What are the benefits of iodine in the diet?

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What are the benefits of iodine in the diet?
Iodine promotes proper brain development. (Kernspintomographie image by Marem from Fotolia.com)

Iodine is a mineral that we often take for granted, as in the West, a variety of foods that contain iodine are available. In some parts of the world, however, many people suffer from iodine deficiencies. In fact, the World Health Organization found in 2007 that about 30 percent of the world population receives an inadequate amount of iodine each day. Getting enough iodine in your diet is essential for the development of both children and adults.

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Proper growth and development

Iodine directly affects the ability of the thyroid gland to function, explains Aurora Health Care. By stimulating the production of thyroid hormones, iodine helps the thyroid to regulate body growth and development at normal rates. This affects the development of the body as well as brain development. Proper iodine intake is especially important for pregnant women since it can affect the development of the fetus, says the International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD).

Regulated metabolism

Another major function of the thyroid gland is regulating metabolism. Sufficient amounts of iodine are needed to ensure that thyroid hormones properly control metabolic rates in the body. A lack of iodine in the diet can potentially lead to weight gain, says Aurora Health Care.

Avoiding IDDs

Iodine deficiency disorders (IDDs) may result when an insufficient amount of iodine is included in the diet. Hypothyroidism, cretinism, goitre and abnormalities in growth or development can occur from an iodine deficiency. Goitre is the most common IDD since it can result from a mild iodine deficiency, according to the Linus Pauling Institute. However, if the condition is unresolved, it may lead to hypothyroidism. More serious deficiencies, or those experienced during key developmental stages in infancy or childhood, may lead to irreversible brain damage.

Potential benefits

Several studies have suggested additional benefits of iodine in the diet. It may improve the condition of patients with fibrocystic breast disease or mammary dysplasia. Studies have also linked iodine to improved immune function and a decreased incidence of gastric cancer, says the ICCIDD. These reports show promising results but are inconclusive until supported by more extensive studies.

The ICCIDD also reports on an in vitro study that showed that iodine can work with myeloperoxidase from white cells to inactivate bacteria (Klebanoff, 1967). Other brief reports have suggested that inadequate iodine nutrition impairs immune response and may be associated with an increased incidence of gastric cancer (Venturi et al, 1993). While these possible benefits of iodine deserve further investigation, the overwhelming importance of iodine is for the synthesis of thyroid hormones.

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