Our knowledge of iodine is often limited to the orange tincture that our mother used to put on our wounds in childhood. It’s totally understandable to overlook that iodine can have nutritional value too. But in reality iodine HAS a high nutritional value.
In fact, iodine is one of the most crucial nutrients your body needs to carry out normal functions. Needless to say, iodine deficiency will have devastating effects. It can have multiple debilitating effects on your body organs but the most affected one is thyroid —that little butterfly shaped gland situated in base of your neck. Without adequate iodine, the thyroid is in trouble and will struggle to keep its functioning intact.
This article will focus on the relationship between iodine deficiency and the thyroid gland, and factors leading to this disastrous combination and the collateral damage that can be done. So, read on to find everything you need to know about iodine deficiency, its profound effects on your body and its link with the thyroid gland.
Why Iodine is necessary
Why do you need iodine? It’s a halogen (a class of potentially harmful compounds) after all and we might not expect it to be any good for the living cells. But this perception is wrong! Iodine is beneficial and performs many important functions in your body. Why else do you think that orange colored tincture is always applied on your wounds? Because iodine helps your cells and it helps big time!
Iodine is necessary for the optimization of your immune system and acts as a potent anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial agent (now you know how that tincture works!).
It’s also crucial for brain development in children, and if a mother has an insufficient supply of iodine during pregnancy, the fetus’ mental development is likely to be stunted. Similar results are expected to appear in early childhood of a young child if he doesn’t get enough iodine.
Iodine also manages your body weight and metabolism. Management of body metabolism means the whole system of energy production is based to some degree on iodine supply. See what a little nutrient that seems to be so unimportant in first place, can do to your body!
In adults, another important factor that’s impacted by iodine is fertility. Believe it or not, iodine deficiency lessens your chances to procreate and have a baby. It sounds hard to believe that the small amount of iodine required by your body can actually determine such a huge matter, but nature works in funny ways I guess!
While all the above have their importance, the one I’m interested in right now (and in my opinion this one needs to be emphasized upon more than ever in current times) is the relationship between iodine deficiency and thyroid gland. Iodine is a key ingredient of thyroid secretions so, it is crucial for proper functioning of the thyroid. Any discrepancy in iodine (excess or deficiency both) can affect the thyroid gland and wreak havoc on your body. The reason is that the thyroid gland is responsible for vital as well as minor functions in your body (more on this later!).
Iodine deficiency is manifested by some less major problems (doesn’t mean they can be ignored!), most of which are related to the thyroid. Before moving on to anything further, you need to understand what factors are responsible for iodine deficiency. It will help you in solving the problem of iodine deficiency and thyroid gland disfunction.
Why is iodine deficiency prevalent?
Iodine deficiency is prevalent for various reasons ranging from nutritional to environmental factors. All these reasons collectively, or alone, lead to thyroid problems. That’s how thyroid problems and iodine deficiency go hand in hand! The following factors are most common in creating iodine deficiency and thereby, thyroid gland problems:
Denial: One reason that seems benign but in reality plays an important role is denial! As I told you in the beginning, iodine deficiency can be conveniently ignored. The reason is a belief that iodine deficiency is prevalent only in developing countries where malnutrition is prevalent. But this myth needs to be busted! Although practitioners often overlook this, there’s sufficient data that compels us to believe that iodine deficiency is widely prevalent worldwide, even in developed countries.
According to a national survey report 11% of the overall US population, 7% of pregnant women and almost 17% of women of reproductive age suffer from iodine deficiency! Considering these numbers, it’s beyond me why iodine deficiency is considered a only developing country problem!
Nutritional Deficiency: Another reason is nutritional deficiency. The common perception is that whatever little amount iodine your body needs is provided by iodized table salt. While I agree that iodized table salt is excellent, it’s often not enough. Salt itself isn’t a very benign substance to consume. It makes you susceptible to hypertension and heart problems. People who already suffer from such diseases have a high chance of facing iodine deficiency because they avoid salt altogether. And even if you’re taking table salt, iodine deficiency and thyroid problems can appear.
Toxic Environment: Another factor that is causing iodine deficiency is a toxic environment. And by environment, I mean the food we eat and water we drink and the surroundings we live in. Our foods are highly polluted with pesticides containing different halogens like Fluoride, Bromide, Chloride etc. Fluoridated water that apparently is clean and eligible for drinking is also a danger! But how? Iodine belongs to the same class of halogens and they can replace iodine in your body and occupy its binding sites. As a result of this competition, iodine loses binding sites and becomes unavailable to your thyroid gland. That’s how our polluted environment is indirectly causing thyroid issues. If you are consuming food grown in soil that is deficient in iodine that will cost you in form of thyroid problems too!
What has thyroid to do with Iodine deficiency?
Iodine and its role in your body have been briefly discussed above, but it’s time to explore a more crucial subject: the effects of iodine deficiency on the thyroid gland! What does iodine do to the thyroid? The thyroid controls your metabolism and other vital functions giving it life! But what gives life to the thyroid? IODINE!! The thyroid gland secretes Thyroxin that performs all its functions. And thyroxin can be made only if you have enough iodine in your body. There are two types of thyroxin produced by thyroid named as T3 and T4. These numbers represent the number of iodine molecules attached to Thyroglobulin —a protein that stores thyroid secretions.
Your body makes a hormone TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). When thyroxin levels are low in your blood, your body secretes TSH which acts as a trigger factor and helps thyroid in enhancing its secretion. The thyroid does so by trapping iodine from your blood and binding it to Thyrogloblulin protein that releases thyroxin in your body whenever needed. Low iodine levels mean no iodine is available for attachment to thyroglobulin and eventually the inability to form thyroxin. This condition is called Hypothyroidism —less thyroid secretions. Your thyroid secretions dwindle and your body goes short on thyroxin. All the other effects are the result of this hypothyroidism caused by iodine deficiency.
How dangerous is this iodine deficiency and related thyroid gland problems?
Iodine deficiency causes hypothyroidism and all the effects on body are the result of this. Your body struggles to compensate this loss, which induces some major reactions in the form of disease. So, not only your body shows symptoms of hypothyroidism but also reactionary diseases are caused in the struggle to cope with it.
The thyroid controls your body’s metabolism and vital functions like heart rate. Low thyroxin levels mean low energy production, sluggish metabolism and eventually slow vitals. It’s like your body is robbed of its gears and it gets stuck instead of moving forward! It stunts your brain development. Research shows that the leading cause of low IQ in individuals is iodine deficiency and eventual hypothyroidism. It also causes irreversible mental retardation because thyroid hormones are crucial in brain development. They are also involved in proliferation of neurons and their myelination. Iodine plays a vital role in development of humans in early years. So, if babies or even pregnant mothers don’t get enough iodine, they suffer from hypothyroidism. This leads to mental retardation and autism in children. Fetuses suffering from hypothyroidism often die before birth and even if they are born their overall growth is extremely stunted.
Hypothyroidism also messes with your weight. The reason is because it throws off your metabolism. The absence of enough iodine reduces thyroid secretion and if thyroxin levels are low, your metabolism becomes sluggish. Your food is not properly digested and weight gain becomes inevitable. Hypothyroid individuals are often obese and have slow heart rates.
What symptoms should you look out for in iodine deficiency?
To stay aware of your health, you need to look out for indicators. These indicators appear when your thyroid hormone levels are low due to iodine deficiency. So, you need to keep some important symptoms in mind. If you experience any of them, make a mental note to keep track of your thyroid activity and more importantly iodine intake.
Some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism and iodine deficiency are as follows:
• Thyroid enlargement
Thyroid gland enlargement, also called Goiter, is a reactionary symptom. When your blood gets starved of thyroxin, your body takes charge! It awakens TSH and puts it to work! TSH is a thyroid stimulant and it tends to force your thyroid to secrete hormones. Thyroid cells divide and increase in number to overcome thyroxin deficiency and make more thyroid hormones. As a result, the size of your thyroid gland increases and a large goiter is formed. Notice that large extra skin under your neck? It’s no double chin, it is goiter! It’s often painful and needs immediate attention.
• Slow brain function
Since iodine plays an important role in brain development and neuron mylenation, it’s logical to say that iodine deficiency affects brain functioning. Your brain function slows down, and coordination between neurons becomes poor. You can’t focus on anything and concentration levels dwindle. Needless to say, it becomes frustrating and leads to mood swings and emotional problems!! Your memory is also affected by iodine deficiency. Hypothyroidism affects the health of neurons in your brain and eventually you can’t remember much! Lower IQ level is also a result of iodine deficiency. Children are especially prone to mental disturbances so; if you notice that your child is intellectually underdeveloped, it’s time to pay attention to iodine intake and thyroid function!
• Impaired immunity
Iodine acts as a potent anti-microbial agent and helps your body in maintaining its defenses. Thyroid also plays a vital role in keeping your immune system in place. So, you need to keep both these parameters in line for a healthy immunity. In contrast, iodine deficiency leads to hypothyroidism and an impaired immune system. That’s why you may often suffer cough attacks or your flu takes a very long time to heal! Your system is out of iodine and bacteria are free to roam and wreak havoc on your body! Look out for these symptoms and keep iodine deficiency at bay!
• Lethargy and fatigue
Hypothyroidism impairs enzyme functioning. These enzymes, in turn, slow down your metabolic cycles and your metabolism becomes problematic, leaving you out of energy. You’re tired and lethargic and your energy levels never seem to be strong. This is a clear pointer towards a low thyroid level and iodine deficiency.
• Weight gain
Sluggish metabolism leads to improper digestion of food. If energy is not produced by food, it will be stored in your body for future use! That’s how your body works and in this case it works against you. Your fat stores perk up and they come with collateral damage. Your heart rate slows down, you feel trouble in breathing and pulse becomes weak. All this because your metabolism isn’t in the right place and that’s because iodine —which is like a fuel in this case— is not available to make thyroid hormones! So, hypothyroidism causes unusual weight gain and obesity.
• Cold intolerance
One symptom of iodine deficiency is that you feel cold! And you feel cold even when temperature is fairly warm!!!! The reason is that the thyroid maintains your body temperature. It makes you tolerant to changing temperature. In absence of thyroxin, your body has an exhausted thermostat, unable to maintain your temperature. As a result you feel extra cold! So, don’t keep on blaming air conditioning! Check your iodine levels and thyroid health!!
Hypothyroidism means your body loses its speed!! Not only your heart rate decreases but also other movements in your body slow down. That includes peristalsis movement as well. Your guts moves slowly and foods doesn’t get to intestines quickly. Result: low bowel movements and eventual constipation!!
All these symptoms show that your body needs iodine to make thyroid hormones! So, don’t ignore this crucial association between iodine deficiency and thyroid! Stand up for yourself and correct your lifestyle to add more iodine into it!
Till Next Time,
Growing Younger Everyday