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Iodine Deficiency: Signs & Symptoms To Watch For

Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
  • Iodine deficiency can lead to health problems that impact the thyroid. Supplementation with iodine-rich foods can help prevent a deficiency.

    In the U.S., there are fewer than 200,000 cases of iodine deficiency per year. However, it is still possible to be deficient in this essential mineral.

    A more recently recognized nutrient deficiency affecting a much larger portion of the population, C15:0 deficiency, can be supported by taking a once-a-day supplement like fatty15.

There’s a really high probability that you will go your entire life without knowing someone who is deficient in iodine. Iodine is a mineral that is essential for our health, which means our bodies need it to thrive but cannot readily make it on their own. 

Iodine deficiency does not typically impact people living in developed nations with access to healthy and affordable food. When someone is impacted by an iodine deficiency, however, their health may begin to decline. 

We’ll discuss the signs and symptoms related to an inadequate iodine intake and what you can do to make sure you get enough iodine. We’ll also discuss another nutrient deficiency that is much more common and what you can do to ensure you avoid it.

What Is Iodine?

Iodine is a mineral found in trace amounts of some foods and available as iodine supplements. Because iodine is harder to come by than other vitamins and minerals, it is also added to table salt (iodized salt) to help ensure that people are able to get enough iodine in their diets. 

Functions of Iodine in the Body

The primary function of iodine in the body is its role in the creation of thyroid hormones. Iodine makes up portions of two thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones regulate numerous functions in the body, including synthesizing proteins, regulating metabolism, and proper development of fetuses and infants. 

Who Is at Risk of Iodine Deficiency?

Iodine deficiency can be related to poor soil quality. Iodine is found in the soil, and fruits and vegetables growing in this soil may not have adequate iodine to support a person’s recommended daily allowance (RDA) of this mineral. Certain regions of the world, like Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, have low levels of iodine in their soil. 

To combat poor soil, salt iodization has helped reduce iodine deficiency globally. Thanks to modern food supply chains, however, even areas with poor soil usually now have access to foods grown in other areas that do contain enough iodine. 

Other at-risk groups include:

  • People who don’t use iodized salt.

  • Pregnant women and lactating women

  • People who consume a strictly plant-based diet (vegans) or people who eat limited amounts of dairy and meat (vegetarians)

  • People who eat a diet that is marginally low in iodine combined with foods considered goitrogens. Goitrogens naturally block the absorption of iodine, creating an iodine deficiency.

Not everyone within these groups will be at risk of iodine deficiency. 

How Much Iodine Do You Need?

The recommended daily allowance of iodine for adults 18 and older is 150 mcg per day. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, the World Health Organization recommends a slightly higher amount of iodine.

Foods containing the highest sources of iodine include seaweed, fish, eggs, and some dairy products. It’s worth noting that not all dairy contains iodine. 

The iodine content of dairy products depends on whether the cows were given feed that contained iodine, and whether or not certain sanitizing agents were used when processing their milk. Iodine is also available in supplement form, but your healthcare provider can help you determine whether or not you need to take a supplement. 

Symptoms of Iodine Deficiency

You can check for symptoms if you suspect you are deficient in iodine. Ironically, if your intake of iodine is too high, you may experience some of the same symptoms as those associated with iodine deficiency. 

Signs of iodine deficiency include:

  • Goiter. When your thyroid is unhealthy it may enlarge, causing swelling in your throat that is called goiter. Goiter (sometimes spelled goitre) is a symptom of thyroid disease. This can also cause difficulty breathing, choking, or feeling like something is stuck or caught in your throat. 
  • Elevated thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. 
  • Hypothyroidism. This condition is caused by an underactive thyroid, which is when the thyroid does not produce enough thyroid hormones. Symptoms associated with hypothyroidism include dry skin, feeling cold all the time, thinning hair, and mental confusion. 

During pregnancy, inadequate iodine can lead to iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) as a result of improper brain development. It can also lead to:

  • Cretinism. A rare but notable birth defect that is characterized by short stature and intellectual disability as a result of low levels of thyroid hormones during fetal development.
  • Stillbirth and miscarriage
  • Developmental delays
  • Brain damage
  • Stunted growth

The prevalence of IDD and related iodine deficiency impairment among newborns in developed countries is low. Most pregnant women will get the amount of iodine they need in their food or from their prenatal supplements. 

Not all prenatal vitamins contain iodine. You’ll need to check the label of your supplement to ensure you are meeting your iodine requirements during pregnancy. 

What Do I Do if I Am Iodine Deficient?

Only a blood test can reveal if you are deficient in iodine. If you are having trouble with your thyroid gland, your healthcare provider may order a blood test to see if you have low iodine levels. If so, managing your thyroid function by increasing your iodine intake will be necessary. 

It’s important to have your doctor determine how to approach your iodine deficiency, as too much iodine can also lead to negative health impacts. Although most of us will not have to be concerned with our iodine status, one more recently discovered nutrient deficiency that may impact nearly one out of every three of us is a pentadecanoic acid (or C15:0) deficiency.

What Is C15:0?

C15:0 is an odd-chain, saturated fatty acid that is essential for our health and wellness. Discovered by scientists studying longevity in bottlenose dolphins, C15:0 is the first essential fatty acid to have been identified since the omegas, nearly 90 years ago. There are now three recognized essential fatty acids, a type of omega-3, omega-6 and C15:0. 

What Does C15:0 Do for Us?

To fully understand how C15:0 is utilized in the body, we need to think about how our bodies operate. Every system, organ, and tissue in our bodies is made up of cells. Cells are microscopic VIPs that determine many of our health outcomes. The very foundations of our health and wellness begins in our cells. 

As we age, our cells begin to lose their function. This loss of function translates into a loss of function throughout our bodies. Supporting our cellular health is key to keeping healthy as we age. 

Low levels of C15:0 can negatively impact our cells, making them weak and fragile. This fragility can lead to lipid peroxidation and early cellular breakdown. This explains why some people with low levels of C15:0 experience poor heart, liver, and metabolic health. Having enough C15:0 in your body helps support our cellular health in a few really important ways.

Strengthening Cellular Membranes

Our cells have protective membranes that give them their shape and protect them from external stressors. With age, these membranes become flimsy and wear out.C15:0 is a sturdy fatty acid that armors our cell membranes against age-related breakdown. Studies have shown that pure C15:0 improves cellular strength by 80%.

Getting Rid of “Zombie” Cells

Sometimes, the cells in our bodies lose their function but don’t die. Like sci-fi zombies, they hang out in our tissues and create an inflammatory response. Levels of proinflammatory cytokines (a key driver in the aging process) increase, and we begin to experience illness.

C15:0 activates our bodies’ clean-up molecules, AMPK. AMPK significantly calms and lowers cytokines, evacuates zombie cells, and even helps with numerous homeostatic functions. AMPK regulates glucose uptake and immune function.

Supporting Mitochondria

The mitochondria in our cells create ATP, which is the currency cells use for energy. They also produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) which is a byproduct of ATP production. Our cells need ATP, but ROS is damaging to cells. With time, mitochondria begin to produce less ATP and more ROS. 

C15:0 steps in to restore balance, increasing ATP production and reducing ROS output by 45%. In one peer-reviewed study, C15:0 was shown to increase ATP levels in cells by 350%.

Restoring Balance

Certain receptors known as PPARs in the body regulate functions like metabolism, immunity, heart and liver health, and even sleep and appetite. C15:0 activates these receptors, helping restore balance when they are not functioning properly. 

By increasing your C15:0 levels, you can restore balance to your body, support your cellular health, and give yourself a fighting chance to increase your longevity and your health span. 

How Do I Know If I’m Deficient in C15:0?

A simple at-home blood test can find out how much C15:0 you have circulating in your bloodstream. Studies of how C15:0 works in the body suggest that levels should be above 0.2% of total fatty acids to prevent a nutritional deficiency. 

Higher levels of C15:0 have been shown to improve heart, liver, and metabolic health. Interestingly, people living in blue ones (the places in the world where life expectancy to age 100 is most common) commonly have C15:0 levels greater than 0.6% of total fatty acids. 

Your physician can also order routine blood tests, including a complete blood count, fasting lipid panel, and liver function tests that can help delineate your body's response to increasing the amount of C15:0 in your diet. 

C15:0 and Your Diet

C15:0 is found primarily in whole dairy products. However, increasing our intake of whole dairy products may not be the ideal solution. 

Unfortunately, full-fat dairy products now have less C15:0 in them than they did in the past. Additionally, plant-based milks and milk replacements usually contain no C15:0.

Calories

Whole-fat dairy products provide a wallop of calories, including sugars (aka lactose). The calories in whole-fat milk likely explain why a large-scale recent study showed that adults who drink more dairy milk are more likely to have a higher body weight.

Bad Saturated Fat

While the good C15:0 fatty acid is present in whole-fat dairy products in trace levels, there are much higher levels of “bad” even-chain saturated fatty acids that continue to be associated with poorer health. That is probably why studies evaluating the effects of milk on our health are mixed (some say dairy fat is bad for us, while others say it is good for us).

It Is Not Ready To Absorb

In milk (and other foods), C15:0 is attached to branches of lipids called triacylglycerides, aka triglycerides. That means our gut has to use digestive enzymes to break down these triacylglycerides to release C15:0 as a free fatty acid. Once C15:0 is released, it is ready to be absorbed. These multiple steps can make our absorption of C15:0 from foods less efficient. 

Cows

If you are looking for a way to veer from cows and cattle because of concerns around methane production, consuming more dairy is not a good solution. The cow involvement in consuming more whole milk also makes getting C15:0 a primary problem for people who do not consume dairy products, like vegans. 

Elevate your cells. Elevate your self.

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A Better Solution 

Increasing your C15:0 without whole dairy is possible. The solution is fatty15. Fatty15 is the first and only supplement to contain the pure, vegan-friendly version of C15:0 known as FA15™. This once-per-day capsule contains enough C15:0 to restore your levels and support your cells at just one calorie per day. 

Further, FA15 is made readily absorbable, which means you can take fatty15 with our without food, at any time of day. You can even open the capsule and poor the pure powder into your coffee or tea. Lastly, there’s no even-chain saturated fat — and certainly no cows-involved. All of the good, none of the bad. That’s fatty15. 

Getting Enough

Whether it is iodine or C15:0, nutritional deficiencies are preventable by consuming adequate amounts of these essential nutrients in our diet. Taking atty15 makes it easy to increase your C15:0 levels and support your whole-body health and wellness.

Sources:

Iodine - Health Professional Fact Sheet|ODS.NIH.gov

Health Consequences of Iodine Deficiency - PMC

Iodine Deficiency: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Prevention|My Cleveland Clinic.org

Efficacy of dietary odd-chain saturated fatty acid pentadecanoic acid parallels broad associated health benefits in humans: could it be essential? | Scientific Reports

A review of odd-chain fatty acid metabolism and the role of pentadecanoic Acid (c15:0) and heptadecanoic Acid (c17:0) in health and disease

Profile photo for Eric Venn-Watson

Eric Venn-Watson M.D.

Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.

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