The Goiter Belt and the Importance of Iodine

rural bettendorf

Here in the Midwest (of the United States), we live in “the Goiter Belt.” A goiter is “an abnormal enlargement of your thyroid gland.” The thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, is an extremely important gland and can affect mood and body functions. The Mayo Clinic lists common signs and symptoms of hyper- (“high”) and hypothyroid (“low”) imbalances. This list is by no means exhaustive.

“Although goiters are usually painless, a large goiter can cause a cough and make it difficult for you to swallow or breathe.The most common cause of goiter worldwide is a lack of iodine in the diet.”

According to WH Foods, “iodine is a key component of the hormones made in the thyroid gland. These hormones are absolutely critical to human health, helping to control energy production and utilization in nearly every cell of the body.

The balance of iodine in the thyroid gland is tricky, and both too much and too little iodine can slow down the production of hormones. This is not a situation where more is always better.”
Also according to WH Foods, “the risk of iodine deficiency is substantial in the United States and has been on the rise. The average urinary iodine level—a good measure of recent dietary iodine intake—has dropped by more than half since the 1970s. …
…The reason iodine levels  are dropping in the population is two-fold. One is that within the world of commercial baking, many bread manufacturers have moved away from iodine-containing compounds to keep dough fresh. But a bigger change is that the average U.S. household is doing less and less home cooking and resorting more and more often to prepackaged foods, ready-to-eat foods, and restaurant eating (including fast food eating). …even though many prepackaged foods are high in sodium, the salt added to these foods has not necessarily been fortified with iodine…There is a good bit of unpredictability in the iodine content of prepackaged and ready-to-eat foods.”
“There are compounds called thiocyanates in some commonly consumed foods. At high concentrations, these chemicals can interfere with the uptake of iodine into the thyroid gland, making a person seem like they have iodine deficiency, when they may not. The common thiocyanate containing foods include cassava, soy, and Brassica Family vegetables “(commonly known as cruciferous vegetables). “Tobacco smoke also contains thiocyanates.”
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The proper intake of iodine–not too much, and not too little– is critical for the normal functioning of the thyroid gland. If there is not enough iodine taken in with natural foods and foods supplemented with iodine, goiter can result. Luckily, iodine is easy to find. One of the easiest ways to get it is to make sure you are using iodized salt. When I was growing up, Morton iodized salt seemed like the only type of salt to buy. Today there are myriad salt choices: sea salts, including Sel de Mer and Fleur de Sel ,have gained popularity. It’s important to realize that not all salt has iodine in it. Check the packaging for iodine content, or “iodized”on the packaging.

Here’s a handy chart of natural iodine sources and a great explanation of the importance of iodine in the diet. As you can see, sea vegetables provide the most iodine.

So, if your landscape looks like this…

rural landscape

…you might be deficient in iodine.

Of course, if you are having symptoms of goiter, hypothryoidism, or hyperthyroidism, please investigate further with your medical practitioner.

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