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Iodine: The benefits and risks

Tuesday, 25 February 2020  |  Editor

Iodine: what is it?

(Go straight to iodine supplements)

Iodine is a mineral found in the earth’s soil and ocean waters. Many salt water and plant-based foods contain iodine, and this mineral is most-widely available in iodized salt.

It’s important to get enough iodine in the diet because it regulates hormones, fetal development, and more.

If you have low iodine levels, your doctor might recommend iodine supplements. 

What is iodine used for?

Iodine is an essential mineral for our bodies and is particularly important during pregnancy and may even help prevent certain health conditions in later life.

For example, Iodine is helpful:

For promoting thyroid health

Your thyroid gland, which is located at the base of the front of your neck, helps regulate hormone production. These hormones control your metabolism, heart health, and more.

To make thyroid hormones, your thyroid uses iodine in small amounts. Without it, thyroid hormone production can decrease. A “low” or underactive thyroid gland can lead to a condition called hypothyroidism.

You can get enough iodine from your diet by eating dairy products, fortified foods, and salt water fish. Iodine is also available in plant foods that grow in naturally iodine-rich soil. You also can get the mineral by seasoning your food with iodized salt.

But beware, too much iodine can have a negative effect on the thyroid gland. 

For reducing risk for some goiters

A goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland. This can happen as a result from either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is an overactive thyroid gland.

Non-cancerous thyroid nodules (cysts) can also cause thyroid gland enlargement.

Sometimes a goiter develops as a result of iodine deficiency. This is the most common cause of goiter worldwide, though it’s not as common a cause in countries with access to iodine-rich foods.

Iodine-induced goiters may be reversed by adding iodine-rich foods or supplements in the diet.

For managing overactive thyroid gland

Your doctor may recommend a special type of iodine called radioactive iodine to treat an overactive thyroid gland. Also called radioiodine, this medication is taken by mouth. It’s used to destroy extra thyroid cells to help reduce excessive amounts of thyroid hormone.

The risk with radioactive iodine is that it can destroy too many thyroid cells. This can decrease the amount of hormone production, leading to hypothyroidism. For this reason, radioactive iodine is usually only recommended after anti-thyroid drugs have failed.

Radioactive iodine is not the same thing as iodine supplements. You should never take iodine supplements for hyperthyroidism.

For improving cognitive function

The same neurological benefits of iodine during pregnancy may extend to healthy brain function during childhood. 

Your child probably gets all the iodine they need through their diet, but if you have any questions about their iodine intake, talk to a pediatrician.

For improving birth weight

Iodine during pregnancy is associated with a healthy birth weight. One study of pregnant women with goiters found that 400 mg of iodine taken daily for six to eight weeks was helpful in correcting goiters related to iodine deficiency. There was an overall improvement in birth weight in newborns.

While iodine intake can impact a baby’s birth weight and overall development, it’s important to note that the above study focused on women in developing areas who were already deficient in iron.

Unless your doctor has determined you are iodine deficient, taking supplements aren’t likely to impact your baby’s weight at birth. In fact, taking iodine unnecessarily can cause health issues.

May help treat fibrocystic breast disease

It’s possible that iodine supplements or medications can help treat fibrocystic breast disease. This non-cancerous condition is most common in women of reproductive age, and it can cause painful breast lumps.

Although iodine might help with fibrocystic breast cysts, you shouldn’t attempt self-treatment. Only take iodine for this condition if your doctor specifically recommends it. Otherwise, you could be at risk of side effects from iodine toxicity.

for complications is higher if you already have thyroid disease.

For treating infections

Iodine can be used topically in a liquid form to help treat and prevent infections. It works by killing bacteria in and around mild cuts and scrapes.

Topical iodine should not be used on newborn babies. It should also not be used for deep cuts, animal bites, or burns.