Salt gets a bad rap. Grumpy people are “salty.” Making something worse is known as “rubbing salt in the wound.” But the truth is, salt containing iodine should make you anything but grumpy — it’s beneficial for your health (and your wounds).
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“Iodine, which can be added to table salt, is an essential mineral found naturally in soil and the ocean,” says registered dietitian Julia Zumpano, RD, LD. “It’s critical at every stage of life and has a precise role, so it’s important to get enough iodine without overdoing it.”
Zumpano shares how iodine can boost your health and how much you really need.
What does iodine do for your body?
Iodine, also called iodide, helps your body develop and function throughout your entire life, starting in fetal development. It can also help treat or prevent some sicknesses and diseases.
1. Supports thyroid health
Your thyroid hormones are essential for overall health. They help regulate:
- Body temperature.
- Brain development and mental activity.
- Heart health.
- Metabolism and digestion.
“But your body can’t make thyroid hormones without iodine,” Zumpano says. “The amount of iodine in your system can affect how much thyroid hormone your thyroid produces.”
Your thyroid gland, part of your endocrine system, traps iodine in your system and turns it into thyroid hormones. If your body makes too much of the hormone (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism), it can affect critical bodily functions.
If you develop thyroid disease or thyroid cancer, iodine can help in a few ways:
Lowers the risk of goiters
Sometimes, thyroid disease or noncancerous thyroid cysts can cause a goiter (enlarged thyroid gland). Goiters are more likely to develop if you live with an uncontrolled thyroid condition or have an iodine deficiency. Iodine helps regulate your thyroid and reduce the risk of goiters.
Manages hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
Too much thyroid hormone can speed up body processes, causing:
To help reduce the amount of thyroid hormone your body produces, healthcare providers may use radioactive iodine (RAI). It’s a form of iodine (prescribed in pill or liquid form) used to destroy thyroid cells so they can’t continue to take up and hold onto iodine.
Treats thyroid cancer
RAI therapy can treat certain types of thyroid cancer. It’s commonly used following surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells and thyroid tissue. RAI therapy tends to be most successful when used to treat thyroid cancer that has spread beyond the thyroid.
2. Promotes brain development before and after birth
Thyroid hormones support brain development and function throughout life, beginning in utero, when a fetus is developing during pregnancy. Having enough iodine to make enough thyroid hormones is critical.
The American Thyroid Association and American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that people who are pregnant, planning to become pregnant or breastfeeding (chestfeeding) take a prenatal multivitamin containing 150 micrograms (mcg) of iodine. But not all prenatal vitamins contain iodine.
Pregnant and breastfeeding people should consume almost double the amount of iodine to provide enough for themselves and healthy fetal development, Zumpano advises. “Without it, there is a higher risk for neurological disability and issues with growth and sexual development.”
Infants are also at risk for iodine deficiency, especially if exclusively breastfed. Breast milk contains iodine, but the amount that ends up in the breast milk depends on how much the person breastfeeding consumes.
3. Helps maintain cognitive function in childhood
If your child is a picky eater or eats a restricted diet, make sure they’re getting enough iodine. Not getting enough can affect how their thinking and reasoning skills develop.
“There’s no evidence that not getting enough iodine here or there has neurological effects,” Zumpano notes. “But going a long time without getting the necessary iodine can affect their continuing brain development.”
Children with an ongoing moderate to severe deficiency may have reduced intelligence compared with children receiving enough iodine.
4. Treats and prevents fibrocystic breasts
Fibrocystic breast change is a noncancerous condition that causes painful breast lumps and tenderness. It affects 50% of women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) during reproductive age, and may increase the risk of breast cancer.
Experts recognize iodine deficiency as a possible factor causing fibrocystic breasts. One older study reported that iodine therapy can help relieve the symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes.
5. Disinfects skin wounds
Iodine is available as a topical antiseptic called povidone-iodine. You put it on mild cuts, wounds and burns. It kills bacteria and helps prevent or treat infection without delaying healing.
How much iodine you need
The amount of iodine you should get daily depends on your age and condition. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends:
|Recommended dietary allowance
|Birth to 6 months
|Infants 7 to 12 months
|Children 1 to 8 years
|Children 9 to 13 years
|Teens 14 to 18 years
|Breastfeeding (chestfeeding) people
Most people living in the United States get enough iodine from their diet. If you have thyroid issues, talk to your doctor about the foods and supplements you should avoid.
Best iodine sources
The three most common sources of iodine include:
- Food: Iodine is found naturally in soil and the ocean, so good food sources of iodine include fish and seafood, dairy products, eggs and soy-based foods.
- Iodized salt: Iodine is commonly added to table salt, but check the label to make sure. Other types of salt aren’t typically iodized, including Fleur de sel, Himalayan salt, Kosher salt and sea salt. (But don’t load up on salt to get more iodine in your diet. Too much salt can lead to lots of health issues. A healthy, balanced diet likely contains all the iodine you need.)
- Dietary supplements: Multivitamins and prenatal vitamins may contain some iodine, and iodine-specific supplements are also available. Zumpano says to talk to your provider before supplementing with iodine. “Iodine deficiency is uncommon in the United States, but if you are concerned, a blood test can figure out whether or not you need more iodine.”
Health risks associated with iodine
Zumpano cautions that while it’s important to get the iodine you need, you can get too much — typically, when supplements are involved. Getting too much iodine can cause:
Iodine also interacts with some medications, including some:
- ACE inhibitors taken for high blood pressure.
- Antithyroid medications used to treat hyperthyroidism.
- Potassium-sparing diuretics.
“Before taking supplements for iodine, or any essential nutrients, talk to your healthcare provider,” Zumpano recommends. “The goal is always to benefit your health, not put it at risk.”