Our bodies have many nutritional needs, not the least of which are minerals. However, while you may think of such vital minerals as magnesium, iron, or zinc when the subject comes up, you may not be quite as familiar with iodine.
But, as a key mineral with functions relating to the thyroid, hormone production, and radiation protection, iodine is one of the most important minerals there are, and deficiencies can have some dangerous health ramifications. In fact, without iodine your thyroid could not produce many of the essential hormones you need and can also put you at risk not only for hypothyroidism, but also diseases such as osteoporosis and cancer.
So, to further help you understand this highly important mineral and the effects it has on your health, here is what you need to know about the many benefits of iodine, the dangers of not getting enough, and how to get more should you be deficient.
What is Iodine?
To start, iodine is a naturally-occurring mineral which is common in many foods, though mainly in seafood, which you need for healthy thyroid function. And, since your thyroid produces hormones necessary in monitoring your metabolism, bone health, and the mental development in children, it is important that we get enough of it in our diet.
And, iodine also has antiseptic qualities with few—if any—adverse effects, making it an excellent choice in the treatment of external wounds over antibiotics from conventional pharmaceutical sources. In fact, povidone-iodine is commonly used to both disinfect the skin of patients for surgery or minor wounds, as well as a cleansing antiseptic for practitioner’s hands. (1,2 )
Iodine is, however, most important nutritionally, where it is responsible for many essential aspects of your health.
Iodine’s Function in the Body
Without iodine, you cannot live. This is because it performs many important functions in your body which have many effects on your health, including:
1. Thyroid function—A healthy thyroid is crucial in the metabolism of all bodily tissues and is also important in the development of the central nervous system in children. This means that a healthy thyroid—meaning a thyroid which receives adequate amounts of iodine daily—is important for metabolism, bone strength, respiratory function, weight control, muscle strength and many other health aspects.
2. Hormone production—Iodine is responsible for helping the thyroid produce two main hormones, which are triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). Both T4 and T3 circulate to every cell in your body and are responsible for regulating the metabolism of your body’s functions, including heart rate and digestion. (3)
3. Breast health—There is a connection between high rates of breast cancer in those with a history of thyroid cancer, as well as high rates of thyroid cancer in those with a history of breast cancer. This clear connection in the increased odds of developing a secondary malignancy of those diagnosed with either breast or thyroid cancer is likely due to hormonal risk factors stemming from inadequate production of T3 and T4, which is something iodine levels play an important role in producing. (4) Fibrocystic breast changes—or the development of non-cancerous cysts in the breasts—may also be attributed to hormone deficiency of the thyroid. One small case study did show an increase in incidence of benign breast disease of 54.9% of women with nodular goiter (hypothyroidism).(5)
4. Bone health—A deficiency of iodine can lead to hypothyroidism, which is where the thyroid cannot produce enough hormones, and likewise, too much iodine can also cause hypothyroidism—as well as hyperthyroidism. However, when too much thyroid hormone (thyroxine) is present (such as in the case of hyperthyroidism), natural bone loss is accelerated. Likewise, if the level of TSH is too low for extended periods—such as in the case of hypothyroidism—the risk for osteoporosis also increases, and there is evidence that those with low TSH levels may also lose bone at a faster rate than those with healthy levels of it. (6)
5. Protection from radiation—Iodine deficiency in those exposed to radiation can lead to an increased risk of thyroid cancer. This is because iodine absorbs and traps radiation, which can then be taken in by the thyroid. This then increases the risk for thyroid cancer unless a nonradioactive source is available to absorb and pass-along excess radiation.
In fact, the administration of pharmacologic doses of up to 130 mg of potassium iodine within 48 hours of radioactive contact can greatly reduce the risk of cancer. This appears to be the case in Poland after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, which explains Poland’s lack of a significant increase in childhood thyroid cancer in comparison to other areas affected by the disaster. (7)
Signs of Iodine Deficiency
The main symptom of iodine deficiency is an enlarged thyroid, otherwise known of as a goiter. A lack of adequate amounts of T3/T4-producing iodine causes an adaptation by the gland in response to persistent TSH stimulation, which is goiterism.
In more severe cases, this can lead to hypothyroidism, which is when hormone synthesis in the thyroid is impaired. Typically, goiters and hypothyroidism can be reversed when adequate levels of iodine are restored either through diet or supplementation.
Unfortunately, it is the underproduction of hormones in the thyroid which can have the greatest repercussions, since it can lead to hypothyroidism, osteoporosis, weight gain, hair loss, low energy, brain fog, slowed metabolism, and other symptoms of inadequate hormone production. (8)
Food Sources of Iodine
So far as getting enough iodine in the foods you eat, it is not too hard, so long as you have access to seafood. However, even if you don’t, iodine is naturally-occurring in other foods such as raw, unpasteurized dairy products, eggs, fruits and vegetables, as long as they were produced in regions with iodine in the soil.
Iodine has also been commonly added to salt since the 1920’s to help reduce the occurrence of goiters. However, not all salt is iodized, so look for salt which states “iodized” on the label. Relying mainly on table salt is also not recommended, since doing so can lead health complications related to high sodium levels, such as high blood pressure, kidney disease, and the risk of heart attack and stroke. You can try going with sea salt or Himalayan pink salt to supplement other iodine sources, which, while likely being lower lower in iodine than iodized salt, may contain less sodium per teaspoon due to its bulkier texture. (9)
For the best natural food sources of iodine, go with wild-harvested seaweeds such as kelp, nori or wakame, and you can also enjoy fresh ocean-caught fish, such as cod, Pacific Salmon, or sardines. However, be sure to limit your selections to either cold water fish, or fishes low on the food chain to reduce your risk of heavy metal contamination. (10)
Should you Use an Iodine Supplement?
Of course, if you don’t have access to foods high in iodine—or if you simply don’t enjoy these types of foods—you can go with a dietary supplement. However, keep in mind that too much iodine can have nearly the same effects as too little, so be sure to follow the correct recommended daily allowance for your age, and levels should also be increased if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
However, using a high-quality supplement which contains both iodine and potassium iodide such as Hotze Vitamin’s Iodine Complex is an excellent way to include enough nonradioactive iodine into your diet to ensure a healthy thyroid function. Doing this can help you avoid problems commonly associated with a lack of dietary iodine, such as goiter, brain fog, weight gain, low energy and dry, flaky skin.
Iodine is necessary for a healthy thyroid function. In fact, without enough of this critical mineral, you not only risk the occurrence of goiterism, but of the many problems associated with underproduction of pituitary hormones.
And, while there are many good sources of iodine in our modern diet, it is recommended that foods such as fresh, wild-caught ocean fishes, seaweeds, and other seafood be enjoyed on a regular basis, and iodine can also be naturally-occurring in many fruits, vegetables, meats and raw dairy products–though in lesser quantities.
And, if you choose to (or need to) use an iodine supplement to ensure you are getting enough of this vital mineral, it is recommended that you opt for a high-potency vegetarian formula which contains both iodine and potassium iodide to help you maintain your thyroid health safely and naturally.
Plus, it is nice to know that you can keep some povidone-iodine on hand as an antiseptic for minor wounds and burns for safe and natural wound healing!
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