Is the lack of iodine the cause of the rise in thyroid disorders?
Iodine is a vital nutrient that has been coming to the forefront of medical research recently. But where is iodine obtained from? Iodine is a micro-nutrient that is not manufactured by the body and must be obtained from our diet. It is present in seafood and sea vegetables, especially kelp, and also in foods grown in iodine rich soils. As the sea and our soils become polluted, iodine deficiency seems to be in the news since our diets simply do not contain this vital micro-nutrient. Iodine is required for every basic function within the human body including thyroid function, adrenal health, immune function and may play a vital role in the prevention of cell mutation within our bodies.
Researchers are now warning that iodine deficiency could become endemic in the UK. But what are the reasons behind this deficiency? Studies involving more than 700 teenage girls found more than two-thirds had a deficiency. Experts say that this problem stems from children drinking less milk which is a common source of iodine. Another source of iodine was through table salt. Over the last few decades, iodine was either removed or has not been added in sufficient quantities to table salt and this coupled with all the publicity of reducing our salt intake has actually compounded the problem of iodine deficiency and may actually be reaching epidemic proportions as it is estimated that over 70% of “healthy” adults may actually be iodine deficient in the developing world, an increase of nearly fourfold over the last 40 years. The health benefits of reducing salt intake are well established helping to guard against high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. There are many elements in our environment that block iodine and these include chlorine, bromine and fluoride. Since these are very similar chemically, they may block iodine uptake resulting in deficiencies. Chlorine, bromine and fluoride are found in swimming pools, hot tubs, drinking water, bakery products, certain medications and toothpaste.
Iodine and its role with the thyroid gland
The most widely known concern of iodine deficiency is thyroid dysfunction. The thyroid gland produces two types of thyroid hormones which are derived from the amino acid tyrosine and several atoms of iodine. Thyroid hormones control your body’s metabolism thus regulating everything from body temperature, heart rate, glucose consumption and even the amount of fats burned for energy.
Too much thyroid hormone, also known as hyperthyroidism, results in a high metabolic rate. People with this condition experience rapid heart rates often resulting in palpitations, excessive sweating and often are warm even in a cold room. On an ongoing basis, they may lose weight and experience muscle weakness.
Too little thyroid hormone, also known as hypothyroidism, results in the opposite sets of symptoms; including a slower heart rate, feeling of being cold even when the temperature is warm, weight gain, dry hair, hair loss, fatigue and even depression. In extreme cases, brain function is highly impaired and in fact babies born to mothers with low iodine levels are at risk of cretinism.
Iodine deficiency can produce the symptoms of hypothyroidism and yet paradoxically iodine deficiency in older adults can produce the symptoms of hyperthyroidism as a result of rapidly growing thyroid nodules that then begin to over-produce thyroid hormone. This can trigger abnormal heart rhythms, osteoporosis and muscle wasting. These are commonly referred to as ‘goiter belts’ because of the higher incidences of impaired thyroid function.
Iodine deficiency is most prevalent in people living inland away from the oceans that provide our best source of iodine.
It is vital to maintain healthy thyroid function not only for all the reasons mentioned above but for the impact that an impaired thyroid gland has on all the other glands of the body. This is because all hormonal glands communicate with each other using hormones as chemical messengers and an imbalance in one hormone leads to other imbalances.
The role of iodine in breast health
Human breast tissue and breast milk contain higher concentrations of iodine than the thyroid gland itself. Breast tissue is rich in the same proteins that are present in the thyroid gland that ensure the uptake of iodine from the bloodstream. The reason for this evolutionary process is clear: iodine is essential for the developing newborn brain so the mothers body must have a direct means of supplying this vital nutrient to the nursing infant.
In the presence of chemicals and enzymes found in breast tissue, iodine has been shown to exert a powerful antioxidant effect, whilst iodine deficient breast tissue shows markers that are linked to cell mutation.
Iodine also helps to regulate levels of the stress hormone cortisol and is linked closely to immune function. Abnormal cortisol levels and a lowered immune system are also significant markers to the risks of cell mutation.
The Japanese are legendary for their longevity and low rates of degenerative diseases, most notably breast and prostate cancer. Interestingly, their diet is very rich in fish and vegetables.
The importance of iodine in cardiovascular health
Even when there are no obvious symptoms present, hypothyroidism, arising as a result of low iodine levels, can contribute to heart disease and stroke. Thyroid dysfunction elevates cholesterol leading to increases risks of atherosclerosis, the narrowing of arteries. Hypothyroidism also weakens the heart muscle tissue and is also associated with higher waist to hip ratios, a risk factor associated with cardiovascular disease.
Iodine plays a major role in numerous other processes carried out within our bodies and it is very easy to correct iodine deficiency in our diet. Iodine, as mentioned previously, is found in fish and in sea vegetables, unrefined sea salt, artichokes, asparagus and dark green vegetables. Kelp supplements are a great source of iodine together with many other minerals and are an inexpensive way to supplement this vital micro-nutrient. Nascent Iodine is certainly the most biologically active and available form of iodine.