I have been curious about the talk of widespread Iodine Deficiency in Ireland and the UK for a while now, but it took a recent radio interview with Professor Mike Gibney, professor of Food and Health at UCD, to prompt me to further look into the claims that most of us are getting insufficient iodine for our needs. Professor Gibney was discussing ‘Feeding The Brain' (a topic close to our hearts at this time of looming exams) and he touched on the topic of Iodine Deficiency and what he said was that in his opinion it is the next big nutritional health crisis - which seemed like a good reason to do a little research!
Iodine is an incredibly important mineral. It essential for our thyroid health, as well as our metabolism and maintaining healthy body weight, good brain development in infants and children, fertility, and optimization of your immune system (iodine is a potent anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic, anti-viral and anti-cancer agent). If you feel sluggish and tired, have difficulty losing weight, have dry skin, hair loss, constipation or cold sensitivity, it could all be related to Underactive Thyroid (hypothyroidism). A lack of Iodine is one of the main causes of hypothyroidism, a condition that affects a large number of people in Ireland. Without getting overwhelmed by the biochemistry of it all, there are 2 different thyroid hormones that are called T3 and T4, and the numbers refer to the number of iodine molecules are attached to them - underlining the importance of iodine. If you are concerned about your thyroid health you should certainly consult your GP; but if you want to be generally healthy you should be aware of the best food sources for iodine and make sure you are eating plenty of them!
The reason that Iodine Deficiency might become a matter of public concern has to do with the important role that Iodine plays in reproduction. According to research recently carried out by Professor Gibney’s department, over two thirds of teenage girls in Northern Ireland and the UK are deficient in Iodine and he claims that this (unless treated) could lead to them being deficient during later pregnancy, which may then lead to brain impairment in their developing babies. ‘Dietary iodine deficiency represents the single greatest form of preventable brain damage and diminished IQ worldwide - the children of iodine deficient mothers are at risk of not reaching their full intellectual potential. Low iodine levels can impact the IQ of unborn children and the incidence of ADHD according to UCD.ie
What was particularly interesting to me was that Professor Gibney thinks it is a change in farming techniques that has contributed to this current widespread deficiency - in the past most dairy farmers used Iodised Salt licks for their cattle, and a wash for the milking equipment that contained iodine, both of which meant that the milk was rich in iodine. Apparently one or both of these practices have been discontinued in Ireland with unfortunate consequences for our iodine levels in our diary products.
Other theories about why Irish iodine levels are so low include the fact that in Ireland we treat our drinking water with fluoride and chlorine and apparently both fluoride and chlorine compete to attach to those thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) that iodine is meant to attach to. So one option is to consider getting a reverse osmosis filter fitted to remove these chemicals from your water. Also, cut down on mass produced baked goods - large scale baking processes tend to use Bromide which also disrupts our iodine receptors. Ironically, apparently, the same processing techniques used to use and iodine-based product, which had the beneficial effect of adding iodine in to our diets, but ‘improvements’ were made.
The amounts of iodine found in food varies hugely. Seaweeds contain the most by far (Kelps are the richest source of iodine; Kombu is a good option for cooking). Other sources include shellfish and seafood, dairy products, eggs and Strawberries. If you have a hard time fitting these foods into your diet regularly enough then you can always opt to take Kelp Tablets instead, they are relatively inexpensive and are available in all health food shops.
So the message seems to be that if you are planning a family then you should certainly take a good look at your diet and make sure you are getting enough iodine, seaweed is probably your best option - whether by food or supplements. For some great Seaweed recipes why not treat yourself to Sally McKenna’s book “Extreme Greens”. Sally has some great tips for collecting your own seaweeds as well. We have a nice Seaweed and Carrot salad recipe in this month’s Grapevine (and on our blog). It’s our most popular new salad in the Cafe - healthy and tasty, the best combination!
If you want to try enriching your diet with iodine rich foods, look out for various dried seaweeds in your local healthfood shop - Kombu is a form of Kelp so is a good one to start with. Or try Mixed Sea Veg which you can rehydrate in minutes and add to any asian dish - seaweed goes particularly well with flavours like shoyu sauce, ginger, toasted sesame oil and garlic. A company called Sea of Vitality has handy little jars of dried flaked seaweeds which you can add to any savoury dish, and they had a powdered Kelp which is great for adding to smoothies. And finally, I personally take a few Kelp Tablets every morning (available from A.Vogel or Lifeplan) because then I know I’m getting a boost to start the day off right. It’s a great source of energy!