Iodine is a non-metallic chemical element that is necessary for the human body to thrive, but the body does not naturally produce iodine on its own. It is especially critical for the production of thyroid hormones in humans as well as all other vertebrates. While it has been all but eliminated in many developed parts of the world by the introduction of iodized salt in the 1920s, this condition is common in developed nations among athletes and people who sweat profusely due to not replacing the iodine in their bodies faster than they can sweat it out.
An estimated 40% of the global population is at risk of iodine deficiency, which can put those who are deficient at risk for thyroid conditions such as goiter and hypothyroidism, as well as intellectual disability. Children who are born to mothers with iodine deficiency may have intellectual disabilities or congenital hypothyroidism, which can cause severely stunted physical and/or mental development. Iodine deficiency is currently the most common preventable cause of intellectual disabilities globally.
Signs of iodine deficiency can include:
- Muscle cramps
- Swelling in the neck region
- Dry skin-Hair loss
- Joint pain
- Memory problems
- Cold extremities
- Irregular or heavy menstrual cycles
- Sudden weight gain
In order to mitigate or prevent symptoms, the recommended daily iodine intake in the United States is 150 mcg per day for adults, and 300 mcg for women who are pregnant or nursing. It’s especially important to keep this in mind if you have an iodine deficiency. The upper limit of daily iodine intake intake should not exceed 1,100 mg, as too much iodine can also cause health problems.
The richest sources of natural-occurring iodine in foods are seaweeds such as nori, wakame and kelp. Seafood such as shrimp, shellfish, salmon, tuna, squid, cod, and scallops also are particularly rich in iodine. Iodine-rich food sources that are based on land are also available, and possibly already a part of your diet. These can include nuts, berries, dairy products such as milk, cheese, and eggs, red meat and poultry, root vegetables and tubers such as potatoes, garlic, and carrots. Iodine-enriched foods such as table salt and white bread are also good sources. What benefits does iodine offer besides curbing nutritional deficiency?
Here’s a quick breakdown of the top 5 things you should know about iodine:
1. Iodine can strip your body of toxins, dangerous heavy metals, and unhealthy bacteria.
Iodine’s high atomic number, 53, along with its innate antibacterial properties, gives it an incredible proficiency in stripping the body of heavy metals such as mercury and lead, as well as binding to toxins and bacteria, especially bacteria which can cause gastrointestinal problems such as peptic ulcers.
2. Healthy iodine intake can prevent thyroid cancer.
Various studies have linked healthy iodine intake to prevention of thyroid cancer. Because of iodine’s ability to support stable function and hormone production in the thyroid, as well as stable life cycles for thyroid cells, this prevents the mutations that would allow for thyroid tumors to develop, which start at the cellular level.
3. Iodine helps maintain metabolic health.
It’s no surprise that iodine, especially with its connection to thyroid health in humans, is also a beneficial part of keeping metabolic processes healthy. Iodine aids in breaking down carbohydrates and fats and helps to keep the body’s metabolism stable by aiding in the processing of vitamins and minerals in your food without aiding fat absorption. All of this ultimately means less fatigue and lethargy during the day as long as you keep your iodine levels up. This also makes physical activity such as exercise easier to perform.
4. Healthy levels of iodine in the body can protect against radioactivity.
Timely intake of such compounds as Potassium Iodide (KI) can prevent cancers, especially those of the thyroid, from developing in people who are exposed to radiation, even if administered a few days after exposure to radiation. One prominent example of the success of KI was seen shortly after the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, which caused increased thyroid cancer rates, especially in infants and children. Nearby nations administered Potassium Iodide to their children and saw no increase in thyroid cancer in the long-term.
5. Iodine improves children’s physical and mental development.
Iodine intake has been shown in several studies to be beneficial in treating childhood cognitive and physiological deficiencies. Iodine supplements for children with mild deficiencies can help aid such functions as reasoning, memory, and overall cognition, and prevent the long-term severe effects of an iodine deficiency while encouraging healthy physical and mental development.
In summary, iodine is a necessary part of every human life and can be easily supplemented through diet, as only trace amounts are needed to stay healthy. However, billions of people around the world are still at risk of thyroid conditions and cognitive disabilities resulting from this deficiency, as there are not always readily available edible sources of iodine nearby. Through education and nutrition, this deficiency can be eliminated so healthier, happier lives can be led by all.