2 Billion People Are Deficient in This Nutrient

Contrary to popular belief, iodine deficiency is a health issue that is common in all people, not just pregnant women and children. As a matter of fact, it was estimated that 2 billion people worldwide are suffering from this condition, which makes it one of the most widespread nutrient deficiencies in the world. An iodine deficiency manifests itself through many uncomfortable and sometimes severe symptoms, such as memory issues, hair loss, weight gain, and chronic fatigue. 
Anyone can develop an iodine deficiency, although pregnant women, vegetarians, vegans, and those who live in areas with low levels of iodine in the soil are the most likely to develop this condition. The reason why iodine deficiencies are closely-associated with pregnancy and children is that iodine levels play an important role in brain development and physical growth. Low levels of this mineral can lead to developmental issues in infants and children.
Still, anyone can experience iodine deficiency symptoms, especially if you’re not a fan of seafood and fish and you avoid consuming iodized salt. Below, we list 8 widespread health issues that affect both men and women.

1. Feeling cold all the time

Iodine Deficiency woman feeling sick
Iodine is a mineral that’s present in the soil and the ocean. The human body needs iodine in order to produce thyroid hormones. When a person isn’t able to get enough iodine from their diet, this can diminish the synthesis of thyroid hormones in the body.
As a result, the body will not receive enough thyroid hormones, and symptoms reminiscent of those of an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) will occur. One such symptom is an increased sensitivity to the cold. According to medical research, more than 80% of people with an underactive thyroid start feeling colder than usual.
Researchers believe that this may be due to the fact that low levels of thyroid hormones slow down the metabolism. As a result, the body starts generating less heat and becomes more susceptible to be cold.

2. A swollen neck

Iodine Deficiency man touching neck
For those who need a quick anatomy reminder - the thyroid gland is a small gland located in the front part of the neck. When a person’s iodine levels are low, this butterfly-shaped gland perceives it as a sign that it must work harder in order to try and make more hormones.
Subsequently, it starts growing in size, and the person develops a goiter - swelling in the front of the neck. A goiter is the most characteristic symptom of an iodine deficiency and an underactive thyroid in general. If low iodine is to blame for this symptom, increasing one’s iodine intake will help decrease the size of the goiter or make it go away completely. If left untreated, however, this change can become permanent.

3. Hair loss

Iodine Deficiency Hair loss
One of the tasks of the thyroid gland is to maintain the growth of hair follicles. Insufficient iodine levels can hinder the regeneration of hair follicles. If this continues for a long time, the hair follicles die and the person will experience hair loss. Studies confirm that a third of hypothyroidism patients of both sexes develop hair loss. If you suspect that you’re experiencing hair loss due to an iodine deficiency, restoring normal levels of the mineral usually helps stop the hair loss.

4. Dry and flaky skin

Iodine Deficiency dry skin
If you notice that your skin is suddenly becoming dry and flaky, although you usually don’t have this issue, low iodine intake may the culprit. The reason why is simple. Thyroid hormones help regulate how fast our skin renews itself and how much it sweats.
A reduction in thyroid hormone levels, in turn, disrupts this renewal cycle, making old rough skin cells stick around on the surface of the skin for a longer time, which makes your skin appear flaky and dry. A reduction in the activity of sweat glands also plays a role in making your skin less plump and hydrated.
A combination of these two factors makes people with an iodine deficiency more likely to suffer from dry and rough skin. As many as 77% of those who suffer from hypothyroidism experience this symptom according to studies.

5. Changes in heart rate

Iodine Deficiency woman measuring her pulse
Apart from slowing down the thyroid gland, iodine deficiency can also affect the heart. Changes in iodine levels can affect the heart rate - the number of beats your heart does per minute. If you’re not getting enough iodine from your diet, your heart will beat slower, whereas excessive iodine consumption can make your heart beat faster than usual.
An extreme deficiency in this mineral makes the heart work very slowly, and the person suffering from a deficiency that’s that severe will feel lethargic, tired, and may even faint.

6. Fatigue

Iodine Deficiency tired woman in front of laptop
Research shows that 80% of diagnosed iodine deficiency patients experience this symptom. Still, weakness and fatigue alone are rarely enough to be diagnosed with iodine deficiency. After all, it’s one of the most common symptoms and can be a sign of so many health issues.
That said, a feeling of overwhelming and unexplained tiredness is often the push that makes a patient see a doctor and get blood-work done in the first place. This, in turn, helps the person receive a proper diagnosis and start watching their iodine levels more closely.

7. Sudden weight gain

Iodine  weight gain
As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, an underactive thyroid can make your metabolism slow down. When your metabolism becomes sluggish, your body will start converting the majority of the energy you consume from food into fat.
For that reason, those who are deficient in iodine may experience sudden weight gain and may find it difficult to lose weight. In these individuals, adjusting your iodine levels may speed up your metabolism and reverse these undesirable changes.

8. Memory issues and difficulty learning new information

Iodine Deficiency difficulty learning
There are so many interesting ways in which our diet can really influence our mental faculties and brain health. We usually think of our gut microbiome when we think of this connection, but even a seemingly-minor flaw like a diet poor in iodine can likewise create a lot of trouble in the brain. Low iodine levels make it more difficult for us to learn and remember.
According to studies, an iodine deficiency can even shrink the hippocampus, the part of the brain responsible for forming long-term memories. "Lack of iodine is the world's leading cause of preventable mental retardation and can cause population-wide drops in IQ in areas where deficiency is common," said Dr. Glen Maberly of Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health in a press release by the CDC. Therefore, it’s incredibly important to get your iodine levels in check if you want to preserve your brain’s ability to form and retain information.

How to Make Sure You’re Getting Enough Iodine from Your Diet

Iodine Deficiency Iodine rich foods

Unfortunately, the human body cannot produce iodine on its own. Therefore, we must rely on our diet completely in order to meet our daily need for this mineral. A healthy child and adult need to consume 150 micrograms of iodine per day. This daily dose increases to 220 micrograms a day for pregnant women and 290 micrograms for breastfeeding women. 

In many countries, the soil is poor in iodine, and so the water and the foods produced in these places lack the mineral. What's more, the levels of the mineral in the soil only seem to decrease over time. For example, historically, the solid across the United States was considered sufficiently rich in iodine, but through the 1980s and 1990s, researchers started observing that more and more people were deficient in iodine.

For this reason, many countries, including the United State, started incorporating iodine into table salt. If you live in an area in the world with low iodine soil, incorporating iodized salt into your diet may be a good idea. That said, adding a lot of salt into your meals is never a good idea, so make sure also to include foods that contain iodine to meet your daily dose of the mineral.

Whole foods are a much healthier way to enrich your diet with iodine, as they contain other important nutrients along with it. These sources include:

  • Dairy
  • Seafood
  • Meat
  • Eggs
  • Seaweed
  • Soy products.

​To read more on these iodine-rich foods and other foods that boost or affect the thyroid gland, read our article 10 Foods That Affect Thyroid Activity. We hope you found this article informative.

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