Iodine Health Facts
Actually, we only have a few grains of iodine in the body, but what we do have important to well-being of the whole system. All kinds of things may happen when the iodine in the body gets out of balance. Like other minerals, iodine is found in the foods we eat. From the digestive tract, the iodine passes into the bloodstream and is soon picked up by the thyroid, a relatively large gland located in the front lower part of the neck, just below the “Adam’s apple.”
There the iodine is changed into thyroxin, a powerful hormone. Thyroxin regulates all the activities of the various organs, controls the rate at which a person grows, and even has some effect on how long he may live. People with too little thyroxin tend to feel cold. Those with too much may feel too hot.
The thyroid gland also controls the condition of the skin. When a person has too little thyroid, the eyelids become puffy, and the face dull and apathetic. The hair may be coase, dry, and brittle, the tongue swollen, and the speech hoarse and slurred. A young child whose thyroid is not functioning properly may develop into a dwarf with coarse features, thick lips, flat nose, and protruding tongue- a truly pitiable sight known as cretinism. This trouble is due not enough iodine in mother’s diet during pregnancy. Such a child can now be helped, provided treatment is started early.
The same condition (hypothyroidism) may come on later in life, and also after complete removal of the thyroid gland. Such a patient may have to take a certain amount of the thyroid every day for the rest of his life. Tumors of the thyroid gland occur frequently in certain areas of the world and often seem to run families. These are discussed under Goiter on page 381. However, a person with a slight swelling in the neck may not actually need to have a surgical operation. A few thyroid tablets may bring the gland back to normal activity, if the condition is mild.
Prevention of thyroid trouble is relatively easy today. Iodized salt is available almost everywhere, and in most cases it will prevent the trouble before it starts. Other good sources of iodine include sea foods, and all vegetables grown near the seacoast. Extra iodine is often needed during the rapidly growing years of childhood and adolescent, and also during pregnancy. Foods selected from a wide area usually contain enough iodine to meet all normal needs, and if not, iodized salt will make up for any deficiency.