Iodine is a trace mineral the body needs to make thyroid hormones, which are essential for normal growth and development. In your body, about 70 to 80% of iodine is found in the thyroid gland in the neck. The rest is distributed throughout the body, particularly in the ovaries, muscles, and blood. If your body does not have enough iodine, you can develop hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels). Symptoms include sluggishness or fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, and sensitivity to temperature changes. Deficiency happens more often in women than in men, and is more common in pregnant women and older children. In infants and children, hypothyroidism can affect physical and mental development. Premature infants are especially vulnerable to iodine deficiency due to the premature separation from the mom's iodine supply.
The classic sign of iodine deficiency is an enlarged thyroid gland. Some people with hypothyroidism develop an extremely large thyroid, known as goiter. Today, iodine deficiencies in the United States and other developed countries are rare because iodine is added to table salt. Crops in developed countries are generally grown in iodine rich soil, so there is more iodine in food. In developing countries, however, where soil is often low in iodine, more than 1 billion people may be at risk for iodine deficiencies.
Iodine is also used to clean wounds, and iodine tablets can be used to purify water.
Most people get plenty of iodine. Because of the complex way iodine can affect the thyroid, you should not take iodine supplements unless your doctor tells you to. Iodine may be used for the following conditions:
Oral mucositis (oral inflammation)
Some evidence suggests that an iodine mouth rinse may reduce symptoms of mucositis in the mouth related to chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Fibrocystic breast changes
Some evidence suggests that iodine may help treat fibrocystic breast disease. Women with fibrocystic breast disease have breast tenderness, particularly just before their periods. A review of clinical studies found that iodine replacement therapy (particularly for those with low levels of iodine) may improve the tenderness associated with fibrocystic breast tissue. The women taking iodine experienced very few side effects.
Some women with chronic vaginal symptoms use over-the-counter (OTC) iodine douches to reduce vaginal inflammation as well as itching and discharge. Povidone-iodine has the advantage of iodine without the disadvantages of stinging and staining.
Iodine is often used to disinfect the skin and clean wounds. Doctors frequently use ointments containing iodine on burns to lower the risk of infection.
Potassium iodine can be taken after someone is exposed to radiation to reduce the amount of radioactive iodine that accumulates in the thyroid. This action reduces the risk of thyroid cancer from radiation exposure, but it does not protect against other complications from radiation.
Prevention of goiter
Goiter, or enlargement of the thyroid, can result from iodine deficiency. However, too much iodine can also cause goiter. Goiter due to iodine deficiency is rare in developed countries.
Because of the potential for side effects and interactions with medications, you should take dietary supplements only under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider.
High doses of iodine may block the production of thyroid hormones, causing hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone levels) in someone with otherwise normal thyroid function. Too much iodine can also increase the risk of other thyroid diseases, such as Hashimoto disease, Graves disease, certain thyroid cancers, and thyrotoxicosis (a dangerous condition involving a large amount of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream). For these reasons, you should not take iodine supplements without first talking to your doctor.
Taking more iodine per day than you usually get from table salt, or about 160 to 600 mcg, may be harmful. Daily intake of 2,000 mcg iodine may be toxic, particularly in people with kidney disease or tuberculosis.
Routine thyroid function tests should be done on infants treated with topical iodine.
People with thryoid disease may be particularly susceptible to ill effects of iodine. People with dermatitis herpetiformis can have a worsening of symptoms when taking iodine.
If you are being treated with any of the following medications, you should not take iodine without first talking to your health care provider:
Antithyroid drugs: Use of antithyroid drugs, including propylthiouracil (PTU), and iodide may increase the hypothyroid effect of iodides.
Lithium: Use of potassium iodide and lithium (Lithobid) may cause hypothyroidism.
Warfarin: Use of potassium iodide (for hyperthyroidism) with warfarin (Coumadin, a blood-thinning drug) may make warfarin less effective.
High blood pressure medication (ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers [ARBs]): Many iodine supplements contain potassium. When used with ACE inhibitors and ARBs, iodine may result in an increased level of potassium in the body, which may be dangerous.
Potassium-sparing diuretics: Since many iodine supplements contain potassium, concurrent use may result in dangerously high levels of potassium.
Amiodorone: Concurrent use with iodine supplements may result in dangerously high levels of iodine.
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