Iodine is an essential mineral. Your body needs it to function properly but cannot make it on its own. Instead, you need to consume it.
Most people get all the iodine they need from food. It’s mainly present in foods such as fish, seaweed, and dairy. It’s widely available in the form of iodized salt. It also exists in the Earth’s soil, but the content varies from one area to the next. As such, the iodine content of produce varies.
Iodine is essential for thyroid functioning. Your thyroid needs it to produce hormones essential for metabolism. A deficiency can lead to hypothyroidism, meaning that your thyroid isn’t working as well as it should, and it can lead to issues such as fatigue, joint pain, and fertility problems. The mineral is also important for women who are pregnant and young children, because it plays a role in proper bone and brain development.
Many people get all the iodine they need from food. Some, however, need a supplement to help ensure they meet their requirements.
Iodine’s most important role is to ensure proper thyroid function. It helps to regulate the production of the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Getting enough iodine is essential for preventing low thyroid hormone production and hypothyroidism.
Other health benefits of iodine include:
Proper Development during Pregnancy
Women who are pregnant need more iodine in their diet. Iodine is essential for the proper brain development of babies. Research has found that babies born to women who do not get enough iodine during pregnancy are more likely to have intellectual delays and lower IQs than children born to mothers who get enough iodine during pregnancy.
Women who are breastfeeding also have higher iodine needs, because they supply their infants with the mineral through breast milk. The mother getting enough ensures the infant gets what they need, too, to ensure proper brain development.
Improved Cognitive Function in Children
The same brain-developing benefits of iodine for developing babies and infants extends into early childhood. Children who don’t get enough iodine are at an increased risk of intellectual disabilities.
Healthy Birth Weight
Getting sufficient iodine during pregnancy may contribute to a healthy birth weight. One study on pregnant women with goiters showed that increasing iodine intake can correct goiters and lead to an improvement in birth weight.
Lowering the Risk of Goiters
A goiter is an enlarged thyroid, and it often occurs as a result of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). The most common cause is a lack of iodine in the diet. It may also occur as a result of certain conditions, such as Hashimoto’s or Grave’s diseases. In rare instances, a goiter may develop as a result of a genetic defect, injury, or tumor. Getting enough iodine can help to prevent the development of dietary-related goiters.
May Treat Fibrocystic Breast Disease
Fibrocystic breast disease is a noncancerous condition that causes painful lumps in the breasts. It typically occurs in women of reproductive age, but it may also affect some women after menopause. Some research indicates that iodine may help reduce the pain and other symptoms, but more research is needed to support this.
May Help Treat Thyroid Cancer
Radioactive iodine may help to treat people with thyroid cancer. Your thyroid absorbs nearly all of the iodine you take in. Taking radioactive iodine destroys thyroid cells, including cancerous ones, not removed by surgery. It may also help increase the lifespan of people who have differentiated thyroid cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
Getting enough iodine is essential for ensuring proper thyroid function. Getting too much, however, can lead to problems as well.
Getting too much iodine can lead to iodine toxicity. Symptoms range depending upon how much you take, and they can range from nausea and vomiting to a weak pulse and delirium.
In some instances, excessive amounts of iodine can lead to an overactive thyroid, also called hyperthyroidism.
While ensuring you consume enough iodine can help prevent goiters from developing, too much iodine may actually cause them to form.
High amounts of iodine in your diet may increase your risk of thyroid inflammation and thyroid cancer.
Iodine supplements may interact with certain medications. Taking supplements while also taking anti-thyroid medications such as methimazole may cause your body to produce too little thyroid hormone. Potassium iodide supplements with ACE inhibitors may also cause you to have too much potassium in your blood, leading to hyperkalemia. Hyperkalemia can lead to serious heart-related problems.
How Much You Need
The amount of iodine you need varies on your sex and age:
- Birth to 6 months: 110 micrograms
- 7 months to 1 year: 130 micrograms
- Children up to 8 years: 90 micrograms
- Children 9 to 13: 120 micrograms
- Teens and adults: 150 micrograms
- Women who are pregnant: 220 micrograms
- Women who are breastfeeding: 290 micrograms
In general, most people get all the iodine they need from food. Some of the best sources include:
- Fish and shellfish
- Fortified foods
- Iodized salt
If you think you don’t have enough iodine in your diet, speak with your doctor. Your doctor can test your levels and determine if you need a supplement. While most supplements are available over the counter, a doctor may prescribe a stronger version in more severe cases.