Iodine Deficiency: Signs, health effects, and treatment
What you need to know:
- Iodine deficiency and hypothyroidism can lead to serious and irreversible health complications.
- People with mild iodine deficiency may not require treatment as their bodies can get iodine from the food they eat.
- The slow rate of skin regeneration caused by iodine deficiency also affects hair follicles.
Iodine is an essential nutrient for the proper function of the thyroid gland, a vital hormone gland in the body. Iodine deficiency lowers the performance of the thyroid gland thus affecting hormone production. This can cause a variety of health problems, including hypothyroidism, mental retardation, and goitre. Without proper treatment, many of the health conditions caused by Iodine deficiency, including mental retardation, can be permanent.
Sources of Iodine
Iodine is found naturally in various foods. Seaweeds, fish, and other types of sea foods generally have a high concentration of the mineral. Dairy products, eggs, beef liver, whole grains, and most vegetables also provide iodine.
Fish and other sea foods get iodine from ocean water; plants from the soil; and animal products from the food the animal ate. In some areas, the concentration of iodine in the water or soil is too low. Foods from such areas cannot supply the body with adequate iodine. Health and food agencies in such areas may require the foods and salt to be iodized, i.e., added iodine artificially before being distributed for consumption, to avoid deficiency.
Signs of iodine deficiency
The most common and visible sign of iodine deficiency is goitre - a swelling on the neck. The swelling is an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland, which is in the front part of the lower neck, just below the voice box (larynx). Iodine deficiency-related goitres can be either diffuse or nodular. Diffuse goitres are more common and appear as a swelling of the entire thyroid gland. Nodular goitres, on the other hand, are lumps or knots that form in the gland.
Do not use goitre as a sure sign that you have a deficiency of iodine because it can be caused by other health conditions. See a doctor for an accurate diagnosis.
Another common symptom of iodine deficiency is weight gain. Thyroid hormones regulate the metabolism of fats and carbohydrates in the body. When there is a deficiency of iodine, the hormones are not produced in adequate amounts. The metabolic process is therefore disrupted forcing the body to store lots of the food as fat leading to weight gain.
Fatigue, lethargy, weakness, and feeling unreasonably cold
Iodine-deficient individuals often feel tired, cranky, and weak. This is also a sign that the thyroid is not producing adequate amounts of hormones needed for metabolism. The heat produced during metabolism also keeps the body warm. Low metabolism will therefore cause you to feel cold even when it’s warm and everyone else is not feeling cold.
If you are feeling groggy, cold, and weak all the time, inform your doctor so that they can assess you for other indicators of iodine deficiency and low metabolism.
Muscle aches, tenderness, and stiffness
Another common symptom of iodine deficiency is muscle aches, tenderness, and stiffness. Other than metabolism and brain development, thyroid hormones also help in muscle contraction. When there is a deficiency of iodine, muscles cannot function properly leading to pain and cramping.
Dry skin and hair loss
Dry and flaky skin is another symptom of iodine deficiency. Iodine is needed for the production of thyroid hormones which play a role in the regeneration of the skin. Iodine deficiency slows down the skin regeneration process, leaving you with flaky skin. In addition, people who are iodine deficient sweat less due to the reduced metabolic rate. The sweating process helps in moisturising the skin, and once it is slowed down, the skin becomes dry and cracks easily.
The slow rate of skin regeneration caused by iodine deficiency also affects hair follicles. This may lead to hair loss at an early age.
Treating Iodine Deficiency
Iodine deficiency is treated by increasing the intake of iodine in the diet. This can be done by consuming more iodine-rich foods, iodized salt, or iodine supplements.
People with mild iodine deficiency may not require treatment as their bodies can get iodine from the food they eat. However, people with severe iodine deficiency may need to take iodine supplements. Iodine supplements are available in different forms including pills, liquids, and topical solutions.
Iodine deficiency can lead to serious health conditions
Iodine deficiency and hypothyroidism can lead to serious and irreversible health complications. For instance, inadequate iodine during pregnancy can hinder brain development leading to permanent mental retardation. Even in adults, iodine deficiency can interfere with your cognitive ability. You may also experience irregular heart rate and blood pressure due to low metabolism, and irregular periods due to low thyroid hormones.
Iodine deficiency is, therefore, a serious condition that should be addressed as soon as it is diagnosed. However, do not take iodine supplements without consulting a doctor as too much iodine can lead to iodine toxicity and hyperthyroidism.