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Iodine: What you need to know
Iodine: What you need to know

Iodine: what is it?

Iodine is an essential nutrient for humans. It’s important for growth, development and good health, but we only need a small amount of it.

Iodine occurs naturally in the sea and in some soils.

Iodine is also found in marine life (including fish, prawns and seaweed), some plants grown in iodine-rich soil, and in the products of animals that have grazed on soil with iodine in it.

Iodine is added to some foods, like salt and commercially baked bread.

Why we need iodine

Our thyroid glands need iodine to produce the hormones that control metabolism, growth and development.

If children and grown-ups don’t get enough iodine in their diets, they might develop iodine deficiency. This can cause the thyroid gland to increase in size. An enlarged thyroid gland, or goitre, can:

  • affect hormone production
  • cause swallowing and breathing difficulties
  • lead to hypothyroidism, which can cause problems like weight gain, dry skin, hair loss, tiredness, intolerance to cold and depression
  • result in stunted growth and intellectual impairment.

Iodine, pregnancy and breastfeeding

During pregnancy, a woman’s thyroid gland has to work extra hard. This is because the hormones it produces help the growth of her unborn baby’s brain and nervous system.

Because a pregnant woman’s thyroid gland is working harder, she needs extra iodine so she doesn’t become iodine deficient.

Severe iodine deficiency in a pregnant woman might lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or intellectual disability in her baby.

After birth, breastfed babies depend on breastmilk as a source of iodine, which keeps their brains and nervous systems developing. This means that iodine deficiency in breastfeeding mothers can also be a risk for babies.

If you’re pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding, it’s recommended that you take an iodine supplement of 150 micrograms (μg) per day. If you have any pre-existing thyroid problems, check with your doctor before taking a supplement.

How much iodine people need

The Nutrient Reference Values for the UK recommend the following intake of iodine:

  • Young babies aged 0-6 months need 90 μg per day.
  • Older babies aged 7-12 months need 110 μg per day.
  • Children aged 1-8 years need 90 μg per day.
  • Children aged 9-13 years need 120 μg per day.
  • Teenagers aged 14-18 years and adults who are neither pregnant nor breastfeeding need 150 μg per day.
  • Pregnant women and women trying to get pregnant need 220 μg per day.
  • Breastfeeding women need 270 μg per day.

Too much iodine

It’s possible to have too much iodine, but consuming a dangerously high level of it is actually quite hard. For example, your child would need to eat 1 kg of cheese or 25 whole boiled eggs or drink 5 glasses of milk in one sitting to have too much.

Some medications and supplements might also contain high doses of iodine.


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