Iodine Global Network (IGN)

Updated Iodine Fact Sheet for Health Professionals from the US National Institute of Health (NIH) Office of Dietary Supplements


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.

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.


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