In ideal circumstances, iodine is a naturally occurring element. It’s essential for the thyroid gland, which controls metabolism and the development of the brain, and one teaspoon in your entire lifetime is sufficient to ensure no health problems develop. The problem is, the body cannot stockpile it, so iodine needs to be constantly ingested.
The consequences of critically low levels of iodine are lessened IQ, stunted growth or goiters, as well as problems with hearing. Furthermore, if a pregnant mother is low in iodine, it can threaten the mental and physical development of her unborn child – lessening the IQ by as much as 10 to 15 points.
While these kinds of extremes are rare in Australia, being more prevalent in countries like China and Nepal, the survey has strengthened the push to make it mandatory for all salt sold in Australia to be mixed with iodine. Two thirds of the world already has mandatory salt iodisation set in place. It looks like Australia may soon follow suit.
One of the cornerstones of the rationalisation is that around 80% of the average person’s salt intake is from processed food. At the moment, regular salt is used. If, however, the mandate is set in place, we could see only iodised salt on our supermarket shelves and the same salt being added to bread, biscuits and breakfast cereals.
Hear, hear, many of you may cry - what about freedom of choice? And, what if adding iodine to salt has potentially harmful effects on some of the population? A little more research brought the following items to light – both positive and negative.
There are two kinds of iodine added to salt – one more toxic than the other and it is unclear which is being proposed as the additive in Australia. Furthermore, the addition is unstable and the level of available iodine diminishes over time – especially in sub-tropical and tropical areas.
The thyroid is affected by more than iodine levels. It is also very sensitive to environmental pollutants. Pollutants, not low iodine levels, are actually the most common cause of hypothyroidism in Delhi, for example.
Studies have shown that thyroid disorders in Japan and the United States increased tenfold within two to three years of iodised salt becoming mandatory. Whether this was an allergic reaction or due to other factors was unclear – though one can certainly be allergic to iodine as an additive.
The lack of iodine could be much more far-reaching than is generally known. Some medical researchers state that iodine, not fluoride, is what is needed for healthy teeth and bones. By extension, it can go along way towards helping with osteopenia and its ugly older sister, osteoporosis.
The same researchers suggest that low iodine levels can sometimes be the cause of senility, digestive problems, some cancers, cysts in the ovaries, diabetes, heart disease … the list goes on. In essence, a diet rich in iodine is definitely essential for our continued health and wellbeing.
So, if we don’t eat many processed foods and prefer to regulate what we put into our bodies ourselves, where can we get this vital mineral? The best source is certainly seafood, including seaweed – kelp and nori, in particular. There are also reasonable amounts in milk, yoghurt, eggs and meat.
Plants, unfortunately, only have smaller amounts and it makes a big difference if the soil they’re grown in is iodine-rich. The good news is that organically grown produce is grown in rich soils, which may well not have suffered from the iodine depletion others have. Also, for some reason, stewing and steaming vegetables can often be preferable to stir-frying when it comes to retaining iodine.
Then there are supplements. You’ll often find iodine in multi-vitamins. It’s definitely a major force in kelp tablets. However, a word of warning, too much iodine can be as detrimental as too little. So always check if the level is appropriate before buying.
All in all, it is clear that iodine is essential for our long-term health. As to whether the potential risk of adding iodine to all commercially available salt is worth its gain, the jury is still out. The one thing you can be sure of is that eating organic, unprocessed foods is certainly a healthy option - on every level.