Thyroid disease, particularly hypothyroidism, is an increasingly common problem in the United States. It is estimated that nearly 4.6 percent of Americans (about five out of every hundred) have some degree of hypothyroidism. This is accompanied by an expectation that the number of diagnoses will continue to increase in the coming years.
Studies suggest that perhaps one of the most influential factors regarding the increase in thyroid disease is widespread decline in iodine values. Understanding the impact of iodine on thyroid activity and learning how to improve iodine levels may help resolve the growing issue of hypothyroidism.
A Brief Review of the Thyroid and Hypothyroidism
The thyroid is a small but highly influential gland that regulates numerous areas of wellness. Some of the areas most affected by the thyroid include metabolism, growth, skin health, energy level, and weight regulation. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that any sort of thyroidal dysfunction can have a dramatic impact on overall wellness.
One of the most common forms of thyroid dysfunction is hypothyroidism. The condition causes a decline in thyroid activity and subsequent slowing of virtually every bodily function. There are several reasons why thyroid function may decline. Some of the most common being nutrient deficiencies – learn more about common nutrient deficiencies here – and greater exposure to environmental toxins. Both of these elements can negatively influence the availability and usage of iodine, which plays a pivotal role in thyroid function.
The Importance of Iodine in Thyroid Function
Iodine is a mineral that has many different responsibilities throughout the body including regulating metabolism, neurological development, fertility, and maintaining healthy immune function. Additionally, as a necessary component in the molecular structure of thyroid hormone, iodine is absolutely essential for proper thyroid activity and by extension healthy bodily function. In fact, thyroid hormones are actually named and categorized based on the number of iodine molecules used to construct them. For example, T4 is composed of four iodine molecules while T3 is made up of three.
Most often we acquire iodine through the foods we eat. Once it is absorbed in the stomach it is delivered to the thyroid gland via the bloodstream. After it arrives, the thyroid synthesizes it into the appropriate type and number of thyroid hormones. Without an adequate supply of iodine, the thyroid simply cannot produce thyroid hormone resulting in the development of hypothyroidism.
It is clear that having adequate iodine is important for maintaining thyroid function and wellness. In fact, Dr. David Brownstein, author of “Iodine: Why You Need it, Why You Can’t Live Without It” states that it is impossible to resolve thyroid disease if there is not an adequate supply of iodine. Sadly, many do not get the iodine they need to keep the thyroid and the rest of the body working at its best.
Iodine Deficiency and Its Effect on the Body
Along with magnesium and vitamin D, iodine is one of the three most common deficiencies among Americans. This is further confirmed by a national survey finding that over 11 percent of Americans are deficient in iodine. This is concerning because of the importance of iodine regarding thyroid health.
Despite the common occurrence of iodine deficiency, many have difficulty recognizing it. In most cases, deficiency triggers symptoms such as dry mouth, skin problems or itchiness, difficulty concentrating, muscle pains and weakness, and developmental issues in young children. These may also be indicative of an underlying thyroid issue. Unfortunately, many individuals discount these symptoms meaning that deficiency tends to remain unresolved resulting in greater dysfunction.
Although symptoms of deficiency can be troublesome, a greater problem associated with reduced iodine levels is an increased risk of thyroid disease. Studies show that reduced levels of iodine are associated with greater risk of hypothyroidism and goiter (expansion of the thyroid gland). Additionally, reduced iodine levels can inhibit the efficacy of thyroid medications and other thyroid treatments. Furthermore, iodine deficiency can contribute to a worsening or continuation of hypothyroid symptoms. Fortunately, it may be possible to alleviate hypothyroidism and other forms of thyroid dysfunction by improving iodine levels.
How to Safely Increase Iodine Values
There are two primary methods of improving iodine levels: supplementation and dietary changes. When done correctly, both can notably improve thyroid function, the efficacy of thyroid therapies, and overall wellness.
Supplementing with Iodine
When taken at the appropriate dosage, iodine on its own can greatly benefit thyroid function. However, most experts agree that iodine supplementation works best when taken along with other companion supplements. Some supplements to consider including in an iodine treatment plan are selenium, magnesium, vitamin C, vitamins B2 and B3, and unrefined salt. However, as is the case with any supplement, be sure to speak with a physician before starting a new regimen.
In most cases of hypothyroidism, iodine supplementation carries little risk. However, when taken recklessly, iodine can exacerbate a thyroid condition. Those with already elevated iodine levels or an existing autoimmune disorder should not supplement with iodine.
Dietary Sources of Iodine
According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, iodine levels have dropped by over 50 percent over the last 40 years. It is posited that one of the contributing factors of this problem is a notable decrease of dietary intake of iodine. Fortunately, it may be possible to alleviate this issue by making some simple changes to your diet plan. If you are suffering from an iodine deficiency or want to boost your iodine levels, consider eating more iodine-rich foods such as:
- Cage free eggs
- Green peas
- Lima beans
- Raw milk
- Seaweed or dried kelp
- Wild caught fish specifically cod and tuna
It is important to note that the iodine values of any given food may vary depending on its specific growing or production conditions. For example, depleted soil, farmed fish, and products produced using pesticides or other chemicals may not contain as much iodine as expected.
Improving Iodine Values to Restore Thyroid Health
Over the past several years as the rates of iodine deficiency have increased so too has the occurrence of thyroid disease. Research suggests that resolving iodine deficiencies through supplementation or dietary changes may help resolve dysfunction, improve treatment efficacy, and support overall wellness. If you are experiencing symptoms of thyroid dysfunction or iodine deficiency, speak with your doctor about iodine testing and ways to improve iodine values.
Resources1. Chung HR. “Iodine and thyroid function.” Ann Pediatr Endocrinol Metab. 2014;19(1):8–12.
2. NIH. “Chapter 1: Dietary Reference Intake for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and Zinc. Nutrient Recommendations: Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI).” National Institutes of Health (NIH).
3. Joseph Mercola. “Iodine Deficiency: Signs, Symptoms, and Solutions for Poor Thyroid Function.” Mercola.
4. Jillian Levy, CHHC. “Are You Eating Enough Iodine-Rich Foods?” Dr. Axe.