Dietary iodine is just one of the many trace elements that are required by the body in order for the metabolic reactions to occur correctly. It produces distinctive symptoms when there is a deficiency of iodine in the body, and will lead to a lack of the thyroid hormone being produced.
The body is unable to synthesise iodine from other substances, so it must be included in the diet for thyroid hormone to be produced. A deficiency of this trace nutrient leads to the enlargement of the thyroid gland, which is visible in the throat as a goitre. The lack of thyroid hormone leads to the metabolic reactions slowing down, so it will produce symptoms of fatigue and weakness. It is particularly important for young children and pregnant women to get enough iodine in the diet, as it is vital for the correct development of the brain and nervous system. In cases such as this, where the iodine intake is too low during pregnancy or early childhood, it will normally lead to learning difficulties and possibly severe problems with mental development. Iodine deficiency, unlike many other potential dietary deficiencies, remains a severe problem, with approximately 40 percent of the world’s population being at risk.
In some parts of the world, iodine will be found naturally in food sources because it is present in high amounts in soil or seawater. This means that crops growing in iodine-rich soil will incorporate some of the nutrient into their tissues, which will then be eaten as part of a healthy, balanced diet. In regions where this is the case, the risk of iodine deficiency is low, as it will easily supply the recommended level of 0.14mg per day that is required by an adult. In countries such as the UK, which have iodine-rich soil, it is also possible to meet this requirement from products such as milk, as it will be absorbed into the bodies of any animals eating the grass. However, it may be necessary to take iodine supplements during pregnancy, so ask your doctor to check your levels by performing a blood test. This will ensure that your baby’s brain and nervous system develop correctly.
If you need to increase the level of iodine in your diet, then these are some of the foods that you should consider eating in greater amounts:
- Shellfish and saltwater fish. Sea water is often one of the best sources of iodine, so it will have been absorbed into the tissues of these creatures and is therefore available for your body to use.
- Seaweed. A popular component of Asian cooking, seaweed provides an extremely healthy vegetarian alternative to fish. Again, it has been exposed to salt water, so it should be a very rich source of iodine.
- Dairy products, including milk.
- Soy sauce and other products made from soy.
It is also possible, in some countries around the world, to buy iodised salt. This is salt that has had iodine artificially added to it, and is one of the best ways to combat iodine deficiency on a large scale. It is particularly important in countries that do not have iodine in the soil or do not generally use fish in cooking.
In some cases, it is possible to take doses of iodine that are too high, although this is very unlikely to occur unless you are taking large amounts supplements on a frequent basis. If supplements are necessary in your situation, then you should ask your doctor to monitor the levels of iodine in your blood on a regular basis. This can be done using a simple blood test, which only takes a few minutes to perform, but can be extremely important when it comes to maintaining your health.
If your levels of iodine are too low, then it is likely that your family will also be experiencing iodine deficiency, so think about changes that you can make to your diet to increase the amount of this important nutrient that you are receiving.