You may remember iodine from high school chemistry class. In fact, atomic number 53, as it’s known on the periodic table, has a storied history. Starting in 1924, it was added to salt to stave off the high number of iodine deficiencies. Portions of the U.S. around the Great Lakes, Appalachian, and Northwestern U.S. regions were experiencing high numbers of goiters, a swelling of the thyroid gland caused by severe iodine deficiency. Back then, adding iodine to salt and then later, flour, effectively staved off widespread deficiencies in the U.S. But unfortunately, many think the problem may be flaring back up again.
According to Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, Director of the Practitioners Alliance Network and author of the bestselling book "From Fatigued to Fantastic!," iodine deficiency is on the rise.
“In the last 30 years, the intake of iodine in America has dropped by around 50 percent,” says Dr. Teitelbaum. “Iodine’s main role is to help manufacture thyroid hormones. That’s why a subclinical iodine deficiency—enough to prevent a goiter, but not enough for optimal health—can cause hypothyroidism, an under-recognized condition that is epidemic in America.”
Dr. Teitelbaum wants to wake the U.S. up to its sleeping iodine deficiency epidemic because the mineral is so important to optimal health. Iodine is a natural element that’s needed for the body to regulate metabolism. It’s also important for proper thyroid function. Hence the goiter, which grows right at the throat in individuals with serious deficiencies.
What Causes Iodine Deficiency
Adding iodine to table salt worked for a long time to stave off deficiency. But in recent years, a number of people have begun to use less processed sea salts or mineral salts in their cooking because they're better quality and bring a better flavor. Those watching their sodium intake, for example, often prefer sea salt because, although it contains that same amount of sodium, its larger crystals and more varied flavors, mean that you don’t need to use as much. Table salt is also highly processed and doesn’t contain many of the trace minerals present in sea salt.
What’s more, according to Dr. Teitelbaum, poor soil also means that we can no longer get iodine from the foods we grow. In recent years iodine found in flour has been replaced with bromide and chlorine. He says that chlorine further depletes the body of the iodine that’s already present. It’s for all of these reasons that iodine deficiencies are becoming a growing public health problem, says Dr. Teitelbaum.
Iodine Deficiency Symptoms
If you’re iodine deficient, it can spell big problems for your health. These include:
1. Major fatigue.
As mentioned above, iodine is important for the body’s energy production. Without enough you may feel fatigued and sleepy. You may also be cranky and experience mood swings.
2. Thyroid disfunction.
Iodine is crucial for proper thyroid function. An iodine deficiency is more common in women who are also more likely to suffer from hypothyroidism. According to the American Thyroid Association, hypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism means that the thyroid gland can’t make enough thyroid hormone to keep the body running normally.
“The thyroid hormone is made of iodine so without enough, it cannot function normally,” says Dr. Teitelbaum. Specifically, he says that the thyroid is made up of one amino acid attached to four iodine atoms.
3. Breast health.
Additionally, iodine intake is tied closely to breast health. Dr. Teitelbaum says that women in particular should be concerned with deficiency because it may increase the risk of breast cancer.
4. Infertility issues.
Iodine is important for normal hormonal function and when the thyroid is out of whack these imbalances can cause infertility.
5. Goiters on the neck
As mentioned above, the most well known symptom of an iodine deficiency is goiters or a swelling of the thyroid. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck.
Treatments for Iodine Deficiency
According to Dr. Teitelbaum, iodine deficiency testing is not reliable so for basic health maintenance he recommends taking 6.25 mg (6,250 mcg) a day for 6 months, followed by a multivitamin with 150-200 mcg. Talk to your doctor before starting an iodine regimen.
How to Incorporate Foods with Iodine Into Your Diet
According to Dr. Teitelbaum, seaweed is the best source of iodine in your diet. The very best source is kelp which contains a whopping 2,000 mg of iodine per serving. Here’s an easy and delicious way to put kelp to use.
- 6 cups vegetable stock
- 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
- 1 Tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp chopped garlic
- 1 package kelp noodles rinsed (12 oz.)
- 4 oz shiitake mushrooms cleaned and sliced
- 1/3 cup green onion chopped
- 1/4 cup cilantro chopped
- 2 large eggs whisked
- 1 Tbsp cilantro chopped
- 1 Tbsp chopped peanuts
- Sea salt to taste
- Ground black pepper to taste
- Hot sauce (optional for serving)
- Add stock to a large saucepan over medium high heat. Add the ginger, fish sauce, garlic, and kelp noodles and bring to a boil. Allow to lightly boil for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the kelp noodles begin to soften.
- Add the mushrooms and eggs to the pot and allow to boil for another 3-4 minutes. Garnish with chopped cilantro and peanuts. Taste and add sea salt and ground black pepper to your liking.
- Ladle the soup into bowls and top with green onion, cilantro, and your protein of choice. Serve with your favorite hot sauce and enjoy!