Iodine is found in very few foods. This means that no less than a third of the world's population suffers from an iodine deficiency. Why is iodine so important, and what are the symptoms of an iodine deficiency?
What is Iodine?
Iodine is a mineral that our thyroid gland uses to make thyroid hormones, which are important for energy metabolism in your body. Iodine also plays a role in the proper functioning of the nervous system and cognitive functions such as concentration, memory, learning, problem solving and intelligence. In addition, iodine also contributes to healthy skin.
Who is susceptible to an iodine deficiency?
- Pregnant women, because they have to meet their own needs and those of the baby.
- People who live in countries where there is very little iodine in the soil. This includes South Asia, Southeast Asia, New Zealand and European countries
- People who eat salt without iodine (indicated on the label)
- People following a vegetarian or vegan diet.
What are the symptoms of an iodine deficiency?
Since iodine is used by our bodies to make thyroid hormones, an iodine deficiency causes an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism), which gives these ten symptoms.
- Swelling in the neck
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck. With an iodine deficiency, the thyroid gland will work extra hard, causing it to swell. We then speak of a struma. Left untreated, a goiter can cause permanent damage to the thyroid gland.
- Unexpected weight gain
Low levels of iodine can slow down your metabolism and encourage food to be stored as fat, rather than being burned as energy. This can lead to weight gain.
Nearly 80% of people with low thyroid hormone levels are said to be tired and lethargic. That's because our body needs iodine to make energy.
- Hair loss
Thyroid hormones help regulate hair follicle growth. Over time, an iodine deficiency can therefore cause hair loss.
- Dry, flaky skin
Iodine helps regenerate and hydrate your skin cells through sweat, so a deficiency can lead to dry, flaky skin.
- Getting cold quickly
Some studies have shown that over 80% of people with low thyroid hormone levels are more sensitive to cold temperatures than normal. An iodine deficiency can also slow down your metabolism, and a slower metabolism generates less heat, making you feel colder overall.
- Changes in heart rate
Too little iodine can cause your heart rate to drop, which can make you feel weak, tired, and dizzy.
- Difficulty learning and remembering
Thyroid hormones help your brain grow and develop. Therefore, a deficiency of iodine, which is necessary to make thyroid hormones, can hinder cognitive functions.
- Problems during pregnancy
Pregnant women should get enough iodine to meet their own daily needs as well as those of the growing baby. When taken too low, they not only risk all the above symptoms, but also pregnancy complications, which means that growth is reduced and brain development is also delayed. A severe iodine deficiency would even increase the risk of stillbirth.
- Heavy or irregular periods
Research also shows that women with low thyroid hormone levels are more likely to experience menstrual cycles with heavy bleeding. This is because low thyroid hormone levels interfere with the signals of hormones involved in the menstrual cycle.
Which foods contain iodine?
There are few good sources of iodine in the diet. This is one of the reasons why iodine deficiency is common worldwide. Foods that are excellent sources of iodine include:
- Iodised salt
- Canned Tuna
- Dried plums
If you think you have an iodine deficiency, it is best to consult your doctor. They will check for visible signs of an iodine deficiency, such as a goiter, or take a urine sample.