A permanent iodine deficiency can therefore have a negative effect on the heart, circulation, digestion and mental performance.
What is iodine and how does it enter the human body?
The important trace element cannot be produced by the human organism itself and must therefore be ingested through food. As an iodine deficient area, only a small amount of the trace element is still present in German soils and thus only releases an insufficient amount of iodine to the respective foodstuffs, even when growing cereals or vegetables.
For this reason, table salt used to season food has been enriched with additional iodine for some years now. Industrially produced animal feed for animals kept for milk or meat production is supplemented with iodine in order to provide consumers with an additional intake of the important trace element in their diet as well.
Symptoms of iodine deficiency
If the human organism is not supplied with a sufficient amount of iodine over a longer period of time, a number of diverse symptoms of iodine deficiency can be observed in the body. In many cases, the signs of iodine deficiency only appear gradually and are hardly noticed by those affected.
However, there is often an enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter), which tries to compensate for the lack of iodine with an increase in the growth of the thyroid tissue.
Symptoms that can occur with iodine deficiency:
- Enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter)
- Nodule formation
- Depressed voice
- Reduced physical performance
- Sudden weight gain with no change in eating habits
- Hair loss
- Brittle nails and dull hair
- Permanent fatigue
- Dry and pale skin
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sensitivity to cold
- Swollen eyelids
- Swelling around the eyes and cheeks
- Rough, hoarse voice
- Tightness or pressure in the throat
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing
- Lumpy feeling in the throat
- Visible enlargement in the front of the larynx
- Impaired fertility in men and women
- Disturbed sexual desire
- Menstrual irregularities in women
In children and adolescents:
- Poor concentration and listlessness
- Increased nervousness
- Poor performance at school
- Impaired physical and mental development
Pregnant and breastfeeding mothers
- Risk of miscarriage or premature birth
- Goitre formation
- Impaired growth of the unborn child
- Impaired growth of the child’s lungs
- Hearing defects
- Disturbed brain and nerve development in the child
Those affected who can already detect some of these signs in themselves should definitely consult their family doctor, an internist or a specialist in thyroid diseases, who can initiate effective treatment after a thorough examination.
Pregnant women who already suffer from thyroid dysfunction or who have a family history of the condition are particularly advised to inform their doctor, as an existing iodine deficiency can pose a risk to the unborn child.
Regular monitoring of thyroid levels and possible treatment with additional iodine supplements can bring the production of thyroid hormones back on track.
Health risks associated with long-term iodine deficiency
Mental health risks:
An acute iodine deficiency that lasts for a long time and is not adequately compensated for by additional iodine supplements can have severe health consequences.
In addition to the numerous physical symptoms, such as constant fatigue, lack of drive and concentration as well as hair loss, a permanent iodine deficiency can also cause psychological complaints, such as hallucinations, delusions or severe depression.
Affected people no longer consciously feel part of public society, but feel excluded from the environment.
Physical health risks:
If the body is not supplied with a sufficient amount of iodine in the long term, the cholesterol level in the bloodstream will inevitably rise. Cholesterol, as an important fat building block, plays an important role in the energy balance and ensures the removal of existing deposits in the vessels.
An elevated cholesterol level can thus lead to a narrowing of the coronary vessels (atheroskierosis) and have life-threatening consequences.
In rare cases, untreated hypothyroidism caused by long-term iodine deficiency can lead to hypothyroid coma (myxoedema coma), which is associated with immediate hospitalisation and in most cases must be treated with a high dose of synthetic levothyroxine.
Prevention through proper nutrition
The daily iodine requirement of an adult (200 micrograms) can be met not only by eating fish or seafood, which should be on the menu at least 1-2 times a week, but also by eating dairy products such as milk, cheese or yoghurt.
Iodised salt is considered an important source of iodine, as one teaspoon of iodised table salt contains 100 micrograms of iodine and thus already covers up to half of the daily requirement.
Fresh salads or vegetables such as lamb’s lettuce or radishes also contain a not inconsiderable amount of iodine. When buying bread products, you should ask the manufacturer in advance whether the desired type of bread has been seasoned with iodine-containing table salt. If possible, one should avoid the popular fast food and concentrate on fresh food when cooking.
Treatment of an already existing iodine deficiency
If you are already suffering from an iodine deficiency, you should immediately consult a doctor who can help to improve the symptoms with a suitable drug therapy and compensate for the existing iodine deficiency. In most cases, doctors administer additional iodine tablets to compensate for the iodine deficit.
Those affected should pay particular attention to the side effects that can occur when taking iodine-containing medicines. Possible side effects such as skin rash, allergic reactions, rhinitis, irritable cough as well as headache and diarrhoea are only some of the side effects that can accompany the intake of iodine tablets.
In such cases, medical advice is essential.
If a patient has already developed a goitre due to iodine deficiency, doctors often prescribe additional artificial thyroid hormones, such as L-thyroxine, which compensate for the missing or reduced hormone production in the thyroid gland.