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Health & Nutrition
Dimitar Marinov
Senior Product Researcher MD, PhD, Assistant Professor

Why Iodine Is Essential For Thyroid Support?

Iodine is a critical trace mineral that plays a significant role in the body, particularly in thyroid health. It is required for the production of thyroid hormones, which contribute to various physiological functions, including metabolism and energy production. Iodine deficiency can lead to health issues such as fatigue, hair loss, dry skin, and, in severe cases, a goiter. Consuming iodine-rich foods, like seaweed, dairy products, and eggs, or taking iodine supplements can help maintain adequate iodine levels in the body.

 

Most countries have employed strategies such as the distribution of artificially iodized salt which can nowadays be found almost everywhere. But still, iodine deficiency continues to be one of the most common ones worldwide, even to this day.

Unfortunately, natural options such as Himalayan salt or sea salt do not contain enough iodine. Some studies also suggest that pink Himalayan salt may have too high concentrations of some potentially harmful chemicals such as lead (4).

What is more, not every type of iodized salt is iodized enough. For example, a person with average body weight (70 kg) must help provide their body with at least 0.15 mg of iodine (the recommended daily intake) in less than 6000 mg of salt.

If you do not have access to iodized salt, you prefer natural options, or you need to cut back on salt altogether, then your best choice is to look for foods or dietary iodine supplements as a healthy alternative to get enough of this trace element in your system.

If you are not fueling your thyroid gland with enough iodine, it will struggle to produce enough T4 and T3, which will negatively affect your energy levels.

 

 

How do I know if I have an iodine deficiency?

 

Iodine deficiencies are often mild and manifest with very subtle symptoms. Most people with a mild iodine deficiency will experience persistent fatigue without other complaints.

This can make it extremely difficult for medical doctors and other specialists to diagnose the condition and address the deficiency.

The complaints of fatigue and reduced energy levels occur due to the subtle decline in thyroid function, related to the mild deficiency. As the condition progresses, it can lead to other symptoms related to low thyroid hormones including (5):

  • Unexplained increase in body fat
  • Swelling in the neck
  • Dry skin
  • Hair loss
  • Constipation
  • Feeling cold all the time
  • Brain fog and memory problems
  • Depression

Although the enlargement of the thyroid gland which causes the swelling of the neck is one of the most specific signs of thyroid function problems, the only way to know if they are due to a severe iodine deficiency is through a lab test.

It involves measuring the levels of iodine in your urine, which is considered to be the main indicator of iodine status for all age groups (6). 

Urinary iodine concentration of 100-199 μg/L is considered normal, 50-99 μg/L is an indicator of mild deficiency, 20-49 μg/L - moderate deficiency, and <20 μg/L is a sign of severe deficiency.

If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above, you should consult with a medical doctor who can identify the cause of your problems, and diagnose you if you have a thyroid disease.

The most common conditions which affect the thyroid gland apart from iodine deficiency include autoimmune thyroiditis and thyroid nodules. These conditions can lead to symptoms of either hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid resulting in low thyroid hormone levels) or hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid).

For example, Hashimoto’s disease which is one of the most common forms of autoimmune diseases can first manifest with hyperthyroidism, while the condition slowly transforms into chronic hypothyroidism.

Regardless of whether you are experiencing symptoms of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, you should first consult with a medical doctor before taking any form of iodine supplements. 

In fact, iodine supplements are often contraindicated for patients with thyroid diseases, regardless of whether it is a case of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism (7).

 

 

 

Can diet make a difference?

 

Thyroid-friendly foods

 

Consuming at least 0.15 mg of iodine per day is sufficient to prevent an iodine deficiency. This requirement doubles in breastfeeding women or pregnant women, making iodine deficiency during pregnancy quite common.

Unfortunately, this means that even with a healthy eating regime, you would have to consume at least several daily servings of most foods that are rich in iodine in order to get enough of this and other essential trace minerals every day.

Here is the iodide (ionized iodine) concentration of the most common dietary sources:

Food

Amount

Iodide content

Kelp

¼ cup

415 μg

Cod (raw)

3 oz.

99 μg

Yogurt

1 cup

85 μg

Iodized salt

¼ tsp. or 1.5 g

70 μg

Milk

1 cup

55 μg

Liver

3 oz.

36 μg

Shrimps

3 oz.

35 μg

Beans (e.g. navy)

½ cup

35 μg

Turkey (white meat)

3 oz.

34 μg

Egg

1

28 μg

White bread

1 slice

23 μg

Cheddar cheese

1 oz.

12 μg

 

As you can see from the table, you will have to consume at least 6 large eggs, a serving of fish, or 2-3 servings of dairy products every day to get enough iodine just from food.

The only natural dietary source which can provide a high enough amount of iodine without being consumed daily is seaweeds such as kelp. It is also the only natural source of iodine for vegans, as they are at a higher risk of iodine deficiency (8).

Consuming seaweed 2-3 times per week would be sufficient to support your iodine levels and the function of your thyroid gland. Otherwise, you can also opt-in to using artificially iodized table salt daily.

But if you do not like the idea of consuming seaweed or iodized salt (or you must avoid salt altogether), there is another option to satisfy your iodine needs - supplements.

 

 

Iodine Supplements

 

 

If you do not or you shouldn’t consume much salt (iodized) and seaweed is not on the list of your favorite meals, then there is still another viable and natural alternative - taking supplements.

The best part about supplementing with iodine is that you do not have to buy artificial iodine supplements - there is a 100% natural iodine-rich option in the face of seaweed supplements!

Supplementing with seaweed is also rather safe as the risk of taking too much iodine is quite low. According to the American Thyroid Association, the upper limit is 1100 μg taken daily. Taking more than 1.1 mg of iodine per day is not recommended and may cause thyroid dysfunction (9).

On top of that, seaweed supplements will provide many other healthy and beneficial nutrients for your body. Let's take a look at some of the most common types of seaweed found in supplements and their benefits:

 

Brown Algae such as Kelp and Bladderwrack

 

Bladderwrack is a brown seaweed that commonly grows on the coasts of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and the North Sea and Baltic Sea. 

Visually, bladderwrack appears different from other types of seaweed because of the tiny air sacs appearing as bubbles or blisters along with the leaves. 

Yet, its nutritional characteristics do not fall behind its cousins in the seaweed family. Bladderwrack is a great source of vitamins and minerals and contains at least 0.04% iodine. It also contains calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin A and vitamin C.

The brown algae also contain a type of sulfated polysaccharides called fucoidans, which are currently a subject of extensive research amongst the scientific community (10). 

So far, the studies report that fucoidans may be beneficial for reducing oxidative stress and inflammation while supporting the balance of the gut microbiome.

Bladderwrack is also a rich source of fucoxanthin - a carotenoid and antioxidant which protects against active radicals and may help reduce the build-up of fat inside organs such as the liver.

One randomized clinical trial in more than 150 obese women with the fatty liver disease showed that fucoxanthin supplementation helped increase their energy expenditure and reduce the liver fat content in just 16 weeks. The supplementation also helped increase weight loss (11).

The fucoxanthin in bladderwrack may also help you better control your blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity. Another study in 23 participants reported that taking the bladderwrack supplements daily before a meal for a week resulted in a 12.1% reduction in the postprandial insulin levels (12).

 

Red Algae such as Sea Moss

 

The sea moss, also known as Irish sea moss is a spiny edible plant that lives in the warmer waters of the Atlantic Ocean. 

Studies have shown that sea moss is one of the richest and most bioavailable sources of iodine (13). The plant is also highly nutritious - it contains 92 minerals in total.

Sea moss is also rich in the essential omega-3 fatty acid - Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). ALA is known as the main omega-3 fatty acid, as it is used in the human body to produce the other 2 types - EPA and DHA.

Omega 3 fatty acids are essential for the normal function of the immune system, they help regulate inflammation and also support the health of the cardiovascular system.

Irish sea moss is also a great source of antioxidants such as fucoxanthin and vitamin C, which help your body fight off active radicals.

 

 

 

Note: This article is for informational purposes only and not intended for use as medical advice. Always consult your health care provider before starting any dietary supplement.

Dimitar Marinov
Senior Product Researcher MD, PhD, Assistant Professor
Dr. Marinov is a licenced physician and scientist with years of experience in clinical and preventive medicine, medical research, nutrition and dietetics. His research is focused primarily on nutrition and physical activity as preventive measures to improve and preserve human health. He is passionate about creating evidence-based content about various medical topics and takes great care in referencing every statement with high-quality evidence.
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