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【Iodine Deficiency Disorders】 What’s the big deal about iodine?

Hau LIU, Chief Medical Officer, Endocrinologist

When we think of iodine, we often think of antiseptic swabs that help prevent infection and treat wounds.  Actually, iodine is an important part of our diet and plays a critical role in our development and the maintenance of our health.  If we are deficient in iodine, we can develop significant health conditions, including diseases that affect ourselves as well as our offspring.

What is iodine?

Iodine is an element that is not produced by our body and is acquired through our diet.  It is typically found in seafood, such as fish and shellfish.  It may also be found in certain vegetables.  People who live in many parts of the world have iodine deficiency because iodine is not readily available through dietary sources. To address this issue, countries have engaged in supplementing iodine to food, particularly by adding iodine to salt.  China began a nation-wide effort in the early 1990s to add iodine to table salt in order to ensure sufficient dietary intake.

Why is iodine important?

Iodine is an important component of thyroid hormone, a hormone that is essential to survival.  Thyroid hormone is produced by the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland that is located in the front of the neck.  Thyroid hormone regulates many processes in the body, including the body’s metabolism.  When there is too much thyroid hormone, hyperthyroidism (or an over-active thyroid) results and the body appears to function in overdrive. People with hyperthyroidism may experience weight loss, fast heart rate, sweating and tremulousness.  When there is too little thyroid hormone, hypothyroidism (or an under-active thyroid) results and body appears to slow down.  People with hypothyroidism may experience weight gain, lethargy, feeling cold, and constipation.

What happens when you don’t have enough iodine?

Iodine deficiency may result in an increase in the size of the thyroid gland, also known as a goiter.  If severe, this abnormal growth in the gland can cause breathing and eating problems. Iodine deficiency can also result in low production of thyroid hormone, resulting in a hypothyroid state. This can be particularly serious in pregnant women.  Low iodine levels and hypothyroidism in pregnant women can result in significant development issues for the baby during the pregnancy.  In severe cases, this can cause problems in brain development and result in a condition called cretinism, which can causes mental retardation as well as other characteristic features.

How much iodine is recommended?

The U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for iodine is:

  • 90 mcg a day for children 1 to 8 years old
  • 120 mcg a day for children 9 to 13 years old
  • 150 mcg a day for older children and adults
  • 220 mcg a day for pregnant women
  • 290 mcg daily for breastfeeding women

Is there anything else to know?

Appropriate intake of iodine is important for good health.  While iodine deficiency can result in disease, iodine excess can also increase risk of disease, including both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.  For more information, consult your doctor or health care professional.  At Shanghai United Family Hospital and Clinics, we offer Nutrition services that can assist in optimizing your diet, and medical services to assess your thyroid function.

Please contact 400 639 3900 for more details.