When we hear the word iodine, we most often recall the white salt. And that doesn’t come as a surprise since a majority of households now use iodized salt to flavour their food. Over the last century, there has been a global campaign to add iodine to table salt. That is to say, food manufacturers have been very supportive of the program’s implementation. As a result, cases of iodine deficiency, a once world-wide menace, have dropped drastically.
Subsequently, Iodine Deficiency (ID) results from lack of sufficient amounts of iodine in one’s diet.
Although we have made major strides in fighting ID, this problem is far from winning. There are still people in some parts of the world who don’t consume an adequate amount of iodine. Such places as remote inland areas where marine food is either rare or expensive, and mountainous places, where soils are mostly iodine-poor, are at high risk of ID.
Let’s look at some causes and effects of iodine deficiency and possible natural ways to replenish it. Firstly, however, let’s look at what is iodine and why it’s important to our organism to function properly.
What is iodine?
Iodine is an essential dietary mineral. ‘Dietary’ in this case means that our bodies don’t make their own iodine. Instead, we consume this mineral from our meals.
Our organism needs iodine for the production of thyroid hormones. These hormones are essential for growth, blood cell production, protein manufacturing, and overall body metabolism.
Iodine is available in some foods and as a supplement. Plants don’t make their own iodine just likewise humans – they get it from the soil they grow on. Consequently, Iodine content in foods varies with soil, fertilizers, and farming practices like irrigation.
So, foods grown in iodine-poor soils have little-to-no iodine. Seafood, however, is rich in iodine as the mineral is abundant in the oceans.
Causes and effects of iodine deficiency
The body’s iodine requirements depend on several factors. For example, pregnant women require more iodine than the rest of us. But, according to the research on the ID, the average daily iodine intake for ages 4 and above should be 150 mcg.
Insufficiency of iodine leads to very low levels of thyroid hormones in the body. As reported in an article posted on Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal, this affects some of the body’s main organs. Furthermore, a continued ID can easily cause a number of health conditions, collectively known as iodine deficiency disorders (IDDs).
IDDs are caused when the thyroid gland is unable to produce any more hormones. The disorder’s effects can stay hidden for some time but soon develop to fatal health complications. They ultimately affect virtually all aspects of quality human life. Some of the most common iodine deficiency disorders include:
Goitre is a consequence of lack of thyroxin – one of the two thyroid hormones.
Low amounts of thyroxine in the body gives rise to excessive levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). High levels of TSH consequently stimulates the thyroid gland to increase its biochemical processes. This leads to a characteristic swelling of the thyroid, also known as goitre.
Neurological disorders and mental retardation in infants
Children born in iodine-deficient areas are usually at a high risk of developing neurological disorders and mental retardation.
Early growth and development of the brain happen during fetal and postnatal life. Meanwhile, thyroid hormones are required for the development of body organs, especially the brain. That is to say, ID leads to hypothyroidism which causes brain damage. (Hypothyroidism is the inadequate production of thyroid enzymes).
Cretinism is a health condition that is associated with goitre and ID. The illness is identified by deafness, stunted growth, squint, and mental deficiency.
A close relationship has been identified between parents suffering from goitre and the occurrence of cretinism in their children.
Iodine has far-reaching benefits for our body. Therefore, a lack of this essential mineral results in devastating health problems. In fact, according to a WHO report, the single most preventable cause of intellectual disability is ID.
Natural Ways to Replenish Iodine Deficiency
Fortunately, you can gradually replenish iodine deficiency with a range of natural products as well as supplements.
– Take foods that are rich in iodine
As we mentioned above, the amount of iodine can vary significantly based on soil type, location, and food preparation methods. Some foods, however, are generally rich in iodine.
According to the National Institute of Health, some of these foods are:
|Percent Daily Value (%)|
|Seaweed (whole or sheet) 1 g||16 to 2,984||11 to 1,989|
|Iodized salt, 1.5 g||71||47|
|Fish sticks, 3 ounces||54||36|
|Enriched white bread||45||30|
|Reduced fat milk||56||37|
|Shrimp, 3 ounces||35||23|
|Ice cream, chocolate, 1/2 cup||30||20|
– Boost your iodine intake with supplement capsules
Most people in developed countries don’t have to take iodine supplements. In contrast, if you are among those in the high-risk categories of ID, this is a great option for you.
When taking iodine supplements, you should keep in mind that anything above 500 mcg may cause undesirable consequences to your thyroid glands.
Iodine supplements help tackling conditions caused by iodine deficiency such as hypothyroidism, iodine insufficiency symptoms, foot and leg ulcers, hormone-related brain pain, and others.
Special groups when it comes to ID
Apart from people living in iodine-deficient soils, several other groups are at a high risk of suffering from IDDs. These include infants, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, and people suffering from nutrition deficiency.
Pregnant and nursing women need more iodine intake, about 220 mcg per day. Iodine helps in the development of the fetus, as well as growth and development of an infant’s brain.
In addition to this, a deficiency of other nutrients in the body may affect your thyroid functions. Some of these nutritional deficiencies are inadequate levels of vitamin A, zinc, selenium and iron.
The crucial role of iodine in our bodies is evident. Therefore, it’s essential to maintain a healthy intake of iodine. Meanwhile you should remember that iodine-related health complications are not just the effect of low levels of iodine – excessive levels of iodine are equally harmful. If you are not sure about your daily iodine intake, especially if you’re taking iodine supplements, talk about it with your doctor.