10 Surprising Benefits of Iodine

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated - Medically reviewed by Emily Borth(MS, RDN)

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Iodine is an essential trace element, which is vital for normal growth and development of the body. Around 70-80% of the iodine in the human body is stored in the thyroid gland. Its health benefits play a very important role in the normal functioning of the thyroid gland, which secretes thyroid hormones that control the base metabolic rate of the body. In fact, without it, thyroid hormones could not even be synthesized.

Iodine controls the functioning of thyroid glands, which, in turn, has a significant influence on the metabolic processes in the body. It helps in the optimum utilization of calories by influencing the body’s metabolic rate potentially preventing the storage of excess fat. Other functions of iodine include proper neurological development in children, as well as fetal bone and brain development during pregnancy

Symptoms of Iodine Deficiency

A deficiency of iodine can have serious effects on the body. The symptoms of iron deficiency include the following:

  • Reduced thyroid hormone production and hypothyroidism
  • Goiter (enlarged thyroid gland) which is usually the first sign of iodine deficiency
  • Intellectual disability
  • Stunted infant growth
  • Abnormal weight gain
  • Decreased fertility
  • Dry skin
  • Growth retardation in the fetus and increased risk of stillbirth or miscarriage in expectant mothers
  • Constipation
  • Fatigue

In severe cases, intellectual disability associated with diseases such as cretinism, characterized by physical malformations, can be the result. According to WHO reports, this deficiency is one of the leading causes of intellectual disability all over the world.

It is somewhat rare for this deficiency to occur in North America, as many food items are either grown in iodine-rich soil or contain salt, which is often iodized in some nations. However, many countries do not iodize their salt and regions that grow crops and livestock at a great distance from coastal waters are less likely to have iodine-rich soil. The amount of iodine your body needs differs based on age. Needs range from as much as 290 mcg/day for breastfeeding women to as little as 90 mcg/day for children 1-8 years old. Iodized salt generally contains 45 mcg of iodine per gram, which works out to at least 190 mcg per teaspoon. This means that in regions with iodized salt, most adults can get all they need in less than 1 teaspoon. Because of increased need, a supplement containing iodine is recommended during pregnancy, lactation and early childhood.

Important Sources of Iodine

It is present in large quantities in both marine plants and animals, including shellfish, deep-water whitefish, and brown seaweed kelp, which can absorb iodine from seawater.

Seafood including canned sardines, canned tuna, lobster, oyster, clams, cod, haddock, halibut, herring perch, salmon, sea bass, and shrimp are all good sources of iodine. Dulse, kelp, seaweed, garlic, lima beans, Swiss chard, summer squash, sesame seeds, soybeans, turnip greens, and spinach are the other important sources of iodine, especially for vegans and vegetarians.

Iodized salt is another important source and bakers regularly add iodine to bread dough as a stabilizing agent.

A grinder filled with salt

Sea salt makes your salad crunchier and tastier. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Health Benefits of Iodine

This element is required to ensure proper development and metabolism in humans. The specific health benefits include:

Regulates Metabolic Rate

Iodine influences the functioning of thyroid glands by assisting in the production of hormones, which are directly responsible for controlling the body’s base metabolic rate. Metabolic rate affects the efficacy of the organs and regular processes like the sleep cycle, and the absorption of food and its transformation into usable energy.

Certain hormones, like thyroxine and triiodothyronine, influence heart rate, blood pressure, body weight, and temperature. The body maintains BMR (Basic Metabolic Rate) with the help of these hormones, which also helps in protein synthesis. Ensuring their normal creation and distribution in the body is key to maintaining good health and iodine is a crucial component of these hormones.

Optimizes Energy

Iodine plays an important role in maintaining optimal energy levels of the body by ensuring the efficient utilization of calories through the regulation of the body’s metabolic rate.

Skin & Hair Care

The health benefits of iodine include the prevention of dry skin and hair. It can be used topically on teeth by a dentist to help prevent tooth decay.  It is an important element for hair care, as lack of this mineral can result in hair loss. Moreover, as a key component of the thyroid hormone, it also speeds up hair growth and increases follicle strength.

Prevents Stillbirths

A sufficient quantity of iodine in pregnant women is essential to help prevent stillbirths or neurocognitive conditions like cretinism in newborn babies. Associations have been observed between thyroid function and hypertensive disorders in pregnancy, therefore iodine, essential to proper thyroid function, may have a role to play in preventing these disorders. Adequate intake ensures proper development and growth of the baby’s brain and central nervous system, along with speech and hearing abilities. Furthermore, besides affecting the health of the baby in utero, a deficiency of iodine can make women less fertile.

One problem that many breastfeeding women face is not realizing that they must consume additional iodine for the child and themselves as well. Because it passes into breast milk and a great deal is lost every day. Studies show that a pregnant or nursing woman will put all of her body’s iodine reserves into nourishing the baby, which can result in a serious deficiency for her, even after pregnancy and breastfeeding are over.

Boosts Immune System

Iodine helps boost the overall immunity levels in the body as it is a scavenger of free hydroxyl radicals. According to a review published in the journal, Nutrition, iodine plays “a role in the physiology of the inflammatory response,” as well as an antioxidant role. Like vitamin C, it also shows antioxidant activity throughout the body which helps provide a strong defensive measure against various chronic diseases.

Prevents Hypothyroidism

This condition is characterized by an under-active thyroid gland and results in the general slowing down of all bodily processes as the chemical balance in the body goes off track. One of the most common results of hypothyroidism is a large increase in weight because the body simply doesn’t burn off the calories to turn them into energy. Although hypothyroidism can occur for many reasons, not just iodine deficiency, it is important to increase your intake of iodine to meet the recommended daily intake, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Some other effects of hypothyroidism are fatigue, dry skin, troubled concentration, constipation, muscle cramps, and leg swelling. If not treated, it can contribute to serious conditions like heart failure or a coma.

Fibrocystic Breast Disease

Iodine deficiency is often linked to the occurrence of fibrocystic breast disease. This disease is also associated with an increased risk of developing breast cancer. Studies have shown a significant correspondence between molecular iodine and a reduction in the signs and symptoms of fibrocystic breast disease.

Anti-Carcinogenic Property

According to a 2017 study published in the Journal of Canceriodine deficiency may increase the risk of developing breast cancer. In terms of thyroid cancer, iodine is essential in preventing this extremely dangerous form of cancer. A study published by Luigino Dal Maso, Cristina Bosetti, Carlo La Vecchia, et al, in the Cancer Causes and Control Journal suggests that thyroid cancer patients consistently show a decrease in cancer symptoms after increasing their levels of iodine intake. Maintaining optimal levels of this nutrient may help in lowering the incidence of cancer – breast and thyroid cancer.

Studies have shown that cancer cells shrink after being injected with iodine, and at times, they even undergo apoptosis (automatic cell death) and are then replaced with healthier cells. The exact mechanism of this process is still unknown, but according to a study published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, there is a positive connection, particularly in terms of its effects on inducing apoptosis in breast carcinoma cells.

Induces Apoptosis

According to a report in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, iodine ensures apoptosis or programmed cell death. This process is essential in the formation of new organs as well as in the removal of malignant cells like cancer or diseased cells, which might prove harmful to any individual.

Removes Toxic Chemicals

There is some evidence that iodine can remove toxic chemicals and biological toxins. The role of this extrathyroidal iodine that does other work throughout the body is very important. It has certain antibacterial qualities, particularly against Helicobacter pylori, which is a dangerous bacterial infection in the stomach, more commonly called H. Pylori and has been connected with stomach ulcers and gastric cancer.

Prevents Goiter

Iodine deficiency is widely recognized as the cause of goiter or the enlargement of the thyroid gland. Add egg yolks, iodized salt, seafood, and dairy products to your diet to avoid this deficiency. This also often works as a remedy for an enlarged thyroid gland.

Word of Caution: An iodine overdose of more than 2,000 mg could be dangerous, especially for people suffering from kidney disorders or tuberculosis. When taken in excess, it could result in thyroid papillary cancer. Pregnant women and nursing mothers should be cautious about taking it, except in specifically prescribed doses. Speak with your doctor before starting any new supplement.

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About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve, Co-Founder, Organic Facts is a health and wellness enthusiast and is responsible for managing it. She has completed the Nutrition And Healthy Living Cornell Certificate Program, Cornell University, US. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. An ardent follower of naturopathy, she believes in healing with foods. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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