Iodine rarely gets a look in when it comes to general health and wellbeing unless you’ve already developed a thyroid problem. Here’s a look at what iodine is, the sources of iodine, the symptoms of iodine deficiency, and how to get tested.
What Is Iodine?
This chemical element is a vital contributor to functions such as regulating energy, keeping you warm, and helping your body to produce adequate thyroid hormones. Your thyroid, located in the neck, utilises iodine to make the hormones that support your body.
We don’t tend to think of the foods containing iodine as we might with things like calcium, magnesium, iron or vitamin C. The body doesn’t create iodine so it needs to come from your diet or supplements.
How Much Do Iodine Do We Need?
Guidelines suggests adults should aim for 150 mcg (micrograms) each day. Pregnant women require 50% more. Iodine is naturally found in seawater and the soil. Iodine deficiency is often found in countries where iodine in the soil is lacking, such as South and Southeast Asia, parts of Europe and New Zealand.
What Are The Best Sources Of Iodine?
Iodine can be found in various foodstuffs at differing quantities. Shellfish, seaweed and fish are packed with iodine, though this can vary depending on what country products come from (ie. seaweed from Japan is usually higher in iodine). Dairy products are another source. If you don’t eat fish and you’re not able to eat dairy, then think things like nuts, fruit and vegetables, potato and cereals.
There are also fortified products, like plant milks or ‘iodized’ salt, with added iodine. To support your diet or boost your levels due to deficiency, it’s also possible to use supplements.
It’s always best to check before using any supplements, especially if you’re taking other medications so as to avoid any interactions. For example, iodine with certain blood pressure medications or diuretics can cause potassium to rise, and taking iodine with hyperthyroidism medications could reduce thyroid hormones too much.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that intake shouldn’t go above 1,100mcg as too much iodine can also be harmful. What’s more, a regular intake in supplement form could be problematic if your body isn’t used to it (ie. you get very little iodine in your diet) or if you already have a thyroid condition.
Getting Iodine Levels Checked
Speak to your GP if you’re concerned of the possibility of iodine deficiency or thyroid issues.
Your doctor or endocrinologist can do a urine analysis to test your iodine levels, but confirming deficiency isn’t always that straightforward. A urine test will tell you what sort of iodine intake you’ve had recently but not the bigger picture. Iodine levels can vary quite considerably from hour to hour, let alone day to day. As such, 10 or more tests are often required to get a more accurate picture of what’s happening.
Normal levels and the level at which deficiency is diagnosed may vary between countries and practices, but the American Thyroid Association notes deficiency as involving a urinary iodine concentration of lower than 100μg/L (or less than <150 μg/L in pregnant women).
Many with thyroid conditions don’t have iodine mentioned to them by medical professionals. If you have concerns or questions, always ask and persevere.
You can also get private home tests if you’re in the UK from Medichecks. You can find more information on the Medichecks service here. They have an iodine urine test, as well as various thyroid blood tests available do to at home as a fingerprick sample or in clinic by a nurse. Browse the range of home blood tests at Medichecks & use the code INVISME10 at the checkout for 10% off.
What Are The Symptoms Of Iodine Deficiency?
There are a few symptoms to be aware of that could indicate low levels of iodine, but symptoms usually don’t present until a deficiency is more severe.
1. Enlarged Thyroid Gland / Goiter
If daily iodine intake drops below 100mcg, your body produces more TSH (a thyroid hormone). In turn, this can lead to the thyroid gland becoming enlarged, which is one of the most commonly experienced symptoms. A very large goiter may be uncomfortable or cause troubles with breathing or swallowing, but often the enlargement isn’t discovered until a CT or ultrasound is done.
2. Hypothyroidism / Underactive Thyroid
This can be triggered with daily iodine dropping below 10 – 20mcg, and hypothyroidism can come with a host of symptoms. For instance, dry skin and hair, weight changes (often gaining), fatigue, constipation, muscles aches, depression, hoarseness, puffy face and cold intolerance. Such symptoms are quite common across various conditions, so having hypothyroidism properly diagnosed is vital; once diagnosed, iodine should be checked and a treatment plan should be put in place.
3. Symptoms associated with low iodine and poor thyroid hormone production can also include :
Fatigue, unexpected weight gain, dry/flaky skin, hair loss, impaired memory, heart rate changes, feeling colder than normal. For women there can also be issues with pregnancy and heavy or irregular periods.
As always, please raise any concerns with your GP or specialist. If in doubt, ask.
Have you ever had issues with iodine?