Iodine is a trace mineral that the body needs to make thyroid hormones, which are essential for normal growth and development. In your body, about 70 - 80% of iodine is found in the thyroid gland in the neck. The rest is distributed throughout the body, particularly in the ovaries, muscles, and blood. If your body doesn't have enough iodine, you can develop hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels). Symptoms include sluggishness or fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, and sensitivity to temperature changes. Deficiency happens more often in women than in men, and is more common in pregnant women and older children. In infants and children, hypothyroidism can affect physical and mental development.
The classic sign of iodine deficiency is an enlarged thyroid gland. Some people with hypothyroidism develop an extremely large thyroid, known as goiter. Today, iodine deficiencies in the United States and other developed countries are rare because iodine is added to table salt. And crops in developed countries are generally grown in iodine rich soil, so there is more iodine in food. But in developing countries, where soil is often low in iodine, more than 1 billion people may be at risk for iodine deficiencies.
Iodine is also used to clean wounds, and iodine tablets can be used to purify water.
Most people get plenty of iodine, and because of the complex way iodine can affect the thyroid, you should not take iodine supplements unless your doctor tells you to. Iodine may be used for the following conditions:
Oral mucositis (oral inflammation)
Some evidence suggests that an iodine mouth rinse may reduce symptoms of mucositis in the mouth related to chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Fibrocystic breast changes
Some evidence suggests that iodine may help treat fibrocystic breast disease. Women with fibrocystic breast disease have breast tenderness, particularly just before their periods. A review of clinical studies found that iodine replacement therapy (particularly for those with low levels of iodine) may improve the tenderness associated with fibrocystic breast tissue. The women taking iodine experienced very few side effects.
Some women with chronic vaginal symptoms use over the counter (OTC) iodine douches to reduce vaginal inflammation as well as itching and discharge. Povidone-iodine has the advantage of iodine without the disadvantages of stinging and staining.
Iodine is often used as to disinfect the skin and clean wounds. Ointments containing iodine are frequently used on burns to lower the risk of infection.
Potassium iodine can be taken after someone is exposed to radiation to reduce how much radioactive iodine accumulates in the thyroid. This action reduces the risk of thyroid cancer from radiation exposure, but it doesn’t protect against other complications from radiation.
Prevention of goiter
Goiter, or enlargement of the thyroid, can be caused by iodine deficiency. However, too much iodine can also cause goiter. Goiter due to iodine deficiency is rare in developed countries.
Iodized salt is the main source of iodine in the diet. Plant and animal sea life, such as shellfish, white deep water fish, and brown seaweed kelp, absorb iodine from the water and are great sources of iodine. Garlic, lima beans, sesame seeds, soybeans, spinach, Swiss chard, summer squash, and turnip greens are also good sources of iodine. Bakeries may also add iodine to dough as a stabilizing agent, making bread another source of iodine.
Sodium iodide (iodine) is available as part of a multivitamin/mineral combination or as a topical treatment for wounds. Iodine can also be found in dietary supplements containing seaweeds such as kelp and bladderwrack.
How to Take It
The National Institute of Medicine Adequate Intake (AI) levels are as below:
Infants ages 0 - 6 months: 2,200 mcg (micrograms) per day
Infants ages 7 months - 1 year: 130 mcg per day
Children ages 1 - 8 years: 90 mcg per day
Children ages 9 - 13 years: 120 mcg per day
Children ages 14 - 18 years: 150 mcg per day
Ages 18 years and up: 150 mcg per day
Pregnant females: 220 mcg per day
Breastfeeding women: 290 mcg per day
The Tolerable Uptake Intake Levels (UL), which is the highest level of daily intake that's not likely to result in side effects.
- Children 1 - 3 years: 200 mcg per day
- Children 4 - 8 years: 300 mcg per day
- Children 9 - 13 years: 600 mcg per day
- From 14 - 18 years (including pregnant and breastfeeding): 900 mcg day
- For adults older than 19 (including pregnant and breastfeeding): 1,100 mcg per day
Wounds or burns: Follow your health care provider's instructions. Iodine is applied topically to the skin to prevent and treat infections from wounds and burns.
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, you should take dietary supplements only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.
High doses of iodine may block the production of thyroid hormones, causing hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels) in someone with otherwise normal thyroid function. Too much iodine can also increase the risk for other thyroid diseases, such as Hashimoto's disease, Graves' disease, certain thyroid cancers, and thyrotoxicosis (a dangerous condition involving a large amount of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream). For these reasons, you should not take iodine supplements without first talking to your doctor.
Taking more iodine per day than you usually get from table salt, or about 160 - 600 mcg (micrograms), may be harmful. Daily intake of 2,000 mcg iodine may be toxic, particularly in people with kidney disease or tuberculosis.
Routine thyroid function tests should be done on infants treated with topical iodine.
People with thryoid disease may be particularly susceptible to ill effects of iodine. People with dermatitis herpetiformis can have a worsening of symptoms when taking iodine.
If you are currently being treated with any of the following medications, you should not take iodine without first talking to your health care provider:
Antithyroid Drugs -- Use of antithyroid drugs, including propylthiouracil (PTU), and iodide may increase the hypothyroid effect of iodides.
Lithium -- Use of potassium iodide and lithium (Lithobid) may cause hypothyroidism.
Warfarin -- Use of potassium iodide (for hyperthyroidism) and warfarin (Coumadin, a blood thinning drug) may make warfarin less effective.
High blood pressure medication (ACE inhibitors and ARB's (Angiotensin Receptor Blockers)) -- Many iodine supplements contain potassium. When used with ACE inhibitors and ARB's, iodine may result in an increased level of potassium in the body, which may be dangerous.
Potassium sparing diuretics -- Since many iodine supplements contain potassium, concurrent use may result in dangerously high levels of potassium.
Amiodorone -- Concurrent use with iodine supplements may result in dangerously high levels of iodine.
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- Last Reviewed on 06/17/2011
- Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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