Some groups of people are at higher risk for iodine deficiency than others – see what the signs are.
When you think of iodine – the chemical that helps your body produce thyroid hormones and regulate energy – you probably associate it with salt. This is because in the 1920s, researchers discovered that people in some parts of America had goiter, or an enlarged thyroid gland, due to iodine deficiency. The solution; The US government has advised some companies to start adding iodine to salt – and this intervention has helped a lot.
But while most of us do not really need to worry about our iodine levels, there is an important caveat: Research has shown that women who are pregnant or breastfeeding are at high risk for iodine deficiency. And this is due to the fact that there is an increased need for iodine for the development of the fetal thyroid.
While iodine deficiency is difficult to diagnose, it does not mean that you can not learn to spot the warning signs and make sure you are getting enough. See everything you need to know.
What are the signs of iodine deficiency?
Symptoms usually occur only when the iodine deficiency is severe, which is rare. Although there is a test for iodine deficiency (urine test) and you can ask your GP or endocrinologist, there is a huge fluctuation in iodine levels day by day, even hour by hour, so you really need at least 10 or so. 12 exams to find out what your real situation is. But there are some common signs to look out for.
Goiter (swollen thyroid gland)
When your iodine intake drops below 100 micrograms (mcg) a day, your body begins to pump more thyroid hormone called TSH. This can lead to enlargement of the thyroid gland (also known as goiter), which is the most common symptom of iodine deficiency.
A goiter may or may not be visible as a lump on the front of your neck. Sometimes you will not notice it if you do not do an ultrasound or CT scan. Also if you have a goiter, you may feel a choking sensation or have difficulty swallowing or breathing.
If your iodine intake drops below 10 to 20 mcg a day, you may develop hypothyroidism or hypothyroidism (meaning your thyroid is not producing enough hormones). Symptoms may include fatigue, weight gain, hair loss, dry hair, dry skin, constipation, cold intolerance, swollen face, hoarseness, muscle weakness / pain, depression, memory loss and more.
Patients with hypothyroidism usually have at least two or three of the above symptoms. Just keep in mind that these symptoms may be due to many other health conditions or even medications you may be taking, so contact your doctor to find the root of the problem.
Pregnancy complications or child development problems
Iodine deficiency has been linked to infertility, miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth and congenital anomalies.
Infants and children whose mothers were deficient in iodine during pregnancy or breastfeeding may have lower IQs, mental retardation, growth retardation, or speech and hearing problems.
How to get enough iodine
The best way to prevent iodine deficiency is to make sure you get the recommended intakes:
- Adult men and women: 150 mcg
- Pregnant: 220 mcg
- Breastfeeding: 290 mcg
Anything below these amounts is not ideal – but anything above these amounts can also lead to hyperthyroidism (also known as an overactive thyroid) and other problems.
So first, make sure you buy table salt that is iodized. When the salt is iodized, it must be stated on the package. You can also modify your diet to include more iodine-rich foods. Natural sources of iodine include everything that lives and grows in salt water, so mussels, lobsters, oysters, sardines.
While the American Heart Association recommends eating no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day (ideally 1,500 for most adults), one-third of a tablespoon of iodized salt will give you 150 mcg of iodine.
If you are vegan or vegetarian talk to your doctor about whether it is a good idea to take an iodine supplement, as it may interact negatively with medications (such as blood pressure medications) you are already taking.