How Iodine Deficiency Impacts Your Health

Posted by Nancy Sabatelli on May.27, 2010

© - iLexx

© - iLexx

To make sure you’re functioning at your best, your body must maintain proper nutrient levels. The body is able to manufacture some of these nutrients naturally on its own. However, other nutrients – such as iodine – cannot be made by our bodies, so we must take them in through other sources, such as food or supplements. Learn more about iodine – why we need this nutrient, what happens when we’re deficient in it and where we can find it.

What Is Iodine and Why Do We Need It?

Iodine is an important element that we need for many reasons, including thyroid hormone production, metabolism, brain development, reproductive development, growth and energy (1, 2, 3, 4). When our bodies lack sufficient iodine, then we are unable to produce adequate thyroid hormones. The result can be an enlarged thyroid gland, hypothyroidism or swollen growths and nodules called goiters.

“Approximately 40 percent of the world’s population remains at risk for iodine deficiency,” according to the American Thyroid Association (1). Iodine deficiency rates have remained unchanged in the U.S. over the past twenty years, but continue to be prevalent in regions like Asia, Africa and parts of Europe (1). Generally, iodine deficiency is seen across broad, large groups of people who live in a certain geographic region rather than in individuals. This is because certain regions have low levels of iodine in their soil; as such, food grown there will be low in iodine, and all the people who eat that food will be affected (1).

What Are Symptoms and Problems Associated With Iodine Deficiency?

Iodine deficiency isn’t always easy to spot, especially in people who are only mildly deficient. However, as noted earlier, iodine deficiency is linked to hypothyroidism, which may present symptoms including:

  • Weight gain
  • Fatigue
  • Skin and hair problems
  • Muscle pains
  • Feeling cold
  • Problems breathing or swallowing (1, 2)

More severe cases may have more serious symptoms, such as:

  • Decreased heart rate or heart failure
  • Dramatic drop in body temperature
  • Fluid build-up around the lungs
  • Coma (2)

Iodine deficiency can have different symptoms depending upon one’s age. This condition is extremely detrimental to pregnant women and developing babies, linked with problems ranging from stillbirths, miscarriages, preterm births and congenital defects. Babies born to iodine-deficient mothers can suffer from lifelong mental retardation, speech or hearing problems, lower intellectual abilities and poor physical growth (1, 2, 3, 4). In fact, iodine deficiency “is the single most common cause of preventable mental retardation and brain damage in the world,” reports the University of Michigan Health System (2). In older adults, iodine deficiency can manifest itself via slower reflexes and response times or decreased cognitive function (4).

How Much Iodine Do We Need and Where Do We Get It?

The University of Michigan Health System reports the following recommended daily allowances (RDA) of iodine, based on a person’s age (2):

  • Babies and infants under one year old: 40-50 micrograms
  • Babies and children 1-3 years old: 70 micrograms
  • Children 4-6 years old: 90 micrograms
  • Children 7-10 years old: 120 micrograms
  • Children over age eleven: 150 micrograms
  • Women who are pregnant: 175 micrograms
  • Women who are breastfeeding: 200 micrograms
  • Average adults: 100-200 micrograms

Of course, these are just general guidelines, and you should always check with your doctor before taking any type of vitamin or supplement. In particular, iodine supplements may interact with other medications for heart or thyroid conditions (4).

Primarily, iodine is found in soil, so foods grown in iodine-rich soil will contain this nutrient. It’s also found in seawater, so fish – particularly cod, bass and haddock - as well as seafood and seaweed like kelp are good sources. Iodine may be added to table salt, (look for “iodized” on the label). Finally, dairy products like milk, cheese, yogurt and ice cream contain iodine (1, 2, 3, 4).


1. Iodine Deficiency. (2008). American Thyroid Association. Retrieved April 20, 2010 from

2. Iodine Deficiency. (January 2002). University of Michigan Health System. Retrieved April 25, 2010 from

3. Iodine Deficiency. (December 2003). Healthy Eating Club. Retrieved April 20, 2010 from

4. Iodine. (March 2010). Linus Pauling Institute. Retrieved April 25, 2010 from

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Posted under Food, Nutrition & Recipes, Nutrition.

Article By: Nancy Sabatelli

Nancy Sabatelli

Profile: Nancy Sabatelli is a freelance writer for a skincare/beauty site as well as an educational publishing company, and is excited to be writing for Green Diva Mom. Nancy received her Bachelor of Science in General Studies with a concentration in Communications from Charter Oak State College. She believes that each of us can make small changes in our lives that have a large impact on the environment. Nancy enjoys reading, music, watching baseball and spending time with her family, friends and fiancé. She lives in Connecticut with her family, two spoiled cats and a pampered puppy.


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1 comment for this entry:
  1. topcat

    A brilliant and hard hitting article that should have been promoted by our goverments. Thank you

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