What is Iodine?
Iodine is a chemical element and nutrient found in some foods. The human body requires iodine to produce thyroid hormones and other hormones.
In this article, we will discuss seven signs of iodine deficiency. Also, we’ll list some excellent sources of iodine, interesting iodine facts, and important health uses for the element.
Facts About Iodine
One day in 1811, some chemist was busy fiddling with seaweed ash when he found that adding sulfuric acid produced an “unusual purple vapor.” As with many other significant scientific and medical discoveries, iodine was pure luck!
The French chemist Bernard Courtois was one smart guy. We owe the advent of morphine to not only Courtois (and another French chemist Armand Seguin) but also the chemical isolation of iodine. (Most sadly, Mr. Courtois passed before patenting his discovery with the French government, leaving his wife and young son penniless.)
Here are a few other interesting facts about iodine:
- 50 percent of the global supply of iodine is used for manufacturing medicine.
- Iodine can be extracted from oil wells in the form of brine water.
- Natural sources of iodine are found mainly in seawater and seaweed.
Health Uses of Iodine
As stated, half of the global supply of iodine is used in medication manufacturing. Along with medicines, there are many other health uses for iodine, including:
– Conjunctivitis (pinkeye):
Iodine-povidone solutions lower the risk of pinkeye in newborns. Iodine-povidone may also reduce the risk of bloodstream infections from catheter use.
Research shows that venous leg ulcer patients treated with the application of cadexomer iodine and compression heal faster than other groups. Iodine also helps treat diabetic ulcers.
– Iodine deficiency:
An iodine supplementation (including iodized salt) is effective for the prevention and treatment of iodine deficiency.
– Radiation exposure:
Oral administration of iodine has shown effective for protecting against radiation exposure to iodides in emergency situations.
– Thyroid problems:
Studies show that iodine supplementation improves the medical outcomes in patients with thyroid disorders – such as hyperthyroidism and storm thyroid.
– Water purification:
Water contamination in underdeveloped and developing countries is a leading cause of disease, death, and illness. Iodine eliminates bacteria, parasites, and viruses in water by altering the ionic balance contained within their cells.
Iodine Deficiencies and the Thyroid
“…many parts of the world do not have enough iodine available through their diet, and iodine deficiency continues to be an important public health problem globally. Approximately 40% of the world’s population remains at risk for iodine deficiency.” – American Thyroid Association (source)
In developed countries, the widespread use of iodized salt has eliminated iodine deficiency. However, in underdeveloped and developing countries, iodine deficiency is among the leading causes of disability, illness, and death.
Iodine is a critical element for thyroid function. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped, ductless gland that sits just below your Adam’s apple and wraps around the neck’s windpipe. The thyroid contains two lobes connected by a “bridge” called the isthmus. Unless the thyroid gland is enlarged you can not feel or see it.
Among the vital functions of the thyroid hormones:
- – Brain function: Thyroid hormones are essential for brain function and maturation, particularly during pregnancy. Iodine deficiency is one of the leading causes of intellectual disabilities worldwide.
- – Metabolism: Thyroid hormones increase our basal metabolic rate, affecting body temperature, heart rate, energy production, brain maturation, bone and muscle growth, and cognitive functions such as concentration and reflex actions.
7 Signs of Iodine Deficiency
Swelling of the neck (goiter)
Swelling of the neck – or goiter – is the most common physical sign of iodine deficiency. Goiters develop from low levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in the blood – in which iodine serves as a building block. When the body lacks iodine in the body, it also lacks TSH. The thyroid gland works harder to compensate for this shortage, causing cells to multiply. These excel cells accumulate and eventually lead to a goiter.
As discussed, thyroid hormones play a vital role in regulating metabolism. Shortage of thyroid hormones essentially stunts the metabolic rate responsible for converting food into energy and heat. As a result of the slow basal metabolic rate, the body burns fewer calories at rest, meaning that more food is stored as fat.
Over eight in ten people with low thyroid hormone count experience weakness and fatigue. This is because the thyroid hormones enable proper cellular energy function. Of course, low energy levels make the body feel sluggish, tired, and weak. In a study of 2,500, researchers found fatigue and weakness to be the most commonly reported symptom of moderately low to low thyroid hormone levels.
Among its numerous other responsibilities, thyroid hormones enable the growth of hair follicles. For this reason, individuals with low hormone levels may experience hair loss. The research is somewhat opaque on this matter. However, some studies claim upwards of 30 percent of people report a loss of hair; other studies claim that such numbers apply to people with low iodine count and a family history of hair loss.
Thyroid hormones are also involved in skin cell regeneration. As such, when hormone levels are low, dry and dead skin cells accumulate and produce appearance of flaky skin. Thyroid hormones also help to regulate sweat production while sweat works to hydrate your skin properly. Therefore, low thyroid hormone levels can further exacerbate dry skin issues by stunting rehydration.
Heart rate fluctuation
Iodine deficiency can result in noticeable changes to heart rate (number of beats per second). Shortage of iodine may cause the heart rate to slow while excess iodine may cause it to beat too fast. The former may worsen fatigue, weakness, or sluggishness symptoms.
Besides iodine deficiency being a leading cause of mental retardation in newborns (which is tragic), it turns out that nor getting enough of the element may also cause problems with learning and memory. Multiple studies show hippocampal abnormalities in people with low thyroid hormone counts, potentially explaining these cognitive anomalies. Underdevelopment of the brain doesn’t always produce clinically verifiable retardation but can still stunt normal cognitive progression.
Sources of Iodine
While iodine supplements may be convenient and helpful, many food sources contain high levels of the element. The recommended daily intake (RDI) of iodine is 150 micrograms (mcg). In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) established new iodine requirements for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding, explicitly recommending that “pregnant and lactating women cook with iodized salt and take a daily supplement with 150 mcg of iodine to reach a total of 290 mcg per day.”
Below are ten foods rich in iodine:
- Seaweed (Kombu Kelp, Wakame, Nori): 2000+ mcg per sheet (>2000% daily value)
- Cod: 60-99 mcg per 3 ounces (40-66% daily value)
- Dairy (Milk, Yogurt, Cottage cheese): 80-170 mcg per 8 ounces (60-110% daily value); Plain yogurt per cup: ~75 mcg (50% daily value); Cottage cheese per cup: 65 mcg (43% daily value)
- Iodized salt: 71 mcg per ¼ teaspoon (47% daily value; ½ teaspoon of iodized salt daily is sufficient daily intake, therefore, it is enough to prevent deficiency.)
- Shrimp: 35 mcg per 3 ounces (23% daily value)
- Tuna: 17 mcg per 3 ounces (11% daily value)
- Eggs: 24 mcg per one large egg (16% daily value)
- Prunes: 13 mcg per five dried prunes (9% daily value)
- Lima beans: 16 mcg per one cup (10% daily value)
- Non-organic bread: 15 mcg per slice (10% daily value)