When many of us contemplate ways to achieve optimal health, many share a general consensus that we need to eat healthy, exercise, and stay away from harmful habits – smoking, drinking to excess, etc. One area that doesn’t seem to get the recognition it deserves is appropriate supplementation. We often fail to ensure that our bodies consume an adequate amount of vitamins and minerals. Specifically, iodine deficiency can have dire consequences on the body.
While we may have learned about iodine in chemistry class, little to nothing is taught about the element’s function as it relates to the human body. Turns out, iodine is essential to our body’s health on a number of levels. In fact, there are few minerals that have a bigger impact on our overall well-being.
The opening abstract that preceded the introduction of this article is from a 1999 study by the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers discovered that pregnant women with untreated hypothyroidism – a condition where the body lacks insufficient thyroid hormone – negatively impacted children’s cognitive development. Most, unfortunately, the children involved in this study also scored lower on tests of attention, language, and visual-motor performance.
Causes of Iodine Deficiency
One of the root causes of hypothyroidism is iodine deficiency. This is because the thyroid gland requires the mineral in order to regulate the metabolism and development of the skeleton and brain, in addition to a few other purposes. Dr. Jorge Flechas – one of the world’s most prominent experts on hypothyroidism – cites insufficient iodine as a cause or contributing factor to a number of different developmental problems. Among these are:
- Goiter: abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland.
- Cognitive and developmental delays: below-average levels of intellectual function.
- Cretinism: severe impairments in physical and mental development due to untreated congenital hypothyroidism.
- Cancer: including breast, stomach, thyroid, ovary, and prostate.
Dr. David Brownstein, also a world-renowned physician and author of the book Iodine: Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It, states that iodine is one of the most misunderstood and unvalued nutrients. He then cites a variety of different diseases and conditions that proper iodine supplementation can alleviate or prevent, including:
- Breast, Thyroid, Ovarian, and Uterine Cancer
- Fibrocystic Breasts
- Graves’ Disease
- Hashimoto’s Disease
- Malfunctioning immune system
Additionally, iodine deficiency is a precursor to a number of different health problems. Fortunately, the iodization of common table salt has drastically reduced the numbers of iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) in developed countries. Health professionals are still concerned, as studies show the average American’s iodine intake dropping nearly 50% over a 20-year span.
Now that we understand iodine’s importance, let’s examine some of the more common symptoms of iodine deficiency. We’ll also provide some common food sources of iodine.
Here are 7 symptoms of iodine deficiency:
Even a mild, symptom-free case of thyroid deficiency in a pregnant woman can affect her child’s IQ scores years late, results of a study suggest. Children aged 7 to 9 who had mothers with untreated hypothyroidism in pregnancy had IQ scores about 7 points lower than youngsters of women without such a deficiency. – The New England Journal of Medicine
1. Increased fatigue
Increased fatigue directly relates to the inactivity of the thyroid. This can manifest into a noticeable drop in energy levels. As a result, this symptom of individuals is one of the first noted with an iodine deficiency.
2. Weight gain
When iodine is insufficient, our bodies’ metabolic functions experience a drop-off – this slows the body’s ability to convert food into energy. As a result, fat is more likely to be stored in our cells.
3. Increased sensitivity to cold
Increasing sensitivity to cold generally implicates a slow metabolism. As our metabolic rate decreases, blood flow does as well. Less blood flow to our organs – including our skin – can result in excessive feelings of coldness.
4. Dry skin
20% of all iodine is stored in our skin, specifically in the sweat glands. The absence of iodine in the sweat glands results in a decreased ability to perspire. Combining this effect with decreased iodine supplementation, our skin doesn’t receive enough moisture. The result of this dryness manifests as dry, flaky, or cracked skin.
Deficient iodine levels slow the normal functioning of the digestive tract. It also inhibits the ability of stomach muscles to properly contract. That functionality is necessary to move waste through the intestine. So if you suffer from constipation often, consider the presence of an iodine deficiency.
6. Depressed mood
Areas of the world that suffer from disproportionate cases of hypothyroidism cite depression as one of the commonly-reported symptoms. The symptom of depression is believed to be the result of the myriad of adverse effects an inactive thyroid has on hormonal stability and cognitive function.
7. Thin or brittle hair and nails
The underproduction of thyroid hormones effectively disrupts the supply of important nutrients to the hair and nails. So without sufficient nutrients, the normal growth and development of hair and nails are stunted. As a result, this can potentially lead to thinning and brittleness of hair and nails.
Fortunately, many healthy and widely-available food sources contain iodine. While iodized table salt may be the most convenient, here are some others: seaweed, bread, navy beans, baked potatoes, strawberries, and cranberries.
Multi-vitamins and other supplements are also available that will deliver the recommended daily amounts of iodine.