Iodine, a chemical element, is an essential dietary component as it is needed for the production of thyroid hormone. Insufficient intake of dietary iodine can lead to iodine deficiency which leads to Goiter or enlargement of the thyroid hormone, Hyperthyroidism or insufficient secretion of thyroid hormone, Cretinism or severely stunted growth and to mental retardation in infants and children whose mothers were iodine deficient during pregnancy.
The thyroid, a gland in the throat, regulates many metabolic processes through secretion of thyroid hormones. The two main thyroid hormones, thyroxin and tri-iodothyronine, are synthesized from the amino acid, tyrosine, and from iodide or dietary iodine. The thyroid hormone moderates the metabolic rate such as growth and energy expenditure, development throughout the body, including the brain. If there isn’t enough thyroid hormone circulating in the blood, the brain sends a chemical signal to the thyroid gland, which then releases a measured dose of these hormones. If a person’s diet is too low in iodide, the brain keeps sending signals to the thyroid in vain. In an attempt to make more thyroid hormone, the gland gets larger and larger.
Iodine Deficiency is a major problem in developing countries and is considered to be the world’s number one cause of preventable intellectual disability in children. In case of pregnancy, the deficiency can have severe effects on the fetus or developing child such as stunted physical growth, diminished intelligence and retardation.
Ailments caused by iodine deficiency have no characteristic symptoms which are different from those of patients with another disease. The only way is to diagnose this for sure is through blood tests. However some common symptoms that one should take note of are-
- Swelling in the neck and facial muscles
- Low basal body temperature or feeling cold
- Weight Gain
- Hair fall
- Dry Skin
- Slow Reflexes
- Forgetfulness and Depression
- Slow Heart Rate
- Trouble Exercising & Shortness of breath
Disorders caused by iodine deficiency such as Goiter or Hypothyroidism cannot be completely eradicated once detected. But in most patients, these can be completely controlled. This is possible by replacing the amount of hormone that the patient’s own thyroid can no longer make, through ingestion of dietary supplements rich in iodine or synthetic thyroxine pills.
Iodine is abundantly found in seawater, so any type of seafood is a rich source of this element, particularly sea plants like seaweed. However despite coming from the ocean, sea salt is not a good source of iodine. Iodized salt is perhaps the most common source of iodine in the Western diet and can provide enough iodine to avoid low thyroid activity. Since an adult only requires around one teaspoonful of iodine over a lifetime, eating fish once a week is enough to fulfill the average iodine requirement and prevent iodine deficiency
It is crucial to conduct diagnostic blood tests like TSH or Thyroid Stimulating Hormone Test and the T4 test on a regular basis like every 6 to 10 weeks in case of affected patients to avoid the symptoms from getting worse.
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