Are we getting enough iodine?

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Deb Prince

The sophistication of foodie shows and social media posts of fabulous menu choices has led to a selection of gourmet salts appearing on store shelves. Varieties include fine sea salts infused with herbs and vegetables, Kosher salt flakes, and various shades of pink Himalayan crystals, all for your next culinary experience. But do they have what we need nutritionally? 

Found primarily in the thyroid gland, iodine is essential for optimum health. Iodine mostly occurs as a salt; for this reason, it is referred to as iodide. And most of us don’t get enough in our diets. In the United States, salt manufacturers have been voluntarily adding iodine to table salt since the 1920s. White table salt, even iodized table salt, is not just sodium chloride. Additives to keep it free flowing include talc, ferrocyanide, and silicoaluminate. 

The healthy minerals naturally occurring in salt are processed out of table salt; hence, retains no nutritional value. Health Journalist Lynne Farrow, author of “The Iodine Crisis,” reports that the form of iodine added to salt evaporates quickly. Studies show that 50% is gone between 20 and 40 days! How long have you stored that opened container in your kitchen? Additionally, only a very small amount of iodine is being absorbed by your body from the iodized salt because the chloride breaks down into chlorine and chlorine competes metabolically with iodine. Specialty salts may contain naturally occurring minerals, and can have higher levels of potassium, magnesium and calcium, but are not usually iodized. 

In a delicate dance with the pituitary gland, thyroid hormones regulate many important biochemical reactions, determining metabolic processes, protein synthesis, and the action of enzymes. Iodine is critical for best health in all life stages. According to the National Institutes of Health, women of childbearing age who have severe iodine deficiency are at higher risk of miscarriage, pre-term delivery, and neurological disorders in the unborn child. The Linus Pauling Institute reports that during pregnancy, women can develop preeclampsia if lacking this element. It is concerning to find that nearly one-third of the prenatal vitamins available in the United States do not contain iodine. Iodine supplements are relatively inexpensive and are documented to prevent reproductive cancers, help prevent brain fog, maintain healthy weight, boost energy, improve dry skin and hair, and improve blood sugar. Asthma and ADHD have shown improvement when monitored supplementation is provided. 

The most recent 2020-2025 dietary guidelines for Americans states: “Because foods provide an array of nutrients and other components that have benefits for health, nutritional needs should be met primarily through foods. … In some cases, fortified foods and dietary supplements are useful when it is not possible otherwise to meet needs for one or more nutrients (e.g., during specific life stages such as pregnancy).”

In the case of iodine, ideally breast milk, formula, and food should be the only sources of iodine for infants. 

Knowing where our food comes from and the conditions in which it was grown are factors to consider. Iodine-deficient soils produce fruits and vegetables that have low iodine levels. With today’s farming practices, the quality of soils assaulted with pesticides, Round Up, GMO seeds, etc., puts the public at greater risk of nutritional deficit. Therefore, necessary nutrients, including iodine, are missing from our food. 

THE WIDE variety of types of salt available can make choosing the healthiest one a daunting task.

Good sources of iodine are eggs, seaweed, fish, and dairy products; however, environmental factors can affect the amount of bioavailable iodine in seaweed and fish. Dairy products are also dependent on whether the cows were fed iodine supplements and if iodophor sanitizing agents were used to clean the cows’ udders as well as milk processing equipment. 

If you have a thyroid disease, high blood pressure, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, or autoimmune disorders, or you are on certain medications, be sure to discuss it with your health care provider before taking any iodine supplements. Local health food stores are good resources and can help you make the best decision for your own health care. This article is a general overview and not intended to diagnose or treat.

Deb Prince has an active registered nurse license in the State of North Carolina and in May 2024 will celebrate a 40-year nursing career. She was also recently certified as a family herbalist.