Many people unknowingly struggle with a deficiency of iodine.
Iodine? Didn’t they talk about that in chemistry class, something about turning potatoes black?
Yes, this is true, but most Americans actually associate the word iodine with salt. Which isn’t surprising when you consider that 70%–76% of U.S. families use iodized salt to enhance their food’s flavor. Iodized salt was introduced as a general measure to make sure we could get enough iodine through our diet. A finding of this research indicates 47 of 88 able salt brands contained less than the recommended daily intake of iodine. So if you are relying on this method to get your iodine you may not be getting what you thought  and by7 default you may be iodine deficient.
But what is iodine exactly and what role does it play in the human body?
Iodine is an essential mineral used by your thyroid glands to make thyroid hormones—thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3)—which are necessary for brain development, growth, and healing. The hormones also play a vital part in metabolic function. These include nerve and muscle function, blood cell production, and (since body heat is mainly derived from muscle metabolism) body temperature regulation. 
It’s a trace element found naturally in soils, from where it’s taken up by plants which, in turn, are consumed by humans and animals. Certain plants prove a better source of iodine than others, and it’s also found in iodized salt and iodine supplements.
Am I at risk of iodine deficiency?
Sadly, today it is likely that you are!
Iodine deficiency is still considered a most important issue for public health globally. While the overall iodine deficiency levels have improved over time, changes in habits in the consumption of iodized table salt and the fact that iodize salt is not universally taken has left certain groups to remain deficient in iodine.
There are multiple factors that could cause iodine deficiencies. Your iodine levels depend on what you eat and the quality of that food, where you live, and whether you’re pregnant, lactating or not. We can take a quick look at each of these points.
What is an iodine-rich diet?
There are some foods that have more iodine than others, and some that are altogether bad for those who suffer from a deficiency because they block iodine’s ability to reach the thyroid. Unfortunately, processed food labels don’t list iodide so it’s hard to discern which foods contain the element.
People who don’t eat iodized salt are at risk of developing an iodide deficiency. But this doesn’t mean you should chug the salt by the bottle—a mere ⅓ teaspoon should contain everything you need. With health trends moving to natural salts such as Himalayan, and away from iodized salt are likely to impact your iodine intake.
Foods generally high in iodide are seafood, grains, dairy, and iodized salt. Consequently, those who use non-dairy milks or non-iodized salt are at more likely at risk of deficiency. Those who follow vegan or vegetarian diets need to be aware of these factors.
A lot of people get the iodine they need by making seaweed or seafood a part of their diet, but there are a multitude of other foods  high in iodine. Iodine levels in fruits and vegetables vary because the iodine levels in soil varies, but some processed foods can have higher values due to additives.
Other than seaweed, iodine rich foods include:
- Baked cod
- Fish sticks
- Low-fat, plain yoghurt
- Reduced fat milk
- White potatoes with the skin
- Enriched white bread
There are foods you only need to limit if you have an active or borderline deficiency.
Goitrogens are the substances that block iodine from the thyroid, but you only have to avoid these foods if you don’t get enough iodide in your diet.
If you do get sufficient iodide, they should have no effect. Some goitrogenic foods are:
- Brussel sprouts
Which countries have iodine-rich soils?
Generally, the iodide content in food varies due to soil content, fertilizers, irrigation and cropping practises. There are some countries that have limited iodide in the soil, and this may lead to low levels in locally grown fruits and vegetables. Countries known to have low levels are South Asia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia, and Europe.
Are you pregnant or nursing?
It is really important for the development of a fetus to ensure the baby’s growth and brain development. Therefore, pregnant women require higher iodine levels. Nursing women should also ensure that they take iodine supplements.
Is a deficiency of iodine dangerous?
You probably won’t notice an iodine deficiency until it causes uncomfortable and even severe symptoms. Some of these issues are swelling in the neck, weight gain, pregnancy-related problems, and learning difficulties. Deficiencies are most cataclysmic when it comes to the developing brain of the fetus.
When pregnant women don’t consume enough iodine both during pregnancy and lactation, it can cause side effects for both mother and baby. Mothers can experience the issues related to an underactive thyroid (as stated below) while it could impair physical growth and brain development in infants. In severe cases, iodine deficiency can increase the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. So, it’s important that you ensure your prenatal vitamins contain iodine.
A must-have book
“Iodine, Why You Need It, Why You Can’t Live Without It”
written by Dr. David Brownstein
Symptoms of iodine deficiency
While there are some symptoms  commonly related to the deficiency of iodine, it’s always best to get a proper diagnosis from your doctor. It can be detected by doing a simple 24-hour urine iodine test.
Enlarged Thyroid Gland
The thyroid gland is situated in the front of your neck—small and butterfly-shaped. As stated earlier, it makes thyroid hormones.
However, when there isn’t enough iodine in your system it tries to make more and essentially overworks itself. The cells grow and multiply, causing something called a goiter. Fortunately, it’s treatable by increasing iodine levels and rarely leads to lasting damage if caught early.
This symptom is multifaceted. Since thyroid hormones control your body’s metabolism, lack thereof can result in sudden and unexpected weight gain. When these hormones are low, your body burns less calories at rest so more calories are stored as fat.
Almost 80% of individuals with thyroid deficiencies constantly feel tired, weak, and sluggish since the body can’t sustain normal levels of energy when the thyroid hormones are low.
Other symptoms of hypothyroidism include dry skin, feeling cold, hair loss, and even depression.
How do I test for iodine deficiency?
There are 2 main methods:
- Best method for testing for iodine deficiency is the Iodine Loading Test
- It’s the most accurate test
- You take an lodoral tablet, following instructions, collect urine over next 24 hours.
- Samples are then sent back to supplier who provides a report.
The premise is the less iodine you excrete the more deficient you are (as you body is using the iodine ingested)
- Iodine Patch Test isn’t as reliable.
- You paint a 2” x2” patch of iodine tincture on your forearm
- Watch it and see how much time it takes to fade
The premise is that if the patch fades or disappears within 24 hours you are iodine deficient.
You are considered severely deficient if it fades in less than 12 hours.
How do I treat iodine deficiency?
Correction of the deficiency can be approached through diet. If the diet alone is not adequate you can use an iodine supplement. Often a combined approach can be most effective.
As is mostly the case, supplements and their contents can vary vastly and there is a little to learn about the varying forms of iodine and their absorption in the body.
Iodine is represented in several chemical forms including inorganic iodine, iodate and iodide, a reduced for of iodine. It rarely occurs as the element and is therefore referred to as iodide. According to the Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board iodide is almost completely and quickly absorbed in the stomach and duodenum. The gastrointestinal tract reduces the iodate which absorbs as iodide.
What’s the recommended daily intake?
The recommended daily intake depends on age and whether your pregnant or nursing. All values are set to the daily amount needed by 97-98% of healthy individuals. When there isn’t enough recorded evidence, adequate intake (AI), which is enough, is set instead. They are as follows: 
- Pregnancy: 220mcg
- Lactation: 290mcg
- Birth to 6 months: 110 micrograms (mcg) (AI)
- Children 7 to 12 months: 130mcg (AI)
- Children 1 to 3 years: 90mcg
- Children 4 to 8 years: 90mcg
- Children 9 to 13 years: 120mcg
- Adolescents 14 to 18 years: 150mcg
- Adults 19 years and older: 150mcg
Can I Take Too Much Iodine?
Yes! Consuming too much iodine can lead to iodine poisoning. Kelp can create excessive amounts of iodine in the body which can cause problems by over stimulating the thyroid. As can over supplementing with other various forms of iodine.
Symptoms include diarrhea, burning sensation in your mouth, nausea, and vomiting, and require emergency medical attention. As with the recommended daily intake, the tolerable upper level intakes are set to age group: 
- Children 1 to 3 years: 200 mcg
- Children 4 to 8 years: 300 mcg
- Children 9 to 13 years: 600 mcg
- Adolescents 14 to 18 years: 900 mcg
- Adults 19 years and older: 1,100 mcg
Iodine poisoning is usually a result of taking too much of an iodine supplement, so before you decide to invest in a supplement, consult your doctor and always adhere to the labels.
Iodine is one of the most important and often overlooked minerals needed by your body. Make iodine testing part of your health management plan. If you suspect you have a deficiency of iodine, get a test, your energy levels may thank you for it.