Many people associate iodine with the orange-brown topical antiseptic their mothers swabbed on their childhood scrapes and bruises. But the real value of this potent trace mineral is its role in thyroid health, where it is involved in numerous biological functions we couldnít live without.
What is Iodine:
Although the body needs only tiny amounts of iodine, this mineral is so crucial to an individualís overall health that in the 1920s US government officials decided it should be added to common table salt. The introduction of iodinated salt to the American diet virtually eliminated one severe form of mental retardation called cretinism. Despite the recognised importance of this vital mineral, however, about 1,6 billion people in the world, mostly in underdeveloped countries, still suffer from iodine deficiency. All salt sold in South Africa is now iodinated.
What Iodine does:
Unique among minerals, iodine has only one known function in the body. It is essential to the thyroid gland for manufacturing thyroxin, a hormone which regulates metabolism in all the bodyís cells.
By getting enough iodine, pregnant women can prevent certain types of mental retardation in their developing foetus.
Unlike many other minerals, iodine does not seem to help in the treatment of specific diseases. However, it does play a fundamental role in ensuring the health of the thyroid, the butterfly- shaped gland that surrounds the windpipe (trachea). When your iodine intake is adequate, your body contains about 28 g of it, and 75 per cent of that amount is stored in the thyroid. This organ controls the bodyís over all metabolism, which determines how quickly and efficiently kilo joules are burned. It also regulates growth and development in children, reproduction, nerve and muscle function, the breakdown of proteins and fats, the growth of nails and hair and the use of oxygen by every cell in the body. There is some evidence that iodine derived from an organic source may be effective in reducing the pain of fibrocystic breasts, but patients should discuss this type of supplementation with their doctor first.
- Corrects an iodine deficiency.
- Ensures proper functioning of the thyroid gland.
- May help to treat fibrocystic breasts.
Iodine is available in different Forms:
- Because iodine deficiency is rare in urban areas, take iodine supplements only if prescribed by your doctor.
- If you have a medical or psychiatric condition, talk to your doctor before taking supplements.
How much you need:
The RDA for iodine is 150 mcg daily for adults and children over the age of 10 years. Most people meet or exceed this amount by using iodinated salt (one teaspoon of Iodinated salt contains more than 300 mcg of iodine).
- If you get too little: In many rural areas in South Africa, there is an iodine deficiency in the water and soil, and therefore among many people. One of the first signs of iodine deficiency is an enlarged thyroid gland, known as a goitre. Lack of iodine can cause the gland to expand in an attempt to increase its surface area and trap as much of the iodine in the bloodstream as possible. If your iodine intake is low, your thyroid hormone level may well be low too. This condition can lead to fatigue, dry skin, a rise in blood fats, a hoarse voice, delayed reflexes and reduced mental clarity. See your doctor if you have these symptoms.
- If you get too much: There is very little risk of iodine overdose, even at levels 10 to 20 times the RDA. However, if you ingest 30 times the RDA, you are likely to experience a metallic taste, mouth sores, swollen salivary glands, diarrhoea, vomiting, headache, a rash and difficulty in breathing. Ironically, a goitre can also develop if you consistently take extremely large amounts of iodine.
- DOSAGE: You probably get all the iodine you need from your daily in take of iodinated salt or from regular servings of seafood. Iodine is also a standard ingredient in many multivitamin and mineral supplements. Even if you are on a severely restricted salt diet for high blood pressure, you probably donít require extra iodine. People on a thyroid hormone should always discuss their condition with a doctor before taking individual iodine supplements.
When prescribed, iodine supplements can be taken at any time of the day, with or without food.
Other sources of Iodine:
Although the most abundant source of iodine is iodinated table salt, the mineral can also be found in saltwater fish and in sea vegetation, such as kelp. Soil in coastal areas also tends to be iodine-rich, as are the dairy products produced by cows grazing there. The same is true for fruits and vegetables grown in soil high in iodine. Commercial baked goods - such as breads and cakes - are other good sources of iodine.
Facts & Tips:
Even though health-food shops frequently promote sea salt as a healthier alternative to table salt, sea salt is not iodinated and therefore is not a good source of iodine.
An analysis of 10 different studies, performed in countries where iodine deficiency is common, found evidence that an iodine deficiency can affect motor skills, decreasing reaction time, manual dexterity, co-ordination and muscle strength. The analysis, headed by UNICEF researchers, also revealed that the IQ of people who were iodine deficient was some 13 points below that of those with adequate iodine.