Iodine deficiency is a global health issue. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates over 2 billion people may be iodine deficient, with up to 50 million of them suffering from serious symptoms of iodine deficiency, such as brain damage. Once a rare problem in the Western world, this imbalance is on the increase in North America.
This may be related to modern, industrial agricultural practices and a lack of minerals in the soil. Environmental pollutants have robbed the soil of natural mineral levels, and this in turn, translates into poor iodine content in foods. In fact, in some regions of the country, soil levels of iodine are naturally low, and in regions where they used to be high, we are witnessing depletion. Iodine is especially necessary for pregnant women, their unborn babies, and young children; a deficiency can lead to severe developmental issues.[4, 5, 6] Recently, Iodine deficiency has been linked to autism in children.
Symptoms of Iodine Deficiency
Length: 2 minutes
Iodine deficiency symptoms manifest as a result of improper thyroid hormone production. Simply stated, when the thyroid gland does not receive enough iodine, trouble ensues. The more serious signs and symptoms of iodine deficiency may vary according to individuals, but usually include the following:
- Thyroid enlargement - sometimes called "goiter"
- Mental imbalances such as depression and anxiety
- Mental retardation (in extreme cases, and particular in children of mothers who have had an iodine deficiency)
- Fetal hypothyroidism (improper functioning of the thyroid in unborn children, leading to brain damage).
Other Symptoms of Iodine Deficiency
Beyond the global issue of iodine deficiency in children, Westerners are also susceptible to a lack of iodine. Many researchers are looking into the correlations between various chronic conditions and a lack of iodine.
Some of the lesser-known symptoms of iodine deficiency include:
Slowed Brain Function
Studies have shown the correlation between the shortage of iodine and cognitive function, particularly in the gestation period in children. In fact, one study from 2009 found that iodine supplementation in mildly-deficient children helped improve their perceptual reasoning.
Iodine deficiency leaves us open to free radical exposure, particularly in the thyroid gland, specifically in regard to the accumulation of harmful levels of fluoride, perchlorate, and goitrogens. This can cause individuals with symptoms of iodine deficiency to experience more colds and flus.
Emotional Upset and Anxiety
Due to the relationship between iodine and hormone balance, an iodine deficiency disrupts the proper functioning of hormone receptors and communication. This may lead to emotional imbalances, anxiety and a lack of sexual interest.
Cysts, soreness, and heaviness in breasts
A study reported in the Canadian Journal of Surgery found that 70% of patients given iodine supplements showed an improvement in their fibrocystic breast disease . This leads to speculation on the correlation between iodine deficiency and breast cancer, although more research is required. It is generally accepted that there is a connection between a lack of iodine in women, and breast pain/tenderness that can accompany the menstrual cycle.
Compromised organ function
Because of iodine's role in organ health, iodine deficiency may lead to an inability of the bodies organs to detoxify. Compromised function of the detoxification organs may eventually lead to overall organ failure.
Improper thyroid function
The New England Journal of Medicine reported a correlation between iodine intake and thyroid disease. When the thyroid cannot function properly, it can lead to a whole host of symptoms. These include fatigue, exhaustion, puffy eyes, digestive upset, muscle pain, depression, weight gain, swelling in the body, menstrual upset, fuzzy head, memory impairment, allergic skin reactions, dry skin, brittle nails, sensitivity to cold, hair loss, high cholesterol or general low immunity.
Other possible symptoms of iodine deficiency are currently under scientific research. This research is looking into the possible correlations between iodine deficiency and breast and stomach cancers. Preliminary studies show that iodine deficiency may produce an increased incidence of cancerous malignancies in animals. Similarly, other research shows a possible relationship between iodine levels and gastric forms of cancer. These studies offer hope, as both show a decreased rate of cancer development when the animals are given an iodine-prophylaxis supplement.
Everything You Need to Know About Iodine
Length: 61 minutes
- Dr Oleg Chestnov. Sustaining the elimination of iodine deficiency disorders (IDD). Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health World Health Organization.
- Kibblewhite M., Ritz K, Swift M. Soil health in agricultural systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 2008;363(1492):685-701. doi:10.1098/rstb.2007.2178.
- Zimmermann MB. Iodine deficiency in industrialised countries. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society (2010), 69, 133-143. doi:10.1017/S0029665109991819
- Delange F. [Disorders due to iodine deficiency] [Article in French]. Acta Clin Belg. 1990;45(6):394-411.
- Sardana D, Nanda S, Kharb S. Thyroid hormones in pregnancy and preeclampsia. Journal of the Turkish German Gynecological Association. 2009;10(3):168-171.
- U.S. Department of HEalth and Human Services, National Institute of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Iodine Fact Sheet for Consumers. Last updated February 17, 2016.
- Hamza RT, Hewedi DH, Sallam MT. Iodine deficiency in Egyptian autistic children and their mothers: relation to disease severity. Arch Med Res. 2013 Oct ;44(7):555-61. doi: 10.1016/j.arcmed.2013.09.012. Epub 2013 Oct 10.
- Eastman CJ, Zimmermann M. The Iodine Deficiency Disorders. [Updated 2014 Feb 12]. In: De Groot LJ, Beck-Peccoz P, Chrousos G, et al., editors. Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000-.
- Gordon RC, Rose MC, Skeaff SA, Gray AR, Morgan KM, Ruffman T. Iodine supplementation improves cognition in mildly iodine-deficient children. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Nov;90(5):1264-71. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2009.28145. Epub 2009 Sep 2.
- Medline Plus. Iodine in diet. U.S. National Library of Medicine.
- Ahad F, Ganie SA. Iodine, Iodine metabolism and Iodine deficiency disorders revisited. Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2010;14(1):13-17.
- Maria-Jesus Obregon, Francisco Escobar del Rey, and Gabriella Morreale de Escobar. The effects of iodine deficiency on thyroid hormone deiodination. Thyroid. August 2005, 15(8): 917-929. doi:10.1089/thy.2005.15.917.
- Ghent WR, Eskin BA, Low DA, Hill LP. Iodine replacement in fibrocystic disease of the breast. Can J Surg. 1993 Oct;36(5):453-60.
- Teng W, Shan Z, Teng X, Guan H, Li Y, Teng D, Jin Y, Yu X, Fan C, Chong W, Yang F, Dai H, Yu Y, Li J, Chen Y, Zhao D, Shi X, Hu F, Mao J, Gu X, Yang R, Tong Y, Wang W, Gao T, Li C. Effect of iodine intake on thyroid diseases in China. N Engl J Med. 2006 Jun 29;354(26):2783-93.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.