The thyroid gland is the “master controller” of metabolism.
Why is iodine important?
Iodine is essential for thyroid hormone production, for fetal and infant development, and it is a crucial nutrient for proper health at all stages of life.2 As our bodies cannot produce iodine, it should be supplied regularly through a healthy diet.2 Iodine deficiency exists in about 54 countries around the world, according to a report by the World Health Organization (WHO).3
Iodine is the key component in the production of the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).4 Thyroid hormones help the body to optimally use energy, stay warm, and keep the brain, heart, muscles and other organs working as they should.5 Thyroid hormones and therefore iodine are essential for fetal growth, bone maturation and brain development.2 According to the WHO, insufficient iodine intake is the most common preventable cause of mental retardation.3
A global campaign to iodize the salt supply in almost all countries has led to an estimated 68% of households now using iodized salt.6 Prior to this campaign, an estimated 2 billion people showed iodine definiency by way of having a goiter in 2005 whereas the actual number was 700 million, sparing 1.3 billion people from this disorder.6 Despite this, approximately 40% of the global population remains at risk for iodine deficiency.7
How much iodine do you need?
A teaspoon of iodine is all you need in your lifetime; however, as the body cannot store iodine for long periods, tiny amounts are needed regularly.2 Most people can tolerate large amounts of iodine without adverse effects. An intake of more than 1,000 micrograms per day may be harmful.2
The daily iodine requirement changes over a person’s life:4
Note: Infants are at high risk for iodine deficiency because their need for iodine and thyroid hormones in relation to their weight is much higher than at any other time of life.8 It is not recommended to give babies extra salt and thus babies depend greatly on their mother for their source of iodine. Therefore, the American Thyroid Association (ATA) recommends that all breastfeeding women take a supplement containing at least 150 micrograms of iodine per day, alongside other sources of iodine, to ensure both mother and child reach their respective daily idione requirement, as mentioned above.9
When you are planning for a baby, iodine comes first
When you are planning for a baby or are pregnant or breastfeeding, you need to top up your dietary iodine intake. 2,4 Even a mild iodine shortage during pregnancy can have effects on the development and delivery of the baby. Serious iodine deficiency during pregnancy can lead to spontaneous abortion or stillbirth.3 It can also lead to congenital abnormalities such as cretinism, which is a serious, irreversible form of mental retardation.3 The more pervasive, but less visible, effect of iodine deficiency is a reduction in intelligence that may affect home life, schooling and work.3
Talk to your doctor about whether supplements would benefit you, and what iodine supplements you might need.
How to meet your need for iodine
Seafood is a good source because the oceans are rich in iodine.2 Although less high in iodine than most seafood, eggs, meat and dairy products are richer than most foods of plant origin.2 Any salt used at home should be iodized.2 To ensure sufficient intake for babies in the weaning period, the iodine content of homemade or commercial complementary formula/foods should be considered.8
Common sources of dietary iodine:7
The best method to prevent iodine deficiency is long-term dietary supplementation with iodized salt, the strategy recommended by the WHO. The WHO recommends a salt intake of less than 5 grams per day (equivalent to about 1 teaspoon of salt per day) to prevent cardiovascular disease.10 One teaspoon of iodized salt contains about 400 micrograms of iodine.7 To meet the total demand of iodine you should not eat more salt, but consume other iodine-rich foods.2
Iodine deficiency and its health consequences
Chronic iodine deficiency can be detrimental to your health.7 A shortage of iodine leads to decreased thyroid hormone and is the most common cause of an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism).1,7 The visible and unmistakable effect of iodine deficiency is the enlargement of the thyroid, known as goiter.7 To prevent serious health consequences it is important to recognize the early signs of iodine deficiency.
Here, you can read more and find out how goiter and nodules form — and also how to recognize and treat them.
The following symptoms may indicate a lack of iodine:5,7
The most serious consequences of iodine deficiency occur in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding and in children. Sufficient iodine, and hence enough thyroid hormone, is essential for the normal development of the brain and nervous system. The most serious disorder caused by severe iodine deficiency during pregnancy is cretinism, a condition of stunted physical and mental growth.7 But even mild iodine deficiency during pregnancy can be associated with low intelligence in children.7
Sufficient iodine is the best way to prevent these complications, as well as others such as stillbirth, miscarriage or poor growth.7
The International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD) is a non-profit, non-government organization for the sustainable elimination of iodine deficiency and the promotion of optimal iodine nutrition worldwide.
United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) publishes “Progress for Children”, a statistical review that documents progress towards the “Millennium Development Goals”.
Patient information on thyroid health published by the ATA
Date of preparation: February 2022