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Oct 21
Global Iodine Deficiency Disorders Prevention Day

By: Antoinette Stafford Cloete (HST Communications Manager)

Every year Global Iodine Deficiency Disorders Prevention Day is marked on 21 October. It is also known as World Iodine Deficiency Day and aims to create awareness of the importance of iodine in your diet to facilitate normal growth.

What is iodine deficiency? You need iodine in your body for it to make a chemical known as the thyroid hormone, and this hormone controls your metabolism and other important body functions. Low levels of iodine are not the only cause of low thyroid function, but a lack of iodine can cause an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland, known as a goitre, and other thyroid problems. In children, it can cause mental disabilities.

Your body doesn't naturally make iodine, so the only way to get this nutrient is through your diet. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need a whole lot more. Iodine is found in many types of foods, but is found in higher concentrations in food like fish, eggs, nuts, dairy products and iodized table salt.

Iodine deficiency affects about 2 billion people worldwide. It's most common in developing countries where people may lack access to enough healthy food, but it can also affect people in developed countries who lack an adequate diet or whose bodies don't correctly process iodine.

What are the signs of iodine deficiency? Swelling of the thyroid glands in the neck and low levels of thyroid hormone is also known as hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism can make you feel very tired, sensitive to cold, constipated, cause dry skin, hair and nails, slow your heart-rate and make you feel depressed, amongst other symptoms. In severe cases, iodine deficiency can cause a condition called cretinism.

In Africa iodine deficiency is particularly wide-spread because of iodine-deficient soils caused by over-planting of cassava, which makes supplementation via iodized table salt so critical.

W Kalk, a South African researcher on the subject, contextualises iodine deficiency for us. Kalk argues that a significant proportion of South Africans are probably affected by iodine deficiency because our diets are often not nutritionally dense enough when it comes to iodine. "Since the December 1995 legislation, all salt manufactured in South Africa must contain potassium iodate. Such supplementation is likely to cause a small increase in auto-immune thyroid disorders. This negative effect is slight in comparison with the potential benefit to millions."

Apart from legislation in South Africa making the supplementation of salt a requirement to help in combatting the negative effects of iodine deficiency, we can also support healthier bodies by supplementing with a multivitamin and seaweed supplements. The dosage, however, needs to be carefully managed and should preferably be done on your doctor's advice.

Overdosing on iodine can put you in a coma. It can also affect other medicines you take such as blood pressure drugs called ACE inhibitors. Iodine can also raise potassium levels in your blood to unsafe levels.

So, it is important to know whether or not your iodine levels are adequate and you can get tested for this to strike a balance between having just enough iodine in your system to assist with the optimal functioning of your thyroid. This is especially important for pregnant and breastfeeding women, and growing children.

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