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Iodine - An Essential Trace Element

Updated on February 2, 2015
Iodine in its solid form is dark purple, and is most beautiful as it evaporates.
Iodine in its solid form is dark purple, and is most beautiful as it evaporates. | Source


Iodine, along with chlorine, bromine, fluorine, and astatine, is in the group of halogens. It is a non-metal with the atomic number 53, and the symbol of I. The heaviest of all the essential trace elements needed in many animals, it is found in Earth mainly in the form of the iodide ion in the ocean soil, and in lower concentrations on land soil. Elemental iodine forms a diatomic molecule just as all the other halogens. In solid form, it has a metallic grey color, almost silver, in gas form it is purple. Hence the name iodine which comes from the Greek word ἰοειδής, or purple.

How Does the Body Use Iodine?

The chief function of iodine in the human body is for use by the thyroid gland. The thyroid, a butterfly shaped gland in the neck, produces two hormones, triiodohthyronine and thyroxine, otherwise known as T3 and T4. T4 is produced about 20 times more than T3. These hormones provide multifaceted functions on the whole body at the cellular level. They assist in the synthesis of protein. They help regulate the body's metabolism. They act in conjunction with the growth hormones to aid in the development of bones. In addition, they regulate the way the body processes vitamins and macronutrients, which is why conditions of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can result in weight gain or weight loss.

Iodine Food Sources

Since iodine is a trace element in the body, you do not need an abundance of it for health. In fact, excess iodine can lead to thyroid and other health problems as much as too little iodine. The recommended daily intake is about 150 micrograms. However, the body is not capable of storing iodine, so it must be consumed every day. The foods that are most iodine rich are sea vegetables, especially kelp and bladderwrack seaweeds. Consequently, animals who consume these sea vegetables, or animals who prey on animals that consume them, are also iodine rich. Ocean fish and shrimp are high in iodine. Iodized salt has been fortified with iodine, however this is not the ideal source of iodine since excess sodium is not beneficial. In addition, there is a concern that in recent years many brands no longer fortify their salt with a sufficient amount of iodine. Milk, turkey, yogurt, strawberries, and eggs are relatively high in iodine. If these foods are not common in your diet, and you also avoid salt, you can take iodine supplements if you are iodine deficient.

Bladderwrack, one of the most iodine rich plants in the world.
Bladderwrack, one of the most iodine rich plants in the world. | Source

Testing for Iodine Deficiency

You can test yourself at home by obtaining iodine tincture in virtually any drugstore. It is an antiseptic that is between 2-7% iodine. Paint a small patch, about a 2x2 inch square on a soft part of the body that will not be overly agitated. The abdomen is usually a good place. If the patch disappears before a four hour time period, that indicates an iodine deficiency. If the patch is still there, you have sufficient iodine in your body.

Another way which is considered even more reliable is a urine loading test. A 50 mg tablet of iodine/iodide is taken, and then the amount urinated out is measured over a 24 hour period.

Benefits of Adequate Iodine

Iodine aids in detoxification of the body from daily exposure to other halogens - fluorine, bromine, and chlorine. Fluorine is found in fluoridated drinking water, and all three are found in various foods, depending on their source and processing. Household cleaning chemicals also contain these elements.

Iodine stimulates the regenerative function of the cells in the body, one of the most easily noticed is in the skin. If you correct your iodine deficiency, you should see a notable improvement in the appearance and texture of your skin.

Iodine reduces your chances of getting cancer, especially breast, stomach, and other cancers of the digestive system. The Japanese, who use seaweed as fertilizer in their soil as well as consume it more than most other nations, have a breast cancer rate of just a third of Americans.

It promotes cardiovascular health. Hypothyroidism increases your risk of heart attacks and strokes as well as increases the fatality risk of these events. A malfunctioning thyroid has an effect on the lipid types of cholesterol. Inadequate iodine levels also contribute to high blood pressure, iodine has been used as a more natural therapy for reducing hypertension.

The obvious benefit of maintaining a healthy thyroid will consequently guard against goiter. A goiter is a swollen thyroid which in turn gives an unsightly bulge in the neck. This swelling is due to the thyroid overexerting itself in the attempt to produce enough thyroid hormone. This condition has the potential to become permanent, especially if it is left untreated for too long or is given insufficient treatment. Goiters can lead to a number of other complications, such as breathing problems, infertility, and birth defects if it is developed while pregnant or before pregnancy.

Iodine deficiency is the largest preventable cause of children born with mental disabilities. It is especially apparent in regions of the world that have iodine deficient soil and food. These disabilities include general learning disability and autism.

Iodine can also contribute to mental health in children and adults. Deficiency can result in depression and memory loss, and many people report an improvement in these conditions after their levels have been corrected.


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    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 4 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Very useful and informative article about Iodine. Iodine is important for mental health and everyone should know and be conscious about it.

      Voted up and thanks for sharing!