What is the role of iodine in the body?

Iodine is an essential element found naturally in seafood and in common table salt. Iodine is natural found in seawater and soils around coastal regions. Seaweeds and some vegetables in soils rich in iodine contain high amounts and are a great dietary source. Table salt is usually iodized during its processing.

The majority of the iodine in the body is stored and used in the thyroid gland; 70% of 20mg. Iodine is a micronutrient required in small amounts, so little that an entire lifetime one will not have used up even 10g of iodine. This requirement goes up during pregnancy.

Uses of iodine

1.       Regulates the thyroid gland

Iodine is necessary for the efficient functioning of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland manufactures the thyroid hormones which regulate among other things: growth, rate of metabolism and repair of damaged cells.

iodine levels if maintained at the optimum levels prevent hypo and hyperthyroidism which is the production of excess or too little hormones. The healthy amounts keep this sensitive organ just healthy but deviations start having very evident effects.

The thyroid gland adds the iodine it takes up to amino acid tyrosine during the manufacture of thyroid hormones.

2.       Neural development in the fetus

Iodine is critical during pregnancy because of its manufacture of hormones that regulate growth and metabolism but also because of the role in neural development. Inadequate dietary supply is risking brain damage, cretinism and reduced intellectual capabilities which will reveal later on.

Thyroid hormones regulate the growth and development of the brain and this is most crucial during infancy and during early childhood.

3.       Improve cognitive function

Iodine has been proven in scientific research to improve reasoning abilities and overall cognitive functioning amongst test subjects under supplements to correct mild deficiencies. In iodine-deficient children, supplementing improved both cognitive and physical performance. This if uncorrected has adverse, long-lasting effects that cannot be reversed later.

4.       Treatment of post-cesarean patients

Helps prevent swelling of the lining of the uterus after a cesarean section.

5.       Improve birth weight

Thyroid hormones play a role in the growth and development of the fetus and bone development. If the processes involved proceed optimally throughout the course of the pregnancy, the baby is likely to have healthy birth weight given that other factors are also within healthy amounts.

6.       Manage fibrocystic breast disease

These are unproblematic but painful lumps that form usually in women of child-bearing age. Iodine has in some cases proven to help suppress the pain thereby solving the issue.

7.       Protect from nuclear exposure

On exposure to radioactive iodine and on further advice by a medical professional or other relevant figures, potassium iodide can help ward off risks of developing thyroid cancer. This form of iodine (KI) has a high concentration of stable iodine which in a short time fills up the thyroid gland and therefore making it impossible for it to take up any more of the harmful radioactive iodine.

With other forms of radiation, potassium iodide doesn’t prove to ward off the radioactive neutrons but instead might alter how the body reacts. It is however toxic and should be taken under strict instruction and in minimal amounts and time for maximum benefit.

8.       Other essential uses are

  • Treatment of infections – iodine is used to disinfect open wounds and cuts during their treatment. This is a widely used form of iodine that is usually violet-brown in the packaging container.
  • Water purification


Recommended daily intakes

Birth to 6 months             - 110mcg

6 months to 12 months    - 130mcg

Children 1-8 years            - 90 mcg

Children 9-13 years         - 120 mcg

Teens 14-18 years           - 150 mcg

Adults                               - 150mcg

Pregnant ladies                 - 220 mcg

Breastfeeding women       - 290 mcg

Iodine deficiency

Mild deficiency is widespread and could cover as much as 1/3 of the population and if it weren’t for the addition of tables salt, a severe deficiency could be as high as 47 % in Minnesota when the practice began.

The populations at greatest risk of iodine deficiency are

  • pregnant women who have a significantly higher daily requirement.
  • Populations living in soils with low-iodine content.
  • Populations that do not use iodized salt. (overcooking the iodine in open  pots can also cause it to vaporize and be lost into the atmosphere)

Symptoms and effects of deficiency include:

1. Swelling of the neck

This condition is called a goiter and is the most common and easily recognizable symptom of iodine deficiency. When the thyroid lacks enough iodine, its function is impaired and it produced less amount of structurally and chemically complete hormones.

The body prompts it to produce more and so in a bid to increase its secretion, the gland generates more cells and becomes enlarged which is damaging to it. This if noticed and addressed in good time goes back to its normal size. However, after a while, the damage in size and efficiency is irreversible.

2. Sudden weight gain

The thyroid regulates metabolism and when this is impaired, less glucose is burnt and thereby that which is stored increases, especially if the food intake remains constant.

3. Pregnancy complications

Thyroid hormones if in inadequate supply result in problems with growth and development. Fetal development is a crucial stage for growth and development. The effect is pregnancy complications ranging from low, birth weight, impaired neurodevelopment to stillbirth.

4. Impaired cognitive functioning

A process like learning and remembrance of learned items becomes difficult because of either energy supply to the brain being affected or impaired brain development during an earlier phase of life. Iodine availability affects intellectual capacities and could result in below-average IQ.

Impaired brain development could also cause delayed motor responses because of inefficient neuron linking in the brain so the nerves signals are delayed rather than being transmitted instantly.

5. Fatigue and weakness – the feeling of being sluggish and weak.

6. Changes in heart rates and development of arrhythmias

7. Shivering and a general feeling of coldness as heat metabolism is also  affected

8. Premature hair loss

9. Dry scaly skin


In large doses, iodine is also toxic and its effects are seen in hyperthyroidism. The consumption should be maintained within the recommended daily limits and supplemented only under medical advice.

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1.       https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/personalized-vitamins#A-quick-look-at-the-best-vitamin-subscription-services

2.       https://wxww.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320891

3.       https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/types-of-vitamins-and-nutrients/iodine-a-critically-important-nutrient

4.       https://www.insider.com/what-does-iodine-do-for-the-body\

5.       https://www.verywellhealth.com/benefits-of-iodine-4570996