Iodine is an essential trace mineral needed for healthy body function. Minerals are inorganic substances that your body uses for a wide range of purposes. Your body requires only small amounts of trace minerals like iodine. Globally, iodine deficiencies represent a major health problem, affecting one in three individuals worldwide, according a study by the World Health Organization and published in the September 2008 issue of the “Food and Nutrition Bulletin.”
Iodine serves several important functions in the body, primarily through its role in thyroid hormone production. The hormones produced by your thyroid gland, located in front of your neck, regulate fat and carbohydrate metabolism in your body. They also support healthy cardiovascular system function including heart rate and dilation of blood vessels. Regulation of the hormones themselves is necessary to ensure proper nervous and reproductive system function. The iodine that your diet provides plays a pivotal role in your day-to-day body function.
If you use iodized salt, chances are you may not have issues with low iodine intake even if you eliminate other sources of iodine in your diet such as cod, milk or eggs. Vegans may be at a heightened risk of deficiencies especially if they use other types of salt that do not contain iodine. Adult men and women should get 1,100 mcg a day. Even though this may seem a small amount, a diet deficient in iodine can lead to serious health consequences.
One result of an iodine deficiency is hypothyroidism. Without sufficient iodine, your body cannot produce adequate amounts of the thyroid hormones. A wide range of symptoms exists because of the diverse roles the thyroid hormones play in body functioning. If you have hypothyroidism, you may experience fatigue, muscle aches and weight gain. Your skin may become dry and plain. You may also develop brittle nails and hair. Some individuals may also have high cholesterol as a result of impaired fat metabolism.
An unpleasant sign of an iodine deficiency is an enlargement of the thyroid called a goiter. Besides the unfortunate physical appearance, a goiter places added pressure on your throat and esophagus. This can result in other symptoms including a hoarse voice, cough or difficulty swallowing. Treatment involves restoring normal iodine levels if your diet has created a deficiency. Ironically, a goiter can lead to abnormally high levels of thyroid hormones in the body, a condition called hyperthyroidism. This occurs if the goiter starts producing thyroid hormones. To avoid health problems from a low-iodine diet, you should consume rich sources of iodine and use iodized table salt.
- Linus Pauling Institute; Iodine; Victoria J. Drake; March 2010
- “Food and Nutrition Bulletin"; Iodine Deficiency in 2007: Global Progress Since 2003; B. de Bonist, et al.; September 2008
- Colorado State University Extension; Mechanism of Action and Physiologic Effects of Thyroid Hormones; R. Bowen; July 24, 2010
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Goiter - Simple; Deborah Wexler; April 29, 2009
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Hyperthyroidism; David C. Dugdale, III; April 29, 2009