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Is iodine the new "it" supplement for weight loss? Let's tackle the tangled issue of iodine and weight, as well as understand the dangers of unnecessary supplementation.
Hungry dieters are always seeking the magic pill when it comes to unlocking the formula for lasting weight loss and management. As a naturopathic doctor with a specialty in weight loss, each month I hear about the next big interest in the field - from green tea to coconut oil and mulberries, I have heard all of the (proposed) "fat burner" secrets. The latest to be uttered in my exam room is iodine supplementation, because of the link between iodine deficiency and underactive thyroid (which can cause weight gain, or stall your weight loss efforts). I believe something has been muddled in the communication chain; let's tackle the tangled issue of iodine and weight, as well as understand the dangers of unnecessary supplementation.
What is Iodine?
Iodine is a mineral essential to human life; we require adequate levels of iodine in our bodies in order to produce thyroid hormones, which regulate the metabolic energy of the body. We require iodine in trace amounts and absorption takes place from the stomach into the blood.
Approximately 30% of our iodine intake goes directly to the thyroid gland, and it is eliminated rapidly. We do not store iodine in our bodies, as we do other minerals like iron. Therefore, we require a continual supply of the mineral in order to remain healthy. Table salt in North America, since the 1940s, has been fortified with iodine to combat concerns of deficiency. The most obvious form of iodine deficiency is a goiter, or a swelling of the thyroid gland as it attempts to trap more iodine.
Sea life is a healthier way to consume iodine, and we can also gain adequate amounts of the mineral by consuming plants grown in iodine-rich soil, and animals grazed on such plants. Iodine levels in soil vary across the world, making deficiency more probable in certain regions. It is possible that our soil is becoming depleted of beneficial minerals like iodine, and the over-manufacturing of our food and the impact of industry continues to be a concern. At this time, I am not sure it warrants a panicked response in the assumption of widespread iodine deficiency.
Iodine and Your Thyroid
Without an adequate supply of iodine, your thyroid cannot manufacture the hormones your body needs to function optimally. A condition called hypothyroid results and symptoms might include fatigue, coldness of the body and weight gain. The thyroid's main function is to run the body's metabolism, and so hypothyroidism results in a slow metabolism, impeding your body's ability to efficiently burn fat. People who struggle to lose weight might see a golden ticket here: fix the thyroid, ensure hormones can be manufactured, and speed up your metabolism. If iodine deficiency is to blame, taking this mineral in supplement form should do the trick. BUT this is true ONLY in the case where iodine deficiency caused hypothyroidism. If you have a thyroid that is performing quite well, you will not see weight loss simply through iodine supplementation. If you do have hypothyroidism but it is not due to iodine deficiency, you will similarly not see the results you want.
I caution you against taking iodine supplements before first consulting with your healthcare practitioner to see if you are deficient. A test will tell your doctor just what needs to be done: including whether supplementation is needed, if you have hypothyroidism, and what is causing it. Supplementing with iodine without first learning if it is necessary can cause a few things that concern me.
What You Need to Know About Iodine Supplementation
Iodine supplementation will not help with weight loss where a deficiency does not exist. The main use of iodine as a supplement is to correct a deficiency, and occasionally (and at the discretion of a naturopath) to combat the fatigue associated with an underactive thyroid. You need to exercise caution before supplementing with iodine and I always recommend that tests be done to assess the levels in the body. Too much iodine can, in fact, reduce the functioning of the thyroid. It can also throw off the body's balance of other vitamins and minerals. And furthermore, iodine alone is unlikely to cure hypothyroidism, though it will slow its progression.
The bottom line is this: supplementing with any vitamin or mineral, including iodine, without first consulting with a health care professional (and using tests to determine your need) can throw balance in your body completely off, including causing deficiencies. In the case of iodine, unless it is directly linked to your thyroid's functioning, you are unlikely to see the results you are hoping for.
Weight loss is hard work and it is nice to think that there is a magic bullet. Iodine just isn't it. The good news is, the advice I'd give you to make sure you have adequate supplies of iodine in your diet is the same advice I'd give you to manage your weight: try a diet rich in seafood, seaweed vegetables and animals and plants grown in iodine-rich soil. Eat from the soil and the ocean for balanced health.