Australia is one of the most iodine deficient nations in the developed world. A combination of intensive farming which strips the natural iodine from the soil and a low intake of iodine containing foods has caused widespread deficiency.
Iodine is an important mineral that your body cannot do without. It is essential for the production of your thyroid hormones – T3 and T4. When iodine is depleted, your body cannot make enough thyroid hormones and as a result your thyroid can become underactive (hypothyroidism). The thyroid gland regulates nearly every body process, so when it is underactive it leads to multiple problems. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, depression, weight gain, constipation, dry skin, hair loss and foggy headedness. Because the thyroid regulates body temperature, you can also feel the cold more when your thyroid function is low.
Outside of the thyroid, iodine is important for brain development and has been linked with intelligence levels. In particular, children of mothers who are iodine deficient during pregnancy and children who are deficient in their early years have been found to have a lower IQ than those with adequate iodine levels. Iodine is therefore essential to be included in the diet or supplemented in pregnant women and young children.
Iodine also has a role in breast health. Studies have found that lower intakes of iodine have been linked to an increased risk of breast cancer. Other organs that have a high need for iodine are your skin, sweat glands (an inability to sweat can be due to iodine deficiency), thymus, pancreas and stomach.
Which foods contain iodine?
Iodine is normally present in trace amounts in many foods, however as touched on above the depletion of Australian soil of iodine means that we are not getting much from the everyday foods that we eat.
The richest sources of iodine come from the sea – seaweeds, fish, squid and shellfish. All of these sources contain good amounts of iodine, however seaweed is the standout source as it contains high levels of iodine with a host of other beneficial minerals. It is important to only source seaweed that is certified organic though, as seaweed draws in toxins from the environment and if it is collected from polluted waters then you may be getting a hefty dose of pollutants as well.
To get adequate iodine through your diet, it is recommended you eat 3 serves of iodine rich foods a week – seaweed, fish, squid or shellfish. Smaller oily fish such as sardines are a better choice, as they will contain lower levels of contaminants like mercury. You can also get small amounts of naturally occurring iodine from Himalayan salt, which is a much better choice than iodised salt which can cause other health issues.
When should you supplement iodine?
There are times when it may be necessary to supplement iodine. If you’re allergic to seafood and don’t eat any seaweed, it is likely you’ll need to top up your iodine with a supplement. Pregnant women should see a naturopath or nutritionist to see if they require extra iodine. If you have a hypothyroid condition, iodine may be of use but check in with a naturopath before taking it, as it can be harmful if you take too much iodine in isolation when you have certain thyroid conditions, such as Hashimoto’s.
If you’re concerned about iodine deficiency, make an appointment with one of our naturopaths or nutritionists who can assess your diet and order you a urinary iodine test if needed.