Iodine is one of the most important nutrients you don’t know about, but it’s important that you should know. Young women who are of reproductive age or plan to become pregnant sometime in the future should especially be aware of this essential mineral. Way back in the day, iodine was added to salt, and you might see on a salt label “Iodized salt.” Salt was usually the main source of iodine in the standard American diet, but now Americans are cutting down on it because it’s a major contributor to high blood pressure. This means they’re no longer getting enough iodine. Our bodies don’t produce iodine so it’s critical that we consume enough through food or supplementation.
Iodine is essential for healthy thyroid function. It prevents goiter (an enlarged thyroid that isn’t getting enough iodine to function properly, which presents as a large bulge in the neck), which is rarely seen these days. The thyroid depends on iodine to manufacture it’s very important hormones, which regulate metabolism. If your thyroid doesn’t have enough iodine and becomes hypothyroid (a condition when the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormone), you’ll face a list of symptoms including fatigue and weight gain. Adequate iodine intake can help balance your thyroid, which in turn, can help keep weight off. Low levels of thyroid hormone can also cause infertility.
Iodine is also critical for brain development, and this is why it’s so important that pregnant women get enough of it. Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of preventable brain damage in babies. If an expectant mom doesn’t get enough iodine, her baby’s brain might not develop properly and the child could face several developmental challenges. Even if a child doesn’t have severe brain damage, iodine deficiency could cause lower IQ’s and reduced gross motor skills. Breast tissue also needs sufficient iodine to stay healthy; some studies have shown that proper iodine levels can reduce risk of breast cancer.
Other organs in your body use iodine too, not just your breasts and thyroid. Inadequate iodine intake could increase your risk not only for breast and thyroid cancer, but ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer (and prostate cancer in men). According to webMD.com, iodine can prevent eye disease, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. It also has anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties, so it’s effective against lots of fungi and germs!
Getting too much iodine isn’t a good idea either because that can cause hyperthyroid (when the thyroid makes too much hormone) and there isn’t a consensus on the recommended daily value, although some doctors have said the FDA recommendations are too low. One doctor recommends 12.5 mg a day for women. The answer probably depends on the individual. I take a thyroid supplement everyday that has 30 mg, which is a lot, but I feel great. I have a lot of energy and have no trouble keeping weight off (remember, iodine regulates the thyroid, which controls metabolism).
You may have heard that iodine can be used to protect the thyroid from radiation. Potassium iodide (a form of iodine) can be taken in tablets only in a radiation emergency (if you remember the tsunami in Japan in 2011 that took out several nuclear reactors… a lot of people near those sites took potassium iodide). However, that form should only be used to protect the thyroid during such drastic, uncommon situations.
If you think you might have thyroid issues, talk to your doctor. Perhaps ask them if an iodine supplement might be right for you!