I’ve just been diagnosed with a severe iodine deficiency and to be honest, I’m about as relieved as I was when I found out I had Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). I.e. Very relieved.
My lack of this little mineral can explain SO much of what I’ve been going through and I am excited to be able to do something about it.
More, in finding out about my own Iodine deficiency, I have discovered just how prevalent this deficiency is (especially in women) and how many symptoms it can cause that many women would find familiar - especially if you have PCOS.
WHAT IS IODINE?
Iodine is a naturally occurring mineral found mostly in seawater and seafood like seaweed, cod, tuna and prawns. It is also found in dairy, eggs and prunes but in many parts of the world, the soil content of iodine is very low, so plants and animals living in most parts of the world, actually don’t contain very much of it.
Iodine is ESSENTIAL to the healthy functioning of the thyroid. This means iodine is important for brain development, growth, healing and for a healthy metabolism. Yep. Iodine deficiency = slow metabolism and low energy (hello me!).
Importantly, iodine deficiency is the main cause for developing an underactive thyroid. This is because iodine is needed for the thyroid to make thyroid hormones. So not enough iodine -> not enough thyroid hormone -> underactive thyroid.
Also important, iodine is absolutely paramount in the development of a baby inside the womb and of an infant and young child. If a pregnant mother is deficient in iodine, her child’s brain may not grow or develop resulting in learning difficulties, miscarriage or still birth. It can also cause severely stunted growth in the child. Iodine deficiency is the single most common cause of preventable mental retardation and brain damage in the world. If you are planning on trying to conceive in the next 12 months, I would get your iodine levels tested, as it can take some time to build the levels back up.
IODINE AND PCOS
There are two important links here. The first is that women with PCOS are more likely to have an underactive thyriod. And what is the main cause of an underactive thyroid? Iodine deficiency. So Iodine is an important element to consider for women with PCOS to help us avoid developing an underactive thyroid.
The second link between iodine and PCOS is that second only to the thyroid, the ovaries contain the highest concentration of iodine in the body. Iodine is ESSENTIAL to the proper functioning of the ovaries - it is needed for healthy ovulation. It can also prevent cysts on the ovaries (which many women with PCOS tend to get, separate from their PCOS) and can reduce ovulation pain.
SYMPTOMS OF IODINE DEFICIENCY
Unusual weight gain
Difficulty losing weight
Feeling cold, even when the temperature is warm
Goiter (swollen thyroid gland, which results in a swollen neck).
Slowed mental processes
Puffy skin or puffy face
Slow heart rate
Heavy or irregular periods
I suffer from 12 of these symptoms yet I had never heard about iodine deficiency and my Doctor had never tested me for it. I was lucky I started seeing a stellar functional medicine doctor who ordered me the test!
WHY DO PEOPLE BECOME IODINE DEFICIENT?
There are a few causes of iodine deficiency, the most common of which is having a diet poor in iodine rich foods. Don’t be hard on yourself though – our soils have become very deficient in this nutrient and so land animals and plants just don’t have the iodine levels that are needed to support our need for this nutrient.
Another culprit is poor gut health. An unhealthy environment in your gut, can prevent you from absorbing important nutrients from your food. This is an important consideration for women with PCOS as many of us have gut issues and research is beginning to show just how linked our gut health is to our hormonal system.
HOW DO I FIND OUT IF I AM DEFICIENT IN IODINE?
A blood test can be done to determine your iodine levels.
WHAT DO I DO IF MY IODINE LEVELS ARE LOW?
If your iodine levels are found to be low, your doctor will likely prescribe you a liquid iodine supplement. This is usually added to water.
You can overdose on iodine so it is important to follow your doctor’s advice or the advice on the label.
It is also important to note that although iodine is essential for maintaining healthy thyroid function, too much iodine can also negatively impact your thyroid. Be particularly careful if you have Hashimoto’s.
You can also build up and maintain your iodine levels by including the following iodine rich foods in your diet:
Iodised salt (although beware of heavily processed salts as these often contain harmful ingredients as well)
Have you had any experience with iodine deficiency? I’d love to hear your story…