Iodine is a vital mineral for the human body. Responsible for growth processes, the development of the nervous system and thus the brain, iodine is of great importance.
In this article we would like to explain the main functions of iodine and also the symptoms and causes of iodine deficiency. In addition, we want to bring you closer to the long-term consequences that can arise for both the body and the psyche and give you valuable advice on how to prevent a deficiency and treat the symptoms.
the essentials in brief
- Iodine has a vital function for the organism. It helps maintain healthy brain function, helps control body temperature and maintains skin health.
- It is not produced by the body itself and must therefore be supplied from outside. This is usually done through a balanced diet with enough iodine-containing foods such as fish and seafood.
- If you do not take in enough iodine, you will have an iodine deficiency, which is particularly dangerous during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Symptoms include sleep and concentration disorders, persistent tiredness and skin changes.
Iodine deficiency symptoms: what you should know
Before we explain how you can prevent and treat iodine deficiency and what alternatives there are, you should acquire some essential background information.
Below we show you the answers to the most important questions about iodine deficiency and its symptoms.
What is iodine and what does my body need it for?
Iodine is a vital trace element, belongs to the minerals and is responsible for growth processes, the development of the nervous system and thus the brain.
The World Health Organization and the German Society for Nutrition set the daily iodine requirement at 100 to 200 micrograms.
It is also of particular importance for the thyroid gland, which must be supplied with sufficient iodine. Iodine is the basis for the production of the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine T3 and thyroxine T4. The thyroid has the capacity to handle iodine efficiently when availability becomes scarce or available in excess. (1). If the supply of iodine is not sufficient, the stores in the thyroid gland last up to two months. (9)
Iodine cannot be produced by the body itself and must be supplied from outside. A lack of iodine can have serious health consequences for the human body.
What are the causes of iodine deficiency?
Iodine deficiency can have different causes. On the one hand, it occurs when the daily required amount of iodine is not ingested through food. There is a different need depending on age, growth, development and calorie consumption.
Fish such as plaice, mackerel, cod or pollock are rich in iodine and can already cover the daily requirement with 100 to 200 grams per portion. (Image sources: Ponyo Sakana / pexels)
The other possibility consists of special metabolic requirements, which occur during pregnancy, breastfeeding and high athletic performance and lead to a larger amount of iodine being required. While more iodine is excreted through sweat during sport, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers also have to take care of their babies.
How do the iodine deficiency symptoms manifest themselves?
An iodine deficiency does not necessarily have to cause symptoms, at least not directly. The signs often appear insidiously and are not noticed or taken into account by those affected. However, severe iodine deficiency can lead to many different ailments. These include, among other things:
- difficulty concentrating
- tiredness and weakness
- Growth and development disorders
- sleep disorders
- sensitivity to cold
- weight gain
- hair loss
- skin changes
- swelling in the neck
- Difficulty breathing and swallowing
- Irregular menstrual bleeding
If you want to be sure about the amount of iodine in your body, your doctor can do a blood test to determine this.
What does iodine deficiency mean during pregnancy?
During pregnancy there is a very high iodine requirement, which is around 230 micrograms and 260 micrograms per day when breastfeeding. (11)
Iodine deficiency during pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth, as well as birth defects.
The thyroid function of the child, the development of the central nervous system and the growth of the body and bones are already dependent on the mother having an adequate supply of iodine in the womb. An iodine deficiency in the mother in turn leads to an iodine deficiency in the child. As a result, the child can also experience breathing disorders and swallowing difficulties. (7)
What diseases can iodine deficiency symptoms lead to?
When the body is deficient in iodine, the thyroid tries to compensate for this deficient function through additional growth, which causes the thyroid cells to multiply and also enlarge.
Spinach, as a plant source, also contains iodine, but in smaller amounts. There are about 12 micrograms of iodine in 100 grams of spinach - 17 micrograms of iodine in cooked spinach. (Image sources: Lisa Fotios / pexels)
There are pathological changes in the thyroid gland. This can be either an overactive thyroid or an underactive thyroid. This uncontrolled growth leads to the formation of hot and cold nodules in the thyroid gland. (5)
The thyroid hormones also play a crucial role in the regulation of blood pressure and the cardiovascular system. If the deficiency persists for a long time, the cholesterol level in the blood increases and thus leads to a narrowing of the coronary arteries.
What do iodine deficiency symptoms mean for the psyche?
The deficiency not only has numerous consequences for physical health, but can also affect the psyche.
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are closely related to psychological symptoms. Those affected often suffer from delusions, hallucinations or severe depression. You have a fluctuating emotional state, are nervous, aggressive, irritable or anxious. You sweat quickly, cannot relax properly, have trouble concentrating and sleeping. In the worst case, psychosis or suicidal thoughts can also occur. (2)
How to prevent iodine deficiency symptoms?
The World Health Organization estimates that around 750 million to 1 billion people worldwide are affected by iodine deficiency.
Due to its very low iodine soil, Germany is considered an iodine deficiency area. (8) The daily iodine requirement for an adult is 200 micrograms. In order to prevent the symptoms of iodine deficiency, it is important to consume this intended amount. This can happen on the one hand via the important iodine supplier iodized salt or via nutrition. Alternatively, you can use iodine supplements. (1)
Which foods contain iodine?
In addition to iodized salt, foods containing iodine are primarily sushi, algae, fish and seafood. Milk and milk products such as cheese or yoghurt also ensure a constant supply of iodine.
Below we have listed an overview of some foods and their respective iodine content.
|Groceries||Iodine content per 100 grams|
|wakame||10 000 micrograms|
|nori||5 000 micrograms|
|iodized salt||2 000 micrograms|
Cabbage, radishes, millet and corn should be avoided if there is an iodine deficiency or they should at least be eaten less frequently, as they can limit and prevent iodine intake. (6)
How do you treat iodine deficiency symptoms?
If signs of iodine deficiency are noticed, a doctor should be consulted immediately. If the deficiency has not lasted for a long time or in younger people, the doctor can prescribe a drug to replenish the thyroid stores. After that, the patient should pay attention to his diet in order to avoid a renewed deficiency.
If the iodine deficiency has existed for a long time or affects older people, the thyroid function is first examined in detail before a decision is made about treatment. Combination therapy with iodine preparations and thyroid hormones is then often carried out. Afterwards, it is also important to ensure that there is sufficient iodine intake through the diet and, if necessary, a low-dose iodine medication.
In most cases, doctors administer additional iodine tablets to compensate for the iodine deficit.
Possible side effects when taking iodine-containing medicines include allergic reactions, runny nose, skin rash, dry cough, headache and diarrhea. (3)
What role do preparations play in combating iodine deficiency symptoms?
Iodine is not only ingested through food. If there is a desire to have children, and during pregnancy and breastfeeding, additional iodine supplementation makes sense.
More than 1 milligram per day leads to an overdose and thus possibly to iodine poisoning, which can be fatal.
It is possible to take dietary supplements such as multivitamin preparations, medications (e.g. amiodarone), X-ray contrast media and brown wound disinfectant. However, these supplements should not be taken if you have been advised by your doctor not to consume large amounts of iodine.
However, you should not overdo it when taking supplements and pay attention to the right dosage. (4)
What alternatives are there to iodine supplements?
In order to be able to successfully compensate for an iodine deficiency, there are different approaches that are designed to meet the corresponding needs.
An important source of iodine is iodized salt, which at 100 micrograms per teaspoon covers half of an adult's daily iodine requirement. When cooking at home, you can use iodized table salt.
In order to enable optimal iodine supply, 70 countries such as Germany, Switzerland and the USA have introduced iodized table salt. (9)
Iodine requirements can be met naturally through diet. The foods include in particular sushi or algae, various types of fish and dairy products.
However, iodine-containing mineral water and iodine-containing toothpaste also contribute to iodine intake.
In addition to iodized salt and iodine-rich foods, there is another intake option. For example, in a salt cave or in the fresh sea air, the body absorbs the iodine from the air we breathe.
In conclusion, it can be recommended that you do not underestimate the importance of iodine. Iodine is responsible for various vital processes in the body and you should therefore ensure that you have sufficient intake in your diet in order to avoid both a deficiency and an overdose.
In the event of a deficiency, there is the option of using iodine supplements as an alternative or in addition to nutrition. An iodine deficiency not only has physical but also psychological consequences for you and can therefore have a decisive impact on your quality of life.
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- Prof. Dr. medical Hans Udo Zieren. Hypothyroidism and Mental Illness
- Abby G Ershow, Gay Goodman, Paul M Coates, Christine A Swanson (2016). Assessing iodine intake, iodine status, and the effects of maternal iodine supplementation: introduction
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- P N Taylor, B Vaidya (2016). Iodine supplementation in pregnancy - is it time?
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