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Posted on: August 17, 2018 at 12:51 pm
Last updated: August 24, 2018 at 1:40 pm

When someone is diagnosed with goiter, it tells us that a person may be suffering from an iodine deficiency. Goiter refers to abnormal swelling of the thyroid gland due to hyperthyroidism, lack of iodine in the body causing hypothyroidism or other disorder producing enlargement of the thyroid.

But you shouldn’t wait for a goiter to develop to find out you have an iodine deficiency! Know the iodine deficiency symptoms. Keep reading to learn more about how common they really are, and what happens to people who leave an iodine imbalance undiagnosed.

How Common is Iodine Deficiency and Goiter in the U.S.?

The primary function of the thyroid gland is to extract iodine from the bloodstream to manufacture thyroid hormone. If an iodine deficiency exists, the thyroid cannot make sufficient amounts of thyroid hormone. Thyroid enlargement occurs when the pituitary gland “senses” reduced levels of thyroid hormone in the blood and signals the thyroid to release thyroid stimulating hormone. Atypical growth of the thyroid is caused by TSH, a chemical meant to stimulate the thyroid into releasing more hormone.

Since people living in developed Western countries receive iodine from iodized salt and a varied diet, goiter caused by a major iodine deficiency is rare. However, just because goiter isn’t commonly diagnosed in the U.S. does not mean a person isn’t suffering from a subclinical iodine deficiency.

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iodine deficiency symptoms

Iodine Deficiency Symptoms

Symptoms of a serious iodine deficiency are typically obvious (enlarged thyroid, chronic fatigue, weight gain and hair loss) but symptoms of a mild to moderate iodine deficiency may be more difficult to detect. They include: 

  • changes to metabolism
  • low mood
  • trouble concentrating or remembering
  • mood swings

Allow us to explain why…

Iodine and Your Brain: The Mental Connection

Iodine is essential for the thyroid to make hormones, specifically triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). All cells and tissues depend on these thyroid hormones to regulate metabolism. The human body is extremely sensitive to metabolic problems and depends on a wide variety of proteins and amino acids to perform all physiological functions.

The brain is especially hypersensitive to a deficiency in iodine and ensuing lack of T3 and T4 hormones necessary for good metabolism. Without sustained levels of sufficient iodine, the brain may not produce enough neurotransmitters important for mental health. Neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, epinephrine, serotonin and GABA constantly influence your mood, cognitive processes and emotions.

Iodine is particularly important to pregnant women and their unborn babies. In fact, research shows that even a mild iodine deficiency can negatively impact the neuro-intellectual development of babies. Further, iodine deficiencies in pregnant women have resulted in a worldwide loss of 10 to 15 IQ points. Lack of iodine is the biggest reason for causing preventable mental retardation and brain damage.

How Does Iodine Benefit Brain Development and Functioning?

Triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) perform as ligands, or instigators of chemical reactions necessary to complete a biological action. These thyroid hormones act as transcription factors involved in gene expression. Unless certain genes are “turned on” by internal or external stimuli (such as hormones), the brain cannot produce neurotransmitters or does not produce the right number of neurotransmitters for regulating mental health.

For example, a fascinating study involving pathological gamblers discovered that over 30 genes involved in GABA, norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine production was common to a group of 139 subjects diagnosed with a gambling addiction.

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What Foods Besides Iodized Salt are Rich in Iodine?

iodine deficiency testing

One of the best sources of iodine is seaweed such as kombu kelp, nori and wakame. A brown seaweed used to make dashi (an Asian soup stock), kombu kelp is available as a fine powder or in dried form. A one gram, seaweed sheet of Kombu kelp provides nearly 3000 mcg of iodine, which is nearly 2000 percent of the recommended daily iodine intake for adults.

In addition, cod fish, dairy products (milk, eggs, cottage cheese), yogurt, shrimp, tuna, prunes and lima beans are other top sources of dietary iodine.

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Is There Enough Iodine in my Diet?

Although you may consume enough iodine by using iodized salt and eating some foods containing iodine, it is possible you are not getting enough iodine to properly support brain health and metabolism. People living in the U.S. “goiter belt” (upper New England/Western states and Great Lakes region) are at risk for suffering from low iodine due to lack of iodine in the soil.

Although the U.S. requires all salt in these areas to be supplemented with extra iodine, a reemergence of iodine deficiency symptoms such as goiter is currently being diagnosed in certain populations. Over the past 50 years, intake of iodine has decreased by 50 percent, largely due to people opting to buy non-iodized sea or kosher salt and others foregoing salt use altogether due to salt’s association with hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. Also, most salt consumed today comes from processed foods, which is mostly non-iodized salt.

iodine deficiency testing

You don’t need to develop goiter to have an iodine deficiency, even a mild lack of dietary iodine may be causing imbalances in neurotransmitter levels responsible for mood, emotion and cognitive problems.

As a Naturopathic provider, we recommend thyroid and Iodine testing to determine if taking iodine supplements is the right choice for you. This information can help ensure your brain can optimize neurotransmitter production and supporting metabolic processes vital to your overall physiological health.

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Dr. Austin
Naturopathic Doctor
Dr. Austin received her Bachelor's degree in health science, as well as her naturopathic degree in Canada prior to moving to San Diego. She specializes in hormones with an emphasis on endocrine metabolism, thyroid disorders, and menopause using lifestyle medicine and natural bio-identical hormone replacement therapy. She has a passion for teaching her patients how all hormones work together to create optimal health and educating on how hormone imbalances affect mood, digestion, sleep, libido, appetite, body composition, energy, and heart health. Recently receiving her MLA in lipidology, she counsels many people on how to prevent heart disease and what medications and supplements are best for treatment in cholesterol disorders.

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