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Benefits of iodine: what properties and effects on health?


Iodine is a trace element essential for the synthesis of hormones produced by the thyroid gland. What are our daily iodine requirements? Which foods contain iodine? What are the effects of a deficiency or an excess of iodine on health?

Iodine is necessary for the production of thyroid hormones, T3 (trichlorodothyronine) and T4 (tetraiodothyronine). The thyroid gland is located in the neck, under the Adam’s apple. It is located just under the skin. It is shaped like a butterfly, with two lobes connected by a central part, the isthmus. Thyroid hormones are involved in the metabolism of almost every tissue in the body. They control the production of proteins and the consumption of oxygen by the tissues. While thyroid hormones are synthesized throughout life, beginning in the fetus, they vary with age, gender and physiological situations, including pregnancy and breastfeeding.

What foods are rich in iodine?
Table salt is the main source of iodine in France. Many table salts are fortified with iodine, following the recommendations of international and health authorities (WHO, Unicef). However, only table salt can be fortified with iodine. Processed food products are not salted with iodine-enriched salt.

Foods of marine origin such as fish, shellfish or mollusks are very rich in iodine. Other foods can provide additional iodine: eggs, dairy products and cereals. On the other hand, some foods limit the binding of iodine by the thyroid gland, such as cassava, corn, sweet potatoes, cabbage, millet, garlic or onions.

What are our iodine needs?
Adults and children from the age of 10 years should consume 150 micrograms of iodine per day according to the nutritional references for the population of the Anses (National Agency for Food Safety). The needs are increased in pregnant and lactating women: 200 micrograms per day.

On the other hand, the needs are less in children:

80 micrograms per day from 1 to 3 years;
90 micrograms per day from 4 to 6 years;
120 micrograms per day from 7 to 9 years.
In sportsmen and women, especially in cases of heavy sweating, the needs are equivalent to those of pregnant women: 200 micrograms per day.

What are the risks of iodine deficiency?
Iodine deficiency leads to thyroid dysfunction. Mental or psychomotor disorders can be secondary to abnormalities in thyroid hormone secretion. A goiter may appear. This is a significant increase in the volume of the gland.

In children, iodine deficiency is particularly deleterious to their psychological, neurological and intellectual development, and this is irreversible. This is called cretinism. In pregnant women, even a slight iodine deficiency can have harmful effects on the development of the fetus. During the first trimester of pregnancy, the baby’s thyroid gland is not yet formed and the baby depends on the mother’s thyroid hormones.

In developed countries, iodine deficiency is quite rare. In France, most children under 10 years of age have enough iodine, thanks to a high consumption of milk and dairy products. On the other hand, many pregnant women would be deficient, not modifying their iodine intake during their pregnancy.

Finally, in case of a nuclear accident, a person deficient in iodine will more easily fix the radioactive iodine present in the atmosphere than a person whose thyroid is saturated in iodine.

What are the risks of over-consumption of iodine?
Excessive iodine intake will also lead to thyroid dysfunction, hyperthyroidism. The effects will be felt at the level of the heart and the kidney

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