesse H says:

    That’s very interesting.

  15. rana gulzar says:

    Beauty of Rajhistan I think

  16. Brilliant. I think I should put some stuff into my wedding ring – looks like it’s the only way to make me remember about my meds.

  17. I can imagine a whole a lot of applications for wearable supplements and medications.

  18. Pam Adger   According to the “Life Saving Dot” video, part of the problem is that these folks couldn’t afford traditional supplements. The I-bindis seems to be a lot like our iodized salt, a low-cost alternative that combines the iodine with something used every day.

  19. Rajini Rao says:

    Pam Adger the news stories that I read mentioned that the tribals were not compliant with iodized salt:

    It’s plausible, but I don’t know for sure. 

  20. Pam Adger says:

    J Bennett I was reading the post above and Rajini’s comment about the tribal women refusing the iodized salt and tablets. My curiosity lies with the reason for the refusal. The technical difficulties aren’t as interesting.

  21. Rajini Rao says:

    Pam Adger there is some fascinating history linked to refusing salt that stems from Gandhi’s freedom movements. See:
    I’m reading it now! 

  22. Tom Nathe says:

    Rajini Rao thanks for the heads up on us Americans and our own iodine problems. Having been on a reduced salt intake diet for sometime now, I didn’t even think about the loss of iodine that came supplemented with the salt. 

    I’ll have to recheck and see if my multivitamin has trace iodine in it.

  23. Pam Adger  I understand, but from the links provided, it doesn’t seem that refusal is the real problem. It’s more of a lifestyle integration issue. That’s why this seems to me like such a clever solution.

  24. Pam Adger says:

    I agree that it’s a clever solution. You should read the article that Rajini linked above.

  25. I think this is a very clever use of customs and beliefs to provide a service to the people.

    Excellent news and nice picture – is it you in the photo Rajini Rao ?

    But I could not understand the article at “” – it indicates the salt is now the cause of a problem – which seems to be wrong conclusion!!

  26. Rajini Rao​, this is a very clever method.

    Just I don’t understand why they don’t make iodized salt the norm. If they have no choice, it makes it easier.

    On another subject, do you think contraceptive substances could be administered this way ?

  27. Pam Adger I read the article. It looks like the same problem we have in America, balancing the rights of small businesses with their responsibilities to their customers.

    Doesn’t it sound a lot like the conflicts we see between raw milk producers and government regulators?

  28. Rajini Rao says:

    Olivier Malinur I agree, salt supplementation is also more effective. But in response to Pam’s question, I discovered that there is a history behind refusing iodized salt: “When Gandhi famously defied the British salt ban, he created an enduring symbol of purity and independence. But today, pure, locally-grown salt is threatening the health of tens of millions of India’s children.”

    As to delivering contraceptives, that would be clever as well! Assuming that there is significant absorption through the skin, which I believe there is. There are patch contraceptives already:

  29. Rajini Rao says:

    J Bennett the same conflict [“point of principle [that] such a public health measure should not be enforced through statutory provisions.”] also touches on the vaccination crisis in the US today-whether vaccinations should be government-mandated. 

  30. Pam Adger says:

    J Bennett I am totally biased when it comes to raw milk. My daughter got TB from fresh Mexican cheese made with unpasteurized milk. I don’t think we should have that discussion here. I watched her suffer through 4 surgeries to remove infected lymph glands in her neck and forcing nasty medicine down her throat while a nurse from the department of health watched every day for 9 months. She was 2.

  31. Rajini Rao great and timely post. Recently, I read where the Ministry of Health of the Trinidad and Tobago government, are studying the pros and cons of using bindis to deliver iodine to some of the Indian women on the island. The Indian population of T&T is about 40 %

  32. Rajini Rao And let’s not forget the fluoridated water fights.

    One big difference is that it sounds like the problems with iodine deficiency are among the most serious.

    I lean libertarian, so I need a good reason to accept regulatory solutions. When it comes to iodine and vaccinations, I think the justification for regulation is pretty solid, especially since these issues affect children who don’t have a chance to make their own informed choices.

    Does that make sense?

  33. Rajini Rao says:

    Thanks for that update, Larry Fournillier . It makes sense that no single approach will work for everyone. These innovations are cheap, and hopefully, will do the job! 

  34. Adit Morey says:

    It is interesting to know that bindis worn by Indian women on the forehead also served the purpose of delivering a daily dose of 100-150 mcgms of iodine. But I think that oral supplements will be a more better and effective way to provide iodine.

  35. Rajini Rao says:

    My search also pulled up another reason why iodized salt does not work in neighboring Pakistan. Apparently, the last slide on a govt. talk program on birth control and family planning was on iodide (since it is so critical for child development). Because of this marketing “mistake”, people now distrust iodized salt and assume that it results in sterilization.

  36. Rajini Rao you’re welcome and agreed no single approach will work for everyone.

  37. Rajini Rao​ Seems like everybody is buying all natural course sea salt without iodine added which is probably decreasing Americans intake of iodine too.

  38. Adit Morey says:

    Rajini Rao​ The misconception about iodine in Pakistan is a telling example of how wrong information through misrepresented government campaigns, can feed ignorance about nutritional importance of iodine. It’s very sad. 😦

  39. Rajini Rao says:

    Adit Morey I agree, and it is just as sad as the misconception about vaccinations that is growing in western countries. 

  40. Could we make “biological tatoos” on the forehead that change color and/or shape to indicate biological disorders or show emotional states of people wearing them?

  41. Rajini Rao says:

    The biological equivalent of the sixties “mood rings”, Sylvain JULIEN ? 🙂

  42. Jim Carver says:

    Dr. John Cassone I’m pretty well up on the use of SSKI and have used it in an attempt to control Dupuytren’s with marginal results…trying cortisone injections at this point and may start back with my own formula…still thinking about that one.

    One drop of SSKI per day should not cause a problem. Do a blood test to make sure it’s not too high if concerned. 

  43. Brad Esau says:

    Very fascinating, Rajini Rao , and very cool of the philanthropists. 

  44. Rajini Rao says:

    Brad Esau interestingly, the philanthropic group (Grey for Good) is an arm of an advertising agency called the Grey Group. I guess there is some advertising advantage in doing this, but it’s cool all the same. 

  45. Brad Esau says:

    Rajini Rao – aaahh, so it goes with much of philanthropy. But it’s the outcome that really matters. 

  46. What a meet and fascinating story of community leadership

  47. Rajini Rao says:

    Letha McGarity the bioavailability of iodine through skin patches is well-studied. Here is a starting point for information:

    The amount in the bindi is the RDI, but not all of it is going to be absorbed. Some of it will be lost by evaporation over time, so the bindis have to be replaced daily. This initiative has just begun, so there are no long term studies of efficacy. Iodine sufficiency in populations is measured by urinary iodine since iodine in diet is excreted through urine. In the US, NHANES measurements show stable levels of ~150 micrograms/L even though intake of iodine by Americans has decreased drastically over the years.

    The main barriers to treating iodine deficiency have to do with social and economic issues, since it is pretty straightforward to supplement iodine in salt or flour as has been done is the US. As we discussed above, tribal poor reject iodized salt and pills are expensive. 

    Bindis are purely cosmetic! They do not reflect marriage status. In some parts of India, vermilion or sindoor is applied to the hair parting is a symbol of marriage. The use of bindis does not reflect social class or caste. They are ubiquitously worn by all Hindu women.  

    What about the men? This approach is targeted to women of child bearing age in tribal areas of the northwest. Women are more susceptible to iodine deficiency during pregnancy and their children are at risk for cretinism. High risk populations are usually targeted first. Education is less relevant here than iodine supplementation. The deficiency lies in the soil, as in the Alps, and only iodine rich foods can overcome this. 

  48. brilliant idea and culturally sensitive, that’s progress. Glad the issue of goiter belts was discussed, it’s a definite problem for many people in Ontario and little medical recognition.

  49. Tom Lee says:

    Nice post Rajini Rao it’s​ good to know…

  50. Hameed Ullah says:

    I m sorry, i m not DR & like someone appeare himself or herself is DR bcz nobody will see your digree, but Trible people are original people,getting somany iodine by (naturally food) no need Vitamin suppliment but i m agree iodined salt better for skin & throats swollen.but iodinized salt cann’t get from see.its can get from mountain or foot of a mountains.

  51. very interesting , madam is there any natural remedy to overcome the iodine deficiency,by food and fruits or any other

  52. Stuti S A I says:

    Why couldn’t the ointment/lotion/creams used as cosmetic aids be made with traces of iodine (to be adsorbed by the skin)? Rajini Rao 

  53. Rajini Rao says:

    Stuti S A I tribal women would be unlikely to use lotions and creams, but bindis are universal. Also, more iodine would be lost by evaporation when spread over a larger area. 

  54. Rajini Rao says:

    Suman Potugari good question; natural sources of iodine would include fish and seaweed/kombu/kelp. There is probably not much seafood consumption in inland areas and Indians don’t eat seaweed as the Japanese do. Cranberries, potatoes, beans are also supposed to be high in iodine, but I would guess that these should be grown in iodine rich soil. 

  55. id love to visit your homeland

  56. Nice and innovative initiative.

  57. Tagging: Adit Morey 

  58. Adit Morey says:

    Hello Milad Farjadian​.:)… I has read this post earlier and I recall thinking that it was quite similar to some western citizens misconceptions of vaccines causing mental retardation. I intended to tag you then but I thought that you had read it as Rajini Rao​ is common to the circles of both of us. 🙂 But it’s nice that you tagged me I this post. 🙂

  59. home tech says:

    Bnmmmmnnm:mmmmMm:mnnhhbbwqm?mm:mm?:-?mmmmmm?mmmmmmmmmm??mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm:m…mmmnmmmnngaa!m?mmmmmmmmmm??m?mmmmm?mmmm?mmnjjnnhohyhbggjne&mmm?mnnjjnmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmkbnmmmmmohbgbbkmmoobbgblmbkmmmmnkmmwiikmiinnkmmmnn mmwbwwwwnnbbm?mmmmm?mmkbk(llm!mmmmmiwbg-blsjqqsmmmn:wmmmmmmmmmnsnsssmbiobjkmmmml

  60. Such a nice and knowledgeable post it is….thank you rajni Jee for improving my knowledge

  61. Rajini Rao says:

    How nice, thank you for responding to the post Deepak Shriwastava .

  62. Most welcome…I am new to g+ so just I am studying your post and all are amazing posts

  63. “When worn on the forehead, each dot delivers a daily dose of 100-150 micrograms of iodine”

    Huh, I didn’t know this. I thought it was only for cultural/religious practices. Thanks.

  64. Rajini Rao says:

    Justin MacIsaac the bindi itself is worn for cultural/religious significance as you mention. Only in this case, they have been specially treated with iodine to counter dietary deficiencies in tribal women as a trial. Hope that clarifies. 

  65. Indian males, I take it, take the salt tabs.

  66. Rajini Rao says:

    George Johnson I doubt they do. The women are targeted as a high risk population because they are of child bearing age and iodine is crucial for infant development and to prevent cretinism. 

  67. Sundar atisundar nathuli bindi

  68. 連盈貴 says:


  69. Waddia S. says:

    How can applying iodine on your epidermis affect iodine-deficiency? Skin does absorb, but how is it going to be imbibed in the internal mechanisms?

  70. Rajini Rao says:

    Waddia S. iodine absorbed by the skin makes it way into the blood stream and is delivered to the thyroid gland where it is incorporated into thyroid hormone. The bioavailability of iodine applied to the skin is well known. 

  71. maria sales says:

    Knowledge , really good to read ur blog. But also all woman India Womans needs to know this .

  72. هذة صورة جميلة تستحق الاحتفاظ ويبدو ان صاحبتالصورة عندها روح اجمل من الشكل اتمنا ان تكونى بخير وسعادة انتي ومن معكي

  73. sandi brill says:

    Rajini Rao I make those beaded beads she has on her nose ring 💛💜💚

  74. suresh mahi says:

    Aaj bindi ka asli arth log bhool gye… Ye sthan teesre til ka hai.. Christ isko 3rd eye kehte hai Hindu – divchakshu,

    Gurbani – 10 va darwaja.. Ghar Dar vi kende ne…

    So aaj bindi fashion ban gayi par Iss de asli arth bhool gaye… Kyuin ki guru bhool gaya or mout bhool gayi..

  75. Peying Fong says:

    Thyroid power, Rajini, thyroid power…

  76. Rajini Rao says:

    Yesss! And Peying Fong turns the channels on 🙂

  77. Thanks for your giving very much good information about bindi

  78. Does bindi material containes iodine or it is the glue that helps the bindi to stick their (forehead) ?

  79. Deepak Kumar says:

    Wooooow great profile

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