Iodine. It’s a mineral essential to a healthy body: It’s used by the thyroid gland to help produce hormones central to brain development, growth, healing and metabolism. Because our bodies can’t produce iodine on their own, we need to get it from supplements or from the food we eat (for example, iodized salt and seafood). Without enough iodine, the thyroid can’t produce enough of the thyroid hormone vital to the body’s function.
Luckily, because of the use of iodized table salt, iodine deficiencies are rare in the U.S. However, according to the American Thyroid Association, about 40 percent of the world’s population is at risk. The lack of it could lead to serious health complications for you or for your child if you’re pregnant. How to know if you fall in that 40 percent? Read on for four common warning signs of an iodine deficiency.
Goiter, or neck swelling
A goiter, or a swelling of the thyroid (a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck), is the most common symptom of an iodine deficiency. Without enough iodine, the thyroid starts working in overdrive to produce sufficient levels of thyroid hormones. Luckily, goiter can usually be treated with (you guessed it) increased iodine. However, if left untreated, a goiter can result in thyroid damage. If you experience this symptom, it’s recommended that you contact your doctor and get your iodine levels checked.
Weight gain from hypothyroidism
Another telltale sign of an iodine deficiency is unexpected weight gain, due to an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism. Thyroid hormones are essential in the regulation of your body’s metabolism. Without enough iodine, your thyroid can’t create enough of the thyroid hormone, and your metabolism slows down. When this happens, more of the calories you eat from your food are stored as fat. Along with weight gain, other symptoms of hypothyroidism could include hair loss, dry skin and hair, face puffiness or memory loss. The presence of any of these symptoms should warrant a visit to your doctor.
Fatigue and weakness
The third hallmark indicator of an iodine deficiency is fatigue and weakness. It might be more difficult for you to pick up heavy objects. You might be getting tired way too early in the day. This is because, with a slowed metabolic rate, your body burns fewer calories for energy. Unexplained fatigue or physical weakness might be an indicator that you need to up your iodine intake.
Unfortunately, iodine deficiencies are associated with complications during pregnancy. If you’re expecting, and you aren’t ingesting enough iodine, you might experience some issues carrying to term. Deficiencies have also been linked to infertility, miscarriages, stillbirth and congenital abnormalities. Low iodine levels in pregnant women might also lead to child development issues, like mental retardation and slowed growth. If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive, it’s particularly important for you to make sure you’re ingesting enough iodine, through your food or through supplements.