Iodine deficiency and its impact on your health and wellbeing

Iodine refers to a mineral that is typically found in seawater and soil. Your body requires iodine to produce thyroid hormones in the thyroid gland. Then, the thyroid hormone affects metabolism, which is an important factor in the development and function of the brain, bones and nerves. 

Iodine deficiency is a growing problem in many countries, particularly among children, pregnant women or breastfeeding women. This medical condition can put people at risk of thyroid problems, which also leads to other serious health consequences.

What is iodine deficiency? 

Iodine deficiency refers to a lack of iodine in the body. Your body needs the proper amount of iodine to boost metabolism and ensure the healthy functioning of the thyroid gland [1]. 

Actually, iodine deficiency is the most common cause of thyroid disease. When it gets serious, iron deficiency may cause permanent brain damage and intellectual disability in infants. 

Having too little amount of iodine in children and unborn babies may cause major problems with normal development, such as: 

  • Brain damage
  • Intellectual disability, particularly the most severe form of cretinism
  • Lower IQ than the usual
  • Stunted growth

Meanwhile, for women, a lack of iodine can cause:

  • Fertility problems
  • Medical issues with pregnancy, including miscarriage, stillbirth, brain damage and nerve damage to the developing fetus [2

Causes and risk factors of iodine deficiency

Iodine deficiency may occur when the body does not have enough iodine. There are certain groups who are at high risk, including the following: 

Pregnant and nursing women

Pregnant and nursing women are known to have higher iodine needs, considering the role of iodine in a developing fetus, brain development and overall growth of an infant. 

Causes and risk factors of iodine deficiency
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People on strict diets

Trying fad diets may help in losing weight; however, these eating methods can trigger unintended health consequences. 

If you are prohibiting yourself from eating a few foods or food groups, controlling a food allergy or simply managing a medical condition, eating diets with broad-stroke food group removal may require a closer look.

Micro research studied the iodine levels in people following vegetarian diets. The researchers concluded that the vegetarian groups might be more at risk for iodine deficiency [3]. A 2017 study also suggests that a Paleo diet may also increase the odds of lacking nutrients [4].

People who eat foods high in goitrogens

Goitrogens refer to substances in certain foods that stop iodine’s ability to get to the thyroid. Eating goitrogenic foods may not lead to actual iodine deficiency if your body gets enough iodine in your diet. 

However, if you lack iodine, eating goitrogens foods may have a compounding effect. Foods high in goitrogens are the following: 

  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower
  • Soy

People with hypertension

Your healthcare provider may advise you to decrease your salt intake if you have high blood pressure or called hypertension, or any heart disease. Given this, you may worry that eating a lower amount of salt will put you at risk for iodine deficiency

If you are already iodine deficient and following a low-sodium diet, your iodine levels may drop even lower [5]. However, when you follow a low-sodium diet with sufficient levels, you are not at risk of iodine deficiency. Talk to your doctor if you have hypertension and worrying about dietary changes. 

Using ‘fancy’ salts

If you think you are getting enough salt because you eat pink Himalayan salt, then think again. Not all salt is iodized, which can help in increasing your iodine levels. 

Make sure to consult with your registered dietitian if you are getting enough iodine in your diet, especially if you are worried that you may be at risk of deficiency [6]. 

People with other nutrient deficiencies

Developing other nutrient deficiencies, such as iron, selenium, vitamin A and possibly zinc, may affect iodine nutrition and thyroid function as well [7]. 

For instance, people with vitamin A deficiency in all age groups may become at risk of iodine deficiency, particularly those who have fat malabsorption and cystic fibrosis. People going through kidney dialysis or those living with HIV are at higher risk as well. 

Impacts of iodine deficiency 

Goiter or neck swelling

Swelling is one major indication of iodine deficiency, specifically in the neck, which is called goiter. Goiter can be developed when the thyroid gland grows too big.

Your thyroid glan.d can be described as a small gland with a butterfly shape located in the front of your neck. This organ releases thyroid hormones upon receiving a signal from the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) [8].

Having increased blood levels of TSH urges the thyroid gland to use iodine in order to make thyroid hormones. However, when the body lacks iodine, it can’t produce enough thyroid hormones [9]. 

In order to still function properly, the thyroid gland works even harder to try to produce more. Consequently, it causes the cells to grow and multiply, then eventually leading to a goiter. 

Unexpected weight gain

Another impact of iodine deficiency on health is weight gain. An unexpected weight gain may occur if your body lacks iodine to make thyroid hormones.

Iodine deficiency and its impact on your health and wellbeing
Photograph: JoPanwatD/Envato

As thyroid hormones have a direct relationship with metabolism, your weight may be negatively affected as well. Thyroid hormones aid the body in controlling the speed of metabolism, which refers to a process of the body converting food into energy and heat. 

Tiredness and weakness

Tiredness and weakness are two interconnected common symptoms of iodine deficiency. Some studies have found that nearly 80 percent of individuals with low thyroid hormone levels experience frequent tiredness, sluggishness and weakness [10].

Also, one research found that 2,456 people feel fatigued and weak, and these are the most common symptoms among people with low or slightly low thyroid hormone levels. 

Hair loss

Thyroid hormones are known to help control the growth of hair follicles. Hence, when your thyroid hormone levels are low, your hair follicles may not regenerate. Over time, not growing hair follicles may result in hair loss [11]. Research found that 30 percent of 700 people with low thyroid hormone levels may experience hair loss [12].

Dry, flaky skin

Dry, flaky skin may also be experienced by many people with an iodine deficiency. In fact, several studies have found that up to 77 percent of people with low thyroid hormone levels experience dry, flaky skin [13]. 

Changes in heart rate

The heart rate can be measured by the number of times the heart beats per minute, and it may be impacted by the body’s iodine levels. Having a low amount of iodine mineral could lead your heart to beat more slowly than usual. However, too much iodine could cause the heart to beat even faster than usual [14]. 

Experiencing a severe iodine deficiency may cause an abnormally slow heart rate, making you feel weak, fatigued and dizzy and possibly cause you to faint. 

Affects brain function 

An iodine deficiency may affect one’s ability to learn and remember. One research study that involved over 1,000 adults found that those with higher thyroid hormone levels scored better on learning and memory tests in comparison with those with lower thyroid hormone levels [15]. 

Problems during pregnancy

Generally, pregnant women are at a high risk of iodine deficiency because they need to acquire enough iodine to support their own daily needs, as well as the needs of the growing fetus. The high demand for iodine continues during lactation, as infants consume iodine through breast milk [16]. 

Not having enough iodine during pregnancy and lactation may cause various side effects for both the mother and the infant. Many mothers may experience symptoms of an underactive thyroid, including goiter, weakness, fatigue and feeling cold.

Moreover, an iodine-deficient infant may stunt their physical growth and brain development; hence, the mother needs to have enough levels of iodine. Furthermore, a severe iodine deficiency can increase the risk of stillbirth.

Heavy or irregular periods

When a woman has an iodine deficiency, she may also experience heavy and irregular menstrual bleeding. Similar to most symptoms of iodine deficiency, heavy or irregular periods happen because of low levels of thyroid hormones. 

Research shows that 68 percent of women with low thyroid hormone levels encountered irregular menstrual cycles in comparison with only 12 percent of healthy women [17]. 

Iodine deficiency and its impact on your health and wellbeing

Additionally, one research discovered that women with low thyroid hormone levels had experienced more frequent menstrual cycles with heavy bleeding. It happens because having low thyroid hormone levels can disrupt the signals of hormones that are linked to the menstrual cycle. 


Iodine refers to a mineral that is typically found in seawater and soil. Your body requires iodine to produce thyroid hormones in the thyroid gland. Then, iodine deficiency happens when your body lacks iodine. 

Pregnant and nursing women are at a high risk of iodine deficiency, as their body needs iodine along with their growing fetus. Some other people who experience iodine deficiency are people who follow a certain diet, eat foods high in goitrogens and use other types of salts and people who have hypertension and other nutrient deficiencies. 


Photograph: DragonImages/Envato
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