Iodine is an essential mineral that is necessary for the production of thyroid hormone. This hormone plays a crucial role in the growth of fetuses, children, and in maintaining metabolism in adults. However, low thyroid function is not solely caused by iodine deficiency.
If a person does not consume enough iodine-rich foods, they may become deficient in iodine, particularly pregnant women who require a higher amount of iodine. Iodine deficiency can lead to an enlarged thyroid gland (goiter), mental disabilities in children, neck swelling, difficulty in learning or concentrating, weight gain, and pregnancy problems.
The amount of iodine in the urine can diagnose iodine deficiency, and a blood test can be done to check thyroid function. Since the body cannot produce iodine on its own, it must be obtained through food sources.
What are the signs and symptoms of iodine deficiency?
Unexplained weight gain is one of the most common symptoms of iodine deficiency. When a person’s metabolism is healthy, it burns calories to provide energy to the body. The problem caused by the lack of thyroid hormones, known as hypothyroidism, slows down the person’s metabolism. When the metabolism slows down, calories are stored as fat, leading to obesity.
When a person is deficient in iodine, they may start feeling weak. They may find it difficult to lift heavy objects that they could easily lift before. Weakness is detected when a person feels less energy than usual. Hypothyroidism slows down the process of burning calories, causing a decrease in energy levels in the body. Low energy means that muscles are not functioning properly, leading to feelings of weakness.
Due to the reduction in metabolism, the patient may feel tired. Therefore, feeling tired is a sign of iodine deficiency.
Hair Loss or Thinning:
Hair loss may also be a sign of iodine deficiency. Thyroid hormones support hair renewal. Hypothyroidism, caused by a lack of thyroid hormones, stops the renewal of hair.
Dryness in the Skin:
Dry or scaly skin can also be a sign of hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency. Thyroid hormones help renew cells. A deficiency in this hormone leads to cell destruction, resulting in dry or flaky skin.
Iodine deficiency causes a deficiency of thyroid hormones. As the thyroid hormone levels decrease, so does the person’s metabolism. As the metabolism slows down, the body becomes less energy-efficient, resulting in a decrease in body heat. This can cause feelings of coldness.
Slowing of Heart Rate:
A deficiency of iodine in the body can also slow down the heart rate. A slow heart rate can cause dizziness and feelings of nausea. In severe cases, it may even lead to fainting.
Learning and Memory Problems:
The thyroid hormone is very important for brain development. Due to iodine deficiency, there can be a deficiency of this hormone, leading to weak learning, understanding, and memory.
It can be difficult for a pregnant woman to get enough iodine. The woman and the unborn child both need iodine for healthy development. If there is a deficiency of thyroid hormone, it can lead to decreased development of the baby and even stillbirth.
Irregular or Heavy Menstrual Bleeding:
A decrease in thyroid hormone levels can also affect the hormone that regulates menstruation in women, leading to irregular or heavy bleeding, which can indicate an iodine deficiency. Menstruation can also become more or less frequent than normal.
Iodine deficiency can cause swelling in the neck due to the increase in the size of the thyroid gland. When the thyroid gland lacks iodine, it tries to absorb more from food, leading to an enlarged thyroid gland and a swollen neck.
Hypothyroidism Symptoms in Infants:
- Frequent suffocation
- Enlarged tongue
- Puffy face
- Loss of muscle tone
- Excessive sleepiness
Hypothyroidism Symptoms in Children and Adolescents:
- Delayed teething
- Delayed puberty
- Stunted growth
Symptoms may include:
- Low IQ
- Learning difficulties
- Mental retardation (especially in children)
When should I see a doctor?
If you experience the following symptoms, you should see a doctor:
- A sudden feeling of extreme cold
- Extreme tiredness followed by drowsiness and eventual passing out
What is the reason for iodine deficiency?
The body does not produce iodine naturally, so it must be obtained from food sources. The use of iodized salt has become widespread, resulting in very few cases of iodine deficiency. Animal foods, including meat and dairy products, are also rich in iodine.
When does the risk of iodine deficiency increase?
Some risk factors that contribute to low iodine levels include:
- Consuming foods that do not contain fish or shellfish
- Following a vegetarian diet
- Reducing or avoiding the use of iodized salt
- Low use of iodine in agriculture and food production
- Medical procedures that use radioactive iodine to replace natural iodine.
How to prevent iodine deficiency in the body?
To prevent iodine deficiency in the body, consider the following:
- Consuming foods grown in soils high in iodine
- Eating dairy products, meat, and seafood
- Taking vitamin and mineral supplements that include iodine
- Using iodized salt
Foods that are rich in iodine include:
- Dried fruits
- Dairy products
- Iodized table salt
How is iodine deficiency tested?
To test for iodine deficiency, a doctor may ask about symptoms, dietary habits, and medical history. If they suspect a deficiency, they can check iodine levels through the following tests:
- Iodine patch test: In this test, a patch of iodine is applied to the skin and checked for changes after 24 hours. In people without deficiency, the patch may not lighten, but in those with deficiency, the skin absorbs the iodine.
- Iodine loading test: This test measures the amount of iodine removed through urine in a 24-hour period, but takes more time and can cause discomfort.
- Urine test: This is the fastest test but is not as accurate as others in measuring iodine levels.
- Blood test: This is a simple and accurate test, but takes longer than the urine test.
How do you fix iodine deficiency?
Prevention is the best cure for iodine deficiency. The widespread use of iodized salt has significantly reduced the occurrence of iodine deficiency.
In the event of iodine deficiency, treatment involves iodine replacement. Consuming iodized salt and iodine-rich foods can replenish normal iodine levels. Vitamin and mineral supplements containing iodine may also be used. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should take a multivitamin with iodine as it is essential for fetal and infant development.
In some cases, the thyroid gland may need to be surgically removed, especially if a large goiter develops and causes difficulty in breathing and swallowing. Hormone replacement therapy may be necessary if the thyroid gland is removed.
Which part of the body is most affected by iodine deficiency?
If left untreated, iodine deficiency can lead to severe hypothyroidism and result in various problems and complications, including:
- Heart diseases and associated disorders, such as heart enlargement and heart failure
- Mental health conditions, such as depression and cognitive impairment
- Damage to the peripheral nerves of the body
- Infertility in women
- Menstrual irregularities
- Mental retardation
- Weight gain
If a pregnant woman has low levels of thyroid hormones, there is an increased risk of birth defects in her baby, including:
- Premature birth
- Any congenital abnormality in newborns.