What is your opinion on iodized salt

Importance of iodine for the thyroid gland

Why is iodine so important?

No thyroid hormone without iodine. It is required as a raw material for the production of thyroid hormones, which are responsible, among other things, for regulating metabolic processes and stimulating body and organ growth.

The human body cannot produce iodine itself and can only store it to a very limited extent. Iodine is an essential trace element. This means that the iodine required by the body must be regularly taken in with food. It passes passively into the blood via the gastrointestinal tract and from there actively into the thyroid. The thyroid uses up to 80 percent of the iodine consumed daily.

Where is our daily iodine requirement?

In order to be able to produce enough thyroid hormones, the daily iodine requirement for adults is around 150 to 200 micrograms. The German Nutrition Society has formulated certain recommendations for iodine intake depending on the age and gender of a person. The daily iodine requirement is for:

baby40-80 µg
Children, 1 - 9 years100-140 µg
Children, 10-12 years180 µg
Teenagers and adults200 µg
Adults over 50 years180 µg
Pregnant women230 µg
Breastfeeding260 µg

Iodine is indispensable and vital for humans - in every phase of life - beginning with the development of the child in the womb. Sufficient coverage of iodine requirements is therefore important, especially during an existing or planned pregnancy, because now two thyroid glands have to be supplied with iodine (further information). While the mother is at increased risk of goiter, the development of the brain and nervous system in the growing baby depends on a good supply of iodine. The need is also increased during breastfeeding because the iodine is released with breast milk.

What are the risks of an iodine deficiency?

Germany is one of the most iodine regions in Europe. Thousands of years ago, glacier melt washed away the trace element. To date, iodine is only found in very small amounts in our soils, arable and pasture areas and in drinking water and is therefore largely absent from animal and human food. For many years the area of ​​today's Federal Republic was declared an iodine deficiency country and the goiter was the most visible sign of this deficit.

It is true that the population's iodine supply has improved significantly in recent decades. The iodine intake has almost doubled compared to 1975, especially newborns and children now have a balanced iodine balance. However, experts assume that at least a third, if not half of the German population is still not optimally supplied with iodine. The daily deficit is estimated to be a third of the amount of iodine recommended by the German Nutrition Society (DGE).

As a result, pathological changes or disorders of the thyroid gland can occur. Every third German is affected, from the age of 45 even every second, women about as often as men. The most common is the iodine deficiency goiter, an extreme enlargement of the thyroid gland with and without lumps.

However, the symptoms of iodine deficiency usually appear insidious, so that at first hardly any symptoms are noticed by those affected. Only when the thyroid is severely underactive does the body send clear warning signals. Typical signs are:

  • Lack of drive
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Growth and development disorders in children
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Sense of tightness and pressure in the throat
  • Difficulty breathing and swallowing
  • Skin changes (damp or dry skin)

How can iodine deficiency be compensated for?

The easiest way to counteract an acute iodine deficiency is through food. The most important sources of iodine are sea fish and marine animals. They should be on the menu at least twice a week. Pollack, cod and plaice are particularly rich in iodine. Consistent use of iodized table salt can also help to compensate for deficits and prevent goitering. Significant amounts of iodine can also be found in milk and eggs, but the feeding of the animals is crucial here. An overview of the iodine content of various foods:

Average iodine value per 100g edible portion (in µg)Required daily intake for 100 µg iodine (in g)
Meat (medium fat)
pork meat3,03300
Rye bread8,51200
White bread5,81700
Chicken egg9,71050

While in some countries the problem was solved by adding iodine in drinking water or the iodized salt was simply made the standard salt (such as in Switzerland since the 1920s), nothing happened in this country for a long time.

Help finally came from the food industry, which increasingly used iodized table salt. The same applies to canteens, restaurants, bakeries and butchers. The iodine supply of the population has improved significantly due to a growing range of foods and dishes made with iodized salt. However, additional iodine intake can also be harmful for patients with certain thyroid diseases such as hyperthyroidism (more information) or Hashimoto-type thyroiditis (more information).

Iodine in the nuclear reactor accident

Iodine can play a very important role in a radioactive reactor accident. In the event of a nuclear accident, radioactive iodine is also released, among other things. The human body cannot differentiate between normal and radioactive iodine and also absorbs radioactive iodine into the thyroid. There, radioactive iodine can cause severe cell damage and even thyroid cancer. The uptake of radioactive iodine in the thyroid gland can be blocked or at least reduced by normal iodine. The most effective way of doing this is to take iodine tablets. Timely intake is important. For this reason, the authorities hold large stocks of iodine tablets for the population in the event of possible reactor accidents.

The expert interview with Prof. Dr. med. Hans Udo Zieren. To the expert interview

AUTHOR: Prof. Dr. med. Hans Udo Zieren