The Role of Iodine
These days, we hear a lot about the benefits of eating a low-sodium diet as a way to reduce hypertension. Although too much salt is undoubtedly bad for people with high blood pressure, adequate amounts of iodized salt are critical to the healthy functioning of your thyroid gland.
Iodine is a trace mineral that occurs naturally in the sea. Seafood and plants grown near saltwater, such as kelp, are natural sources of iodine. You can also find iodine in eggs and dairy products that come from chicken and cattle that have been given iodine-fortified feed. According to the American Dietetic Association, you need 150 micrograms (mcgs) of iodine a day, which is found in a half teaspoon of iodized salt. Pregnant women require 220 mcgs, and breast feeding moms need 290 mcgs.
People in the United States consume approximately 200 to 700 micrograms of iodine in their diets every day, according to the Thyroid Foundation of America. On the Japanese island of Hokkaido, where people consume large amounts of a seaweed called kombu, the daily iodine intake is about 200,000 micrograms. Oddly enough, people on Hokkaido don't have many thyroid problems, suggesting that normal, healthy people may naturally regulate how much iodine enters the thyroid.
These days, the primary source of iodine in North America is iodized salt. Without enough iodine in the diet, you are at risk of developing goiter, an enlarged thyroid gland. Thanks to the introduction of iodized salt in North America, goiter caused by iodine deficiency has practically been eliminated.
But in countries where iodized salt is not the norm, many people continue to suffer from iodine deficiency. In fact, iodine deficiency is the most common cause of thyroid disease worldwide. Iodine deficiency leads to goiter, and in severe cases, cretinism, severe mental retardation in infants due to iodine deficiency. Some of the areas that suffer from iodine deficiency include mountainous regions of Mexico and Central America; parts of Africa, including Ethiopia and Nigeria; parts of Asia, including India, Nepal, and China; and parts of Europe, including Italy and Switzerland.
Why is iodine so important to the thyroid? Simply put, the thyroid gland requires iodine for the production of thyroid hormones. In fact, the cells in your thyroid gland are the only ones in your body that are capable of absorbing iodine. Without it, your thyroid is totally incapable of producing the thyroid hormone that your body needs. In addition, iodine plays a significant role in the diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disease.
Once the iodine is in your body, it travels to the stomach, where it is converted to iodide. It is then transported to the thyroid gland in the blood.