Iodine is a chemical element that aids in the production of thyroid hormones and the regulation of energy in your body. You typically think of table salt when thinking about iodine. That’s because back in the 1920s, experts found that iodine deficiency was to blame for people in some regions of the country acquiring goitres, or swollen thyroid glands.
The answer? The US government encouraged some businesses to begin iodizing salt, and this intervention was quite beneficial. According to Elizabeth Pearce, MD, an associate professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and deputy regional coordinator for the Americas at the Iodine Global Network, a group dedicated to the long-term eradication of iodine deficiency worldwide, “overall, as a country, we have been iodine sufficient since the 1940s.”
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Although the most of us don’t really need to worry about our iodine levels, according to Dr. Pearce, “there’s a huge caveat.” “National surveys have revealed that pregnant women have modest deficiencies.”
Because of the “increased need for iodine for foetal thyroid development,” according to Brittany Henderson, MD, an assistant professor of endocrinology and metabolism at Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, women who are pregnant or nursing are at a high risk for iodine deficiency. And since iodine is a mineral that is present in foods other than salt, such as milk, shellfish, bread, and eggs, vegans, vegetarians, and anyone who avoid dairy products or bread are also at a greater risk.
What symptoms indicate an iodine deficiency?
Rarely, when iodine shortage is severe, do symptoms usually manifest. Although a urine test for iodine deficiency exists and may be requested from a general practitioner or endocrinologist, Dr. Pearce claims that this test is more frequently utilised to evaluate large populations for public health studies than it is to examine specific individuals.
Iodine levels vary greatly from day to day and even hour to hour, thus to really understand a person’s condition, at least 10 or 12 tests must be performed on them. However, there are a few warning signs to look out for.
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Goiter (enlarged thyroid gland)
According to the National Institutes of Health, your body begins to produce more of the thyroid hormone TSH when your iodine intake drops below 100 micrograms (mcg) per day (NIH). According to Melissa Majumdar, MS, RD, senior bariatric dietitian at the Brigham and Women’s Center for metabolic and bariatric surgery, where she frequently deals with nutrient deficiencies, this can result in an enlarged thyroid gland (also known as a goitre), which is the most typical symptom of iodine deficiency.
A bulge in the front of your neck that is a goitre may or may not be noticeable. Dr. Henderson claims that sometimes you won’t detect it unless you get an ultrasound or CT scan. If you have a goitre, you can feel like you’re choking or find it difficult to breathe or swallow.
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
You may develop hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid (meaning your thyroid isn’t producing enough of certain hormones), if your iodine intake falls below 10 to 20 mcg per day. Fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, dry skin, constipation, a puffy face, hoarseness, muscle weakness/aches, depression, memory loss, and other symptoms may be present.
According to Dr. Henderson, patients with hypothyroidism typically have two or three symptoms. Just keep in mind that these symptoms could also be brought on by a number of other medical conditions or even medications you may be taking, so consult your doctor to determine the exact cause of the issue.
Pregnancy complications or child development issues
Infertility, miscarriages, premature birth, stillbirth, and congenital abnormalities have all been connected to iodine deficiency.
Iodine deficiency during pregnancy or breastfeeding has been linked to lower IQ, mental retardation, slowed growth, and issues with speech and hearing in infants and children. According to the NIH, children who have mild to moderate iodine deficiency are also at an increased risk of developing ADHD.
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How to obtain adequate iodine?
According to a 2013 study, the average urinary iodine concentration for adults was 144 mcg/liter and for pregnant women, it was 129 mcg/liter, indicating that while most American adults get about the recommended amount, pregnant women frequently don’t. Make sure to meet these NIH-recommended intakes if you want to prevent iodine deficiency:
Adult men and women: 150 mcg
• Pregnant women: 220 mcg
• Breastfeeding women: 290 mcg
Anything below those levels isn’t ideal, but anything above them can result in hyperthyroidism (also known as an overactive thyroid) and other issues. The best thing you can do is avoid iodine deficiency in the first place because there isn’t a reliable test for it.
So first, ensure that you are purchasing and consuming iodized table salt. According to Dr. Pearce, only about half of the table salt sold in this nation is iodized. When salt is iodized, it must say so on the packaging. Beware: According to Majumdar, processed food salt and the oh-so-trendy sea salt are typically not iodized. (Although, some brands do make iodized sea salt if you prefer to go the flakier route.)
You can change your diet to include more foods high in iodine. Clams, lobsters, oysters, and sardines are examples of foods that naturally contain iodine, according to Majumdar.
Some from vegetables, milk, and eggs as well, but the amounts vary a little more.
Even though the American Heart Association advises consuming no more than 2,300 milligrammes of sodium per day (ideally 1,500 for most adults), 150 mcg of iodine can still be obtained from just a third of a teaspoon of iodized salt.
Since there is little chance of deficiency if you are not pregnant, breastfeeding, or on a restricted diet, supplements are typically not advised. The American Thyroid Association advises taking a prenatal vitamin that contains 150 mcg of iodine while you are pregnant or nursing; check the label to be sure.
Talk to your doctor about whether it’s a good idea to take an iodine supplement if you’re vegan, vegetarian, or you don’t eat dairy or bread because it can have a negative interaction with medications (like blood pressure medications) that you already take.