Iodine falls into the category of essential nutrients, otherwise known as something we need to function but we do not produce ourselves. If the body does not get enough iodine, the consequences can be quite damaging. Without it, the thyroid gland will not produce the right hormones to help with many things, such as our growth, metabolism, and more. As a result, we experience a serious lack of energy, hormonal imbalances, and altered physical and emotional states.

Key Takeaways:

  • Our bodies need essential nutrients, but we can not produce them on our own.
  • Poor energy, hormonal imbalances, and altered physical and emotional states can happen with a poorly functioning thyroid gland.
  • With an improper amount of iodine in the body, one can develop hypo or hyperthyroidism.

Without enough iodine, the thyroid gland cannot produce the thyroid hormones that regulate growth, metabolism and other important processes in the body. When that happens, energy levels plummet, hormones become imbalanced, and physical and emotional states are affected. Here we’ll take a closer look at everything you need to know about iodine and its special relationship with the thyroid.

Why Is Iodine Essential for Your Thyroid?

The thyroid gland needs iodine to manufacture the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), needed for heart, brain, and muscle function.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland situated at the front of your neck below the larynx (voice box). Dubbed the “master gland,” your thyroid plays a critical role in your health. The thyroid gland needs iodine to manufacture thyroid hormones, most notably triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). The shortened names refer to the number of iodine molecules these hormones contain, T3 has three iodine molecules T4 has four. T3 and T4 regulate your body’s metabolism. Heart, brain, and muscle function all depend on thyroid hormones like T3 and T4.

Iodine and Thyroid Disorders

About 12 percent of the total US population can expect thyroid disease to arise sometime during their lifetime.

According to the American Thyroid Association, roughly 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, and about 12 percent of the total US population can expect thyroid disease to arise sometime during their lifetime. For those currently afflicted with a thyroid disorder, more than half aren’t aware of it.[1]

Iodine and Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism refers to an underactive thyroid that does not produce enough thyroid hormones. Nearly five percent of the U.S. population over twelve years of age has this endocrine disorder, with a significantly higher incidence in women than in men and people over the age of 60.[2] Symptoms, which may be mild at the onset, include[2]:

  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Intolerance to cold temperatures
  • Brittle nails
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Goiter (swelling of the thyroid gland)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Elevated cholesterol

Without intervention, symptoms may later progress to include:

  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Puffy face, hands or feet
  • Impaired hearing
  • Hoarseness
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Thinning hair

While genetic factors, congenital disabilities, autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s disease, thyroid surgery, radiation treatment, pregnancy, or the long-term use of certain medications can also cause hypothyroidism, iodine deficiency is the most common cause throughout the world.[345]

Iodine deficiency and autoimmune disease are the main causes of hypothyroidism.

Where iodine-rich foods are widely available, the most common cause of primary hypothyroidism is autoimmune thyroiditis, an inflammation of the thyroid gland.[5] Secondary hypothyroidism is the term used to refer to an underactive thyroid due to the failure of the pituitary gland to signal thyroid hormone production through the release of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).[6]

How Much Iodine Do I Need?

For healthy individuals, the amount of iodine you need each day depends on your age and is measured in micrograms (mcg). According to the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the recommended daily allowance (RDA) of iodine in micrograms (mcg) is as follows:[12]

Life Stage RDA
Infants birth-6 months 110 mcg (if not breastfeeding)
Infants 7-12 months 130 mcg (if not breastfeeding)
1-8 years 90 mcg (if not breastfeeding)
9-13 years 120 mcg
Teens >14 and adults 150 mcg
Pregnant women 220 mcg
Breastfeeding women 290 mcg

Given the range of critical functions that iodine supports, many healthcare specialists believe that these recommendations are too low. Note that if you have a thyroid condition, whether hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, your healthcare provider’s specific recommendations for iodine intake may vary from these standard recommendations. In some cases, taking iodine can worsen your condition so be sure to check with your provider.

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