The most common micronutrient deficiency in the world is iodine, eventually leading to goiter, or enlarged thyroid gland. Over 1.5 billion people are earth are affected by iodine deficiency with 650 million suffering from clinical iodine deficiency. Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of mental retardation in the world, leading to cretinism. Even in the developed nations, marginal iodine deficiency can lead to increased risk for breast cancer, since the breasts are literally iodine “sponges” requiring iodine to nourish the newborn child.
Iodine is one of the mineral nutrients required by the body for good health and survival. But because the body cannot produce it, you must get it through diet. However, the modern conventional diet may not provide adequate iodine. This has caused widespread iodine deficiency, leading to iodine deficiency disorders (IDDs) such as goiter. But this can be resolved easily through proper diet.
Which body processes require iodine?
The body primarily uses iodine in the synthesis of thyroid hormones. These hormones affect critical body processes including the following:
- Energy metabolism
- Nerve and muscle function
- Brain development in unborn babies
- Production of blood cells
- Proper functioning of salivary glands
- Regulation of body temperature
- Improved immunity
- Breast health, preventing breast cancer
Recommended daily amounts of iodine
The daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of iodine depends on age and other factors such as pregnancy and lactation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the daily intake for adults should be 100-150 mcg/day and 50-90mcg/day for infants aged twelve months and below. The US Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends the following daily amounts:
|Infants (1 year and below)||110-130 mcg/day|
|Children (1-11 years)||90 – 120 mcg/day|
|Adolescents and adults||120 – 150 mcg/day|
|Pregnant women||220 mcg/day|
|Lactating women||290 mcg/day|
Symptoms of iodine deficiency
Iodine deficiency in the body can be displayed through several symptoms. The most obvious is goiter. However, there are more symptoms that you should look out for, some of which include:
- Goiter – This is the enlargement of the thyroid gland. It may become visible and is usually seen as a lump on the front of the neck. In some instances it is invisible and may only be diagnosed by ultrasound imaging or CT scan. But the patient may feel a choking sensation or have difficulties in breathing or swallowing.
- Hypothyroidism – This is a condition in which the thyroid becomes less active. The most common indicators of hypothyroidism include:
- Hair loss
- Increased sensitivity to the cold
- Inability to lose weight
- Brain fog or memory loss
- Muscle aches
- Dry skin and dry hair
- Abnormal menstrual cycles in females
- Complications in Pregnancy – The deficiency of iodine in pregnant women has been connected with various problems in pregnancy. These include miscarriages, preterm delivery, congenital abnormalities, infertility as well as stillbirths.
- Developmental Issues –Iodine deficiency in pregnant and lactating mothers is linked to developmental problems in their children. As a result, these children may experience mental retardation, slow growth and low IQ. Speech and hearing problems have also been reported.
But besides these obvious signs, iodine deficiency can cause the following issues:
It is important to note that iodine deficiency symptoms only occur when the deficiency is severe. This means that even when iodine deficiency is present without being extreme, you might have no symptoms. Also, the symptoms, especially those of hypothyroidism are not limited to the condition. Other conditions may have similar symptoms.
Additionally, iodine levels in a healthy adult vary throughout the day. It is therefore difficult to diagnose deficiency with one test. Therefore, to avoid deficiency, you need to observe the daily recommended dietary allowances and ensure your diet contains adequate amounts of iodine.
Causes of iodine deficiency
As noted above, the body has no way of producing iodine. It therefore relies on your diet to supply its iodine needs. The following are some of the reasons why you could become iodine deficient:
- Pregnancy – During pregnancy or breastfeeding periods, women may become iodine deficient. This is because of the increased need of iodine supply for self and for the development of fetal thyroid, brain, muscle and nerves.
- Veganism – People who do not take animal products are at a higher risk of iodine deficiency. This is because other than salt, iodine is found in foods such as milk, eggs, seaweed and seafood. Therefore, failure to take such food deprives them of iodine.
- Iodine deficiency in farmed soil – Globally, iodine concentration in the soil in several large geographical areas is low. This occurs mainly in the mountainous areas as well as regions far from the ocean. As much as 29 percent of the world’s population lives in such areas. The people who only take food produced in these areas are therefore more likely to suffer from iodine deficiency.
How widespread is iodine deficiency?
In the United States, severe iodine deficiency is rare. This is because through a government directive in the 1920s, salt producing companies started adding iodine to the salt. This has led to less cases of iodine deficiency.
However, recent reports indicate that iodine levels have decreased significantly over the last three decades. The World Health Organization approximates that nearly 72 percent of the global population is iodine deficient. These indications show the need for action to address this widespread iodine deficiency.
How to Fix Your Iodine Deficiency Through Diet
While there are few extreme cases of iodine deficiency disorders, iodine deficiency is real and widespread. This is unfortunate and calls for comprehensive implementation of ways of alleviating the problem.Iodine deficiency can be resolved in the following ways:
Public education on the importance of including iodine in the diet can lead to complete eradication of iodine deficiency and the accompanying disorders. Some people are at a higher risk of developing iodine deficiency due to conditions such as pregnancy, veganism, etc. When such people understand their risks, they are better placed to take precautionary measures.
2. Iodine-rich diet
Regularly eating a diet containing iodine can easily help resolve iodine deficiency. Food that are rich in iodine include:
- All ocean food, since the primary source of iodine is the ocean
3. Iodine supplements
Supplementation should be considered in cases where the diet may have inadequate iodine. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) is set to prevent frank clinical deficiency symptoms. People in coastal areas often eat 100 to 1000 times the RDA without any symptoms of toxicity.
While iodine deficiency is apparently low, it may in fact be widespread. It is a likely cause of low energy, depression, dry skin, poor immunity, forgetfulness and muscle weakness. The good news is that iodine deficiency can be easily resolved through a diet that includes iodine-rich foods.