We live in a toxic world—one dominated by industrial chemicals that disrupt nutrient absorption and sap our vitality, processed junk food devoid of nutrients, produce grown in nutrient-depleted soils, and an atmosphere of incessant stress (which throws our bodies out of balance and leads us into unhealthy lifestyle practices).
This means that optimizing our nutrient levels has to be a conscious effort. Half the battle is education, which is why we’re committing to keeping you abreast of the nutrients, remedies, and practices that will keep you and your loved ones healthy.
You may have heard about some of the more attention-grabbing nutrient deficiencies being discussed in the medical community, such as deficiencies in vitamin D, vitamin B12, and to a growing extent, vitamin C.
Others, such as iodine deficiency, get much less airtime—but can still have a detrimental impact on your health if not addressed.
How iodine protects nearly every aspect of your health
Studies estimate that up to 74% of American adults don’t receive enough iodine, and that the deficiency is becoming an issue of increasing magnitude across the world. In 1990, a wide consortium of government agencies pledged to eradicate iodine deficiency by 2000, but nearly the opposite has occurred.
According to the United States National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, we still have a long way to go. In recent years, medium iodine levels in males are finally not plummeting further (though they’re still too low—between 1971 and 1974, the median iodine level was 320 mcg/L, and now it’s 145 mcg/L). The median level in women has continued to drop, and now rests around 125 mcg/L (iodine deficiency, along with the health problems it causes, is more common in women).
As we touched on in a past article, iodine deficiency can cause serious health problems, including thyroid dysfunction, birth defects and pregnancy complications, heart disease, cancer, increased cholesterol, decreased fertility, and more.
Iodine is an absolutely essential micronutrient. It helps alkalize the body’s pH (overacidity can lead to inflammation, tissue damage, and a wide range of chronic illness), gives the “fuel” the thyroid needs to produce hormones (which are a central aspect of the all-important endocrine system), acts as a natural antibacterial agent (and aids the endocrine system with its detoxification mechanisms), and even safeguards cellular health (and thus can protect against the growth of cancer).
Iodine Deficiency Symptoms
Clinical signs and symptoms of iodine deficiency include:
- Difficulty losing weight
- Dry skin
- Lethargy or fatigue
- Memory problems
- Menstrual problems
- Recurrent infections
- Sensitivity to cold
- Cold hands and feet
- Brain fog
- Thinning hair
- Shortness of breath
- Impaired kidney function
- Muscle weakness and joint stiffness
Iodine deficiency places the health of the entire body at risk (the RDA is 150 mcg/day for adults, 220 mcg/day for pregnant woman, and 290 mcg/day for women who are breastfeeding)—so it’s important to understand how to combat it.
What are the Benefits of Iodine
1. Controls metabolic rate
Iodine, influences greatly the functioning of the thyroid glands, by helping with the production of hormones, directly responsible for controlling the body’s base metabolic rate. Metabolic rate ensures the efficiency of the body’s organ systems and biochemical processes, including sleep cycle, absorption of food and transformation of food into energy we can use.
2. Maintains optimal energy levels
Iodine plays a vital role in maintaining optimal energy levels of the body by the utilization of calories, without allowing them to be deposited as excess fat.
3. Helps prevent certain kind of cancers
Iodine plays a role in boosting immunity and inducing apoptosis, the self-destruction of dangerous, cancerous cells. While iodine assists in destroying mutated cells, it doesn’t destroy healthy cells in the process. Evidence shows the ability of iodine-rich seaweed to inhibit growth of breast tumor development. This is supported by the low rate of breast cancer in parts of world, especially in Japan where women consume a diet rich in iodine such as seaweed.
4. Removes toxic chemicals
Iodine can remove heavy metal toxins like lead, mercury and other biological toxins. Accumulating evidence suggests there are many extrathyroidal benefits of iodine, including antioxidant functions, maintaining the integrity of the mammary gland as well as antibacterial properties, particularly against H-pylori, which is a bacterial infection in the stomach and associated with gastric cancer.
5. Boost immunity
Many people view the thyroid gland on the implications of iodine, but it has other functions, including playing an important role as an immune booster. Iodine is a scavenger of free hydroxyl radicals and stimulates and increases the activity of antioxidants throughout the body to provide a strong defensive measure against various diseases including cancer and heart disease.
Recent studies have shown that iodine directly protects the brain cells of rats from the harmful effects of free radicals by bonding onto fatty acids in the cell membrane, leaving less room for free radicals to have a negative impact on the organism.
6. Forms healthy & shiny skin
Dry, irritated and rough skin that becomes flaky and inflamed is a common sign of iodine deficiency. Iodine helps with the formation of shiny and healthy skin, hair and teeth and is an important trace element, as a lack of iodine results in hair loss.
A clinical study performed in Mexico wanted to determine the trace elements of healthy hair in malnourished children. Iodine levels were 10-fold higher than what has been reported by other authors.
7. Prevents enlarged thyroid gland
Iodine deficiency is widely recognized as the primary cause of goiter. Add sea salt, seafood, raw milk and eggs to your diet to avoid iodine deficiency, as this often also works as a preventative step of an enlarged thyroid gland.
8. Prevents impaired development & growth in children
Studies have shown that iodine deficiency during infancy and pregnancy can interrupt healthy brain development and growth. Infants are more susceptible to mortality and high risk for neuro-degenerative problems if iodine-deficient, such as a mental form of disability known as cretinism, motor function problems, learning disabilities and low growth rate.
Why we’re so low in iodine (and what to do about it)
Tracing the etiology of a health condition or deficiency is always tricky. Much of it has to do with an individual’s particular lifestyle, diet, and genetic predispositions. There are a few identifiable patterns regarding iodine deficiency, though.
For starters, we just don’t eat enough iodine-rich foods. Cultures that eat lots of foods like kelp and other forms of seaweed tend to have a far lower incidence of thyroid dysfunction and other signs of iodine deficiency (for example, a popular Japanese seaweed called kombu provides over 7000 mcg of daily iodine).
Milk is one of few “ mainstream American” foods that’s been lauded for its appreciable iodine content. As we’ve written about before, though, milk consumption comes with many of its own risks (some even worse than iodine deficiency). And to top things off, milk is not even your best choice for sourcing iodine—it only contains 56 mcg per serving, unless it’s been fortified with iodine.
You don’t need to rely on toxic products of the dairy industry, though, even if they have been fortified with beneficial nutrients like iodine. Instead, integrate these foods into your diet.
Seaweed (1 sheet can contain up to 2,900 mcg!)
Baked cod (99 mcg in 3 oz)
Cranberries (90 mcg in 1 oz)
Yogurt (75 mcg in 1 oz—just make sure it’s the healthy, probiotic-rich variety)
Potatoes (60 mcg in 1 medium potato)
Navy beans (32 mcg in ½ cup)
Including salt in your diet is another excellent way to ensure you’re getting enough iodine. Ditch the salty snacks and iodized table salt, though, and instead add a bit of natural sea salt to your drinking water (about 1/8 teaspoon per 16 oz of water is usually perfect). And if you still think that salt is something to be avoided, be sure to check out our article that explains why salt is healthier than you think.