Since the the United States initiated a public health measure to iodize table salt in 1924, iodine deficiency symptoms have decreased in the United States. Other countries have enacted similar measures; however, iodine deficiency remains an issue throughout the world. If you don't use table salt or eat many iodine-containing foods, then you may be at risk.
Iodine is a chemical element naturally present in foods such as seafood and shellfish, eggs, sea vegetables, spinach, and some dairy products. Its primary role in the body is to stimulate the production of thyroid hormones, which play multiple critical roles in metabolism and mental function. A healthy thyroid regulates weight, conversion of calories to energy, mental function, blood pressure, body temperature and many other functions. Because of this, getting enough iodine in your diet is essential.
The United States began iodizing salt in 1924, following a Swiss practice which seemed to minimize the incidence of goiters. Morton began iodizing salt and selling it commercially. Today, much table salt is still iodized, providing this important micronutrient to the population; however, many gourmet salts do not contain iodine. People on low-salt diets, or those who cook mostly fresh foods and avoid using table salt may be at risk for low iodine.
Iodine Deficiency Symptoms
The United States Recommended Daily Allowance for iodine is 150 micrograms. About two billion people worldwide experience iodine deficiency, primarily because the soil in which their foods are grown lacks iodine. Other causes include thyroid and malabsorption disorders. Because many people avoid salting foods, there may be a slight propensity in this population towards iodine deficiency, as well.
Some common iodine deficiency symptoms include the following.
A goiter is an enlarged thyroid. Goiters may be accompanied by shortness of breath, hoarseness, and cough. Even mild thyroid enlargement is a symptom. If you experience any enlargement of your thyroid, talk to your doctor about iodine deficiency.
Because iodine stimulates production of the thyroid hormone thyroxine, in the absence of adequate iodine, you may suffer from hypothyroidism. Multiple symptoms accompany this condition including:
- Weight gain
- Sluggishness or exhaustion
- Brain fog, confusion, and mental impairment
- Poor body temperature control or cold intolerance
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
- Brittle nails
- Abnormal or heavy menstruation
- Frequent muscle aches or cramps
- Coarse, dry hair
- Difficulty losing weight
- Decreased libido
Iodine Deficiency and Pregnancy
Severe iodine deficiency in pregnant women may result in stillbirth, miscarriage, preterm deliveries, and congenital abnormalities. Babies born to mothers with severe iodine deficiency may have:
- Mental retardation
- Slow growth or failure to thrive
- Hearing and speech impairments
- Low intelligence
- Short stature
- Abnormal gait
Low iodine results in many of these birth abnormalities around the world, although it is relatively rare in developed countries.
Iodine deficiency may result in several other, generalized symptoms, as well, including:
- Enlarged tongue and/or slowed speech
- Mental sluggishness
- Swelling of the face or hands
When to See a Doctor
If you experience any of the symptoms outlined above, talk with your doctor about iodine deficiency. Pregnant women need to take special care to assure they are getting adequate iodine in their diet. Eating more iodine rich foods or supplementation may be indicated in some cases.