IODINE DEFICIENCY IN MODERN TRENDY DIETS

This post will mainly focus on the gravity of iodine deficiency as seen on women, especially pregnant women, following a modern Western diet, particularly plant-based. We will start with a quick introduction to iodine and its functions and we will navigate through the meaning of a iodine deficiency while pregnant or not, leaving you with some very disturbing findings coming from Iceland.

what is iodine

Iodine is a type of trace mineral that our body does not produce, hence it must be taken from the diet or supplemented. Overall food contains very small amounts of iodine, though lately we have it easier to find iodine-enriched (hence processed) products. The most natural source of iodine (and abundant) is the ocean and its seaweed, it can also be found on the earth’s soil and obviously the naturally salted waters.

WHY IS IODINE IMPORTANT FOR THE BODY

Iodine is essential for the production of thyroid hormones which will affect growth, development and metabolic function.

Iodine Deficiency

The requirements for iodine can grow substantially while pregnant, especially due to the fact that iodine has a major role in brain development. Even mild deficiencies have been related to poor offspring neurodevelopment (lower verbal intelligence, adverse effects of infant and toddler language skills). This translates into mental retardation for the child.

Iodine deficiencies in non-pregnant women can lead to:

  • Infertility (as ovulation stops)
  • Autoimmune diseases affecting the thyroid, leading to thyroid cancer
  • Probably increase of risks for breast cancer, endometrial and ovarian cancers
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hyperthyroidism

HOW MUCH IODINE IS ENOUGH IODINE

LIFE STAGE GROUPIodine (mcg/d)
Infants
Birth to 6 mo110
6 to 12 mo130
Children
1-3 yr90
4-8 yr90
Males
9-13 yr120
14-18 yr150
19-30 yr150
31-50 yr150
51-70 yr150
> 70 yr150
Females
9-13 yr120
14-18 yr150
19-30 yr150
31-50 yr150
51-70 yr150
> 70 yr150
Pregnancy
14-18 yr220
19-30 yr220
31-50 yr220
Lactation
14-18 yr290
19-30 yr290
31-50 yr290
Sources: Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Fluoride (1997); Dietary Reference Intakes for Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline (1998); Dietary
Reference Intakes for Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Selenium, and Carotenoids (2000); and Dietary Reference Intakes for Vitamin A, Vitamin K, Arsenic, Boron, Chromium, Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Silicon, Vanadium, and
Zinc (2001); Dietary Reference Intakes for Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate (2005); and Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D (2011). These reports may be accessed via http://www.nap.edu.

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF IODINE DEFICIENCY

Please DO NOT AUTOMEDICATE yourself. Iodine deficiency is measured only via a urine test. If you suspect you might have a iodine deficiency, first talk to your doctor, get a urine test and measure your iodine to find out if that’s the cause of your symptoms.

  • Visible goiter (neck/throat area)
  • Painful thyroid gland, tender
  • Laying down is uncomfortable and makes it hard to breath
  • Swallowing is difficult
  • Fatigue
  • Cold feet and hands (also sweaty cold) when temperature is normal/warm
  • Depression
  • Brain fog and difficulty to focus
  • Hair loss
  • Weight gain (uncontrollable no matter the good diet, nor exercise)

ICELANDIC WOMEN ABANDONING THE TRADITIONAL DIET AND ADOPTING MORE PLANT-BASED OPTIONS: SEVERE IODINE DEFICIENCY

”Historically, Iceland has been an iodine-sufficient nation due to notably high fish and milk consumption. Recent data suggest that the intake of these important dietary sources of iodine has decreased considerably.” Says a study published on January 2020 (1)

The study was conducted on pregnant women attending their first ultrasound between the weeks 11-14 where they had their urine samples collected for a measuring check on iodine and creatinine and the median between these two. After which, the median was compared to the general recommendations of iodine of 150-249 mcg/L, while assessing their diet via a questionnaire to find out details about their consumption.

The results were shocking: the median (UIC) between iodine/creatinine was 89 mcg/L (I) while the creatinine was 100 mc/g. The UIC increased accordingly with a higher consumption of dairy products, from 55 mcg/L to 124 mcg/L more.

”A small group of women reporting complete avoidance of fish (n = 18) had UIC of 50 (21, 123) μg/L and significantly lower I/Cr compared with those who did not report avoidance of fish (58 (34, 134) μg/g vs. 100 (94, 108) μg/g, P = 0.041). Women taking supplements containing iodine (n = 34, 3.5%) had significantly higher UIC compared with those who did not take supplements (141 (77, 263) μg/L vs. 87 (82, 94), P = 0.037).” (2)

Conclusion of the Icelandic study

”Insufficient iodine status was observed for the first time in an Icelandic population, most likely related to a decline in fish and dairy intake. The reasons for the decrease in fish and dairy intake in Iceland (11, 12, 16) remain unknown. However, it could be speculated that public discussion on suggested negative health effects of dairy consumption and increased awareness of environmental aspects might have contributed. There is an urgent need for public health action aimed toward improving iodine status of women of reproductive age in Iceland. This might include actions toward increased fish and dairy intake, recommendations for use of supplements in high-risk groups, or use of iodized salt. Independent of which action will be selected by the Icelandic authorities, regular and systematic monitoring of iodine status needs to be implemented in Iceland.” (3)


Please remember to make annual checks a routine in your health planning, especially in reproductive age. Measuring thyroid hormones via blood tests, urine samples for iodine, bacteria or other parameters, remains highly important especially for those that wish to become mothers. If you plan the conception of a child, make sure you’re in optimal health prior to doing any plans. The more we optimize and recover our health (even after a previous childbirth), the healthier the offspring will be.

If you have any questions related to this article, you’re welcome to send me a DM in Instagram or dropping me a comment. If you have a question related to a medical issue, please book an appointment with your doctor.