What Is Iodine Deficiency? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

What Is Iodine Deficiency? Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

When many Americans hear the word iodine, they may think of salt. There’s no surprise, given that up to three-quarters of American homes use iodized salt to enhance the flavour of their food.

Indeed, since the 1920s, most salt manufacturers have participated in the voluntary program of adding iodine to table salt to help correct iodine deficiency. Given that many Americans eat too much salt, how can a person eventually develop iodine deficiency?

What Is Iodine?

Iodine is a mineral of the earth. Your body needs iodine to make thyroid hormones. Your body does not make its own iodine. You must get iodine from the food you eat can get them in several ways:

  • Iodine Is Found in Some Foods: Iodine occurs naturally in sea water. Foods rich in iodine include seaweed, shrimp, and other shellfish. Some dairy products and other foods are fortified with iodine.
  • Iodine Is Added to Table Salt: Iodine deficiency used to be widespread in certain areas of the United States and Canada. In 1924 the process of adding iodine to table salt was introduced. Iodine deficiency rates were reduced.
  • Iodine Is Available as A Dietary Supplement: You can get iodine through a daily multivitamin.

What Is Iodine Deficiency?

Iodine deficiency occurs when the thyroid does not contain enough iodine to function properly. Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of your neck. It’s part of your endocrine system. Your thyroid produces thyroid hormones. The thyroid then releases the hormones into the bloodstream. Your blood carries them to your body tissues.

Thyroid hormones help your body use energy, keep you warm, and keep your organs functioning properly. Your unborn baby also needs thyroid hormones for proper bone and brain development during pregnancy. Iodine deficiency during pregnancy can lead to serious complications.

Who is affected by iodine deficiency?

Iodine- deficiency is rare in the United States. In many other parts of the world, many people do not get enough iodine. People who may be affected by iodine deficiency include:

  • People who do not use iodized salt. More than 10% of the world’s population has no access to iodized salt.
  • People living in areas far from the sea and at higher altitudes. Their natural environment contains very little iodine.
  • People who do not eat fish or dairy products, such as vegans. Seafood and dairy products are among the greatest sources of iodine.
  • Pregnant women; they need 50% more iodine than non-pregnant women to provide enough iodine for their unborn child.

Benefits of Iodine

In foetal and infant life, iodine plays an important role in the development of the central nervous and skeletal systems. The amount of iodine a breastfed baby gets depends on how much iodine the mother has. You can control the amount of iodine in formula if your baby is formula-fed, but rest assured that the U.S. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that infant formula contain iodine.

Recommended Intake of Iodine

Iodine deficiency is very devastating to the developing brain. Therefore, the requirements during pregnancy and lactation are significantly higher. The recommended daily intake of iodine (RDA) is:

  • From birth to 6 months: 110 micrograms (mcg)
  • From 7 to 12 months: 130 mcg
  • From 1 to 3 years: 90 mcg
  • From 4 to 8 years: 90 mcg
  • From 9 to 13 years: 120 mcg
  • From 14 to 18 years: 150 mcg
  • 19 years and older: 150 mcg
  • Pregnancy: 220 mcg
  • Breastfeeding: 290 mcg RDA

When the evidence is not strong enough to show what the RDA is for a particular nutrient, an Adequate Intake (AI) is instead offered as an estimate of the amount of a nutrient, mineral, or element.

Signs and Symptoms of Iodine Deficiency

These are the symptoms of iodine deficiency.

  • Thyroid function is slow. This is called hypothyroidism. In the United States, the causes of hypothyroidism are much more common than iodine deficiency, including pituitary problems and autoimmune disorders. An underactive thyroid can make you feel cold, slow cognitive function, and cause low mood.
  • You develop willpower. Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck. If there is a lack of iodine, the thyroid gland can enlarge, which is called a goiter. It can make swallowing and breathing difficult.
  • You have complications during pregnancy. Because iodine is essential for foetal development, severe deficiency can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and birth defects.

Causes and Risk Factors of Iodine Deficiency.

Iodine deficiency occurs when the body does not get enough of this element. In the United States, historically, iodine deficiency has been low. However, some groups may be more at risk.

Pregnant and Lactating Women

Pregnant and lactating women have higher iodine requirements due to iodine’s role in foetal development, brain development and child growth. Pregnant women should consume at least 220 mcg per day. Breastfeeding women need 290 mcg.

People on a Strict Diet

You can try a fad diet to lose weight, but sometimes this approach to eating can have unintended consequences. Whether you’re eliminating certain foods or food groups to improve your health, control a food allergy, or treat an illness, large-scale food group elimination diets are worth a closer look.

As previously mentioned, foods rich in iodine include dairy products, grains, seafood, and iodized salt. A small study of iodine levels in people on a vegetarian diet found that these groups may be at higher risk of deficiency. A 2017 study found that following the Paleo diet may also increase the likelihood of a deficiency in this nutrient.

Patients With Hypertension

If you have high blood pressure or heart disease, your doctor may have advised you to reduce your salt intake. Because of this, you might worry that consuming less salt puts you at risk of deficiency. Here’s what you need to know: if you’re already iodine-deficient and eating a low-sodium diet, your iodine levels may worsen but if you start with sufficient amounts, reducing your salt intake is safe and unlikely to lead to deficiency. If you have high blood pressure and are concerned about changing your diet, talk to your doctor.

Use “Fancy” Salts

It should also be noted that not all salts, including Himalayan pink salt, are iodized. Make sure you work with a registered dietitian to ensure you’re getting enough elements in your diet if you think you’re at risk of deficiency.

People With Other Nutritional Deficiencies

Other nutritional deficiencies that are rare in the United States, such as iron, selenium, vitamin A, and possibly zinc, may affect iodine nutrition and thyroid function, although more research is needed.

In the United States, older Americans may fall below the recommended zinc intake. Vitamin A deficiency is rare in all age groups, but some people with fat malabsorption are at risk, including those with cystic fibrosis. Selenium deficiency is also rare in the United States, but those on dialysis or living with HIV are at higher risk.

In contrast, iron deficiency is relatively more common in the United States. It is higher in pregnant women and those with blood loss. Vegetarians, infants, and children are also more likely to have an iron deficiency. There may be a cumulative effect on your risk of deficiency if you fall into one or more high-risk categories. People at risk who eat foods rich in goitrogens.

Goitrogens are substances in some foods that block iodine’s ability to reach the thyroid gland. Goitrogenic foods may not cause true iodine deficiency if you get enough iodine in your diet. But if your iodine intake is already low, goitrogens can have an aggravating effect. Foods high in goitrogens include:

  • Soy
  • Cabbage
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Brussels sprouts

Just remember that you only need to limit these foods if you have an active or borderline iodine deficiency.

Iodine Deficiency Diseases and Complications

Left untreated, iodine deficiency can lead to severe hypothyroidism. Complications can be:

  • Heart disease and related conditions such as enlarged heart and heart failure.
  • Mental health problems such as depression and cognitive impairment
  • Damage to the peripheral nerves of the body known as peripheral neuropathy.
  • Ovulation disorder, which can lead to infertility in women.

Low levels of thyroid hormones in pregnant women may increase the risk of birth defects in their children. Pregnancy-related problems that iodine deficiency can cause include:

  • Miscarriages
  • Stillbirth
  • Premature labour
  • Congenital Anomalies in New-borns

In severe cases, iodine deficiency can cause a condition called cretinism.

When Should You Call a Doctor?

Myxedema is a rare but life-threatening complication of hypothyroidism that can be caused by iodine deficiency. Symptoms include:

  • A strong intolerance to low temperatures
  • Drowsiness, followed by extreme fatigue and finally unconsciousness

In people with hypothyroidism, certain things can trigger a myxedema coma. These include sedatives, an infection, or other stressors on the body.

How Is Iodine Deficiency Tested?

If your doctor suspects you may be iodine deficient, they will typically check your iodine levels in one of four ways:

urine test: This is the simplest and quickest test. You can get results in minutes, but it’s not as accurate as some of the other iodine tests.

  • Blood test: This is a simple and accurate test of the level of iodine in the body. However, the reading takes longer than a urinalysis.
  • Iodine Patch Test – The iodine patch test is a test where doctors draw an iodine patch on the skin and see how it looks 24 hours later. For those who are not iodine deficient, the patch wears off within 24 hours. A deficiency is likely to cause the skin to absorb iodine faster. This test isn’t the most accurate, but it’s inexpensive and relatively quick.
  • Iodine Load Test – This test measures the amount of iodine that you excrete in your urine over a 24-hour period. It’s not the fastest test; It’s not the most comfortable either. (You must collect every urine sample you have within 24 hours.) However, it’s pretty accurate.

Treatment of Iodine Deficiency

Iodine deficiency is best corrected through a healthy diet. If your diet alone isn’t providing enough iodine, consider iodine supplementation. Common people who may not be getting enough dietary iodine include:

  • Vegetarians
  • Vegan
  • Pregnant Women

Iodine supplements that contain potassium are most easily absorbed by the body. Look for supplements that contain potassium iodide and potassium iodate. Do not take supplements greater than 150 mcg per day. This could lead to iodine overload, which is also bad for the thyroid.

Most people with iodine deficiency can solve their health problems by changing their diet and adding supplements. People with myxedema require hospitalization. In the hospital, doctors give intravenous fluids and other stabilizing treatments. They will also administer thyroid hormones to correct the condition. After a person with myxedema is stable, doctors monitor their thyroid function and determine whether changing their diet to ensure they are getting enough iodine will keep their hormone levels stable.

How Is Iodine Deficiency Diagnosed?

Iodine deficiency is generally not diagnosed in individuals, and instead urinary iodine levels are tested in the whole population to determine whether a community is deficient or at increased risk of deficiency. However, if your doctor suspects you may have iodine deficiency, the condition can be diagnosed individually with blood tests that measure thyroid hormones.

Iodine Deficiency Prognosis

Eating foods or taking supplements as recommended by your doctor will help increase the levels of iodine in your body. You may also need treatment if iodine deficiency is causing health problems. For example, if you have a goiter (enlarged thyroid) caused by a lack of iodine in your diet (there are other reasons for goiter), then using iodized salt or eating seafood twice a week is a lifestyle remedy that will help you amount your body needs.

Duration of Iodine Deficiency

Some research indicates that iodine supplements are effective in raising levels to desired levels. A small study in young women found that iodine supplementation of 150 mcg daily increased urinary levels of the mineral by 1.8-fold after 45 days. After 90 days of supplementation, the number of study participants with adequate iodine levels increased by 42 percent. The authors concluded that a multivitamin or prenatal vitamin containing iodine taken before conception or early in pregnancy can adequately replenish iodine stores in individuals who are deficient.

What Is the Prognosis for Iodine Deficiency?

If caught early, iodine deficiency can be completely corrected with few or no side effects. However, if recognized after complications have arisen, many complications, especially in children, can be permanent. Even if complications have developed after iodine deficiency, adequate iodine intake can prevent the complications from getting worse in the future.


Saravavan Nadarajan (Vanan)

Vanan, fitness expert and leader at EzFit Singapore, specializes in holistic training—home-based, boot camps, and corporate fitness—with over a decade of industry experience.

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