See the Consumer for easy-to-read facts about Iodine.
Iodine is a trace element that is naturally present in some foods, added to others, and available as a dietary supplement. Iodine is an essential component of the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroid hormones regulate many important biochemical reactions, including protein synthesis and enzymatic activity, and are critical determinants of metabolic activity [1 ,2 ]. They are also required for proper skeletal and central nervous system development in fetuses and infants [1 ].
Thyroid function is primarily regulated by thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), also known as thyrotropin. It is secreted by the pituitary gland to control thyroid hormone production and secretion, thereby protecting the body from hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism [1 ]. TSH secretion increases thyroidal uptake of iodine and stimulates the synthesis and release of T3 and T4. In the absence of sufficient iodine, TSH levels remain elevated, leading to goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland that reflects the body's attempt to trap more iodine from the circulation and produce thyroid hormones.
Table of Contents
Iodine may have other physiological functions in the body as well. For example, it appears to play a role in immune response and might have a beneficial effect on mammary dysplasia and fibrocystic breast disease [2 ].
The earth's soils contain varying amounts of iodine, which in turn affects the iodine content of crops. In some regions of the world, iodine-deficient soils are common, increasing the risk of iodine deficiency among people who consume foods primarily from those areas. Salt iodization programs, which many countries have implemented, have dramatically reduced the prevalence of iodine deficiency worldwide [2 ,3 ].
Iodine in food and iodized salt is present in several chemical forms including sodium and potassium salts, inorganic iodine (I2 ), iodate, and iodide, the reduced form of iodine [4 ]. Iodine rarely occurs as the element, but rather as a salt; for this reason, it is referred to as iodide and not iodine. Iodide is quickly and almost completely absorbed in the stomach and duodenum. Iodate is reduced in
the gastrointestinal tract and absorbed as iodide [2 ,5 ]. When iodide enters the circulation, the thyroid gland concentrates it in appropriate amounts for thyroid hormone synthesis and most of the remaining amount is excreted in the urine [2 ]. The iodine-replete healthy adult has about 15–20 mg of iodine, 70%–80% of which is contained in the thyroid [6 ].
Median urinary iodine concentrations of 100–199 mcg/L in children and adults, 150–249 mcg/L in pregnant women and >100 mcg/L in lactating women indicate iodine intakes are adequate [3 ]. Values lower than 100 mcg/L in children and non-pregnant adults indicate insufficient iodine intake, although iodine deficiency is not classified as severe until urinary iodine levels are lower than 20 mcg/L.
Intake recommendations for iodine and other nutrients are provided in the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) developed by the Food and Nutrition Board (FNB) at the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (formerly National Academy of Sciences) [2 ]. DRI is the general term for a set of reference values used for planning and assessing nutrient intakes of healthy people. These values, which vary by age and gender [2 ], include:
- Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA): average daily level of intake sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of nearly all (97%–98%) healthy individuals.
- Adequate Intake (AI): established when evidence is insufficient to develop an RDA and is set at a level assumed to ensure nutritional adequacy.
- Estimated Average Requirement (EAR): average daily level of intake estimated to meet the requirements of 50% of healthy individuals. It is usually used to assess the adequacy of nutrient intakes in populations but not individuals.
- Tolerable Upper Intake Level (UL): maximum daily intake unlikely to cause adverse health effects [2 ].
Table 1 lists the current RDAs for iodine [2 ]. For infants from birth to 12 months, the FNB established an AI for iodine that is equivalent to the mean intake of iodine in healthy, breastfed infants in the United States.
Table 1: Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) for Iodine [2 ]