3 Unexpected Health Benefits of Taking Iodine

Iodine might not be the star of your health supplement show, but could it be the unsung hero you've been overlooking? Iodine is a crucial player in our body's wellness orchestra. If its levels dip below the ideal, it could strike a discordant note in our health symphony.

Let’s roll out the red carpet for iodine and shine a spotlight on this powerhouse mineral. We'll delve into its role, the surprising perks it brings to our health table, and how we can ensure we're giving it the standing ovation it deserves. 

What Is Iodine?

Iodine is atomic number 53 on the periodic table, which means it falls into the “halogen” group. Along with iron, magnesium and potassium (among others), iodine is also considered an “essential” mineral — one that your body needs to grow and function correctly. 

Unfortunately, iodine isn’t a mineral that the body can naturally make. We have to get our recommended daily allowance through our diet (via iodized salt or iodine-rich food sources like kelp) or by taking a supplement. 

But why do we need iodine? What makes it so essential?

Arguably, iodine's most important job is supporting healthy thyroid function. Although the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland is only a few centimeters in size, it enormously impacts your overall health and wellness. For example, the thyroid regulates many of our most crucial bodily functions, like our metabolism. 

Specifically, T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine) — two of the most crucial thyroid hormones — need iodine to function appropriately. Your iodine levels can also impact your general thyroid hormone production, known as your TSH. Without enough iodine in your system, the pituitary gland can produce an inappropriate amount of TSH, leading to side effects like an enlargement of the thyroid gland (also called a goiter).

You may see iodine supplements listed in multiple ways — most commonly as potassium iodide or sodium iodide. It is legally available over the counter without a prescription. It is included in many multivitamins and general health supplements, as well as more specific ones like those focusing on the thyroid or healthy hair.

How Much Iodine Do We Need?

Although everyone’s bodies are different and our specific iodine needs will vary, there has been a recommended daily allowance (RDA) set by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

For adults aged 19 and above, the recommended amount of iodine to consume daily is 150 mcg (micrograms). That number increases to 220 mg for pregnant women and 290 mg for lactating (breastfeeding) women. 

Iodine supplementation may also interact with certain medications, especially those taken for the treatment of thyroid-related conditions. If you take anti-thyroid, angiotensin-converting enzymes (ACE) or potassium-sparing diuretics, talk to your doctor first. 

What Are the Side Effects of Iodine Supplementation?

Starting on any new supplement or medication can have side effects, especially in the first few days. When it comes to iodine intake, those side effects are typically minimal as long as you’re taking the supplement as recommended. 

Excess iodine content is usually easily excreted through the urine. However, although unlikely, some people may have a sensitivity or allergy to iodine — usually in the form of iodine contrast, which is often used for medical procedures instead of supplementation. Headache, nausea, hives and a rash have been noted in these instances. Discontinue use immediately and check with your doctor if you experience any unusual symptoms after starting iodine supplementation.

Can You Take Too Much Iodine?

Every supplement has the potential for toxicity, and iodine is no different. Although iodine toxicity is rare (mostly happening to people with hyperthyroidism — an overactive thyroid — and thyroid cancer), there is always a possibility that you can take too much. Anything over 1.1 mg (1100 mcg) is generally considered dangerous, so always follow the recommendation set by your doctor and the manufacturer.

Signs of excess iodine include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Burning in the mouth, throat or stomach
  • Coma
  • Delirium
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weak pulse

If you think you may have exceeded the recommended daily allowance for iodine, contact your doctor for advice.

What Are the Signs of Iodine Deficiency?

So, how will you know if you aren’t getting enough iodine in your diet? The main impact is on the thyroid gland and its related functions, so the side effects of a deficiency are the same that you’d see with some thyroid diseases. 

These include:

  • An enlarged thyroid (sometimes referred to as a goiter)
  • Confusion
  • Coughing
  • Hair loss or thinning
  • Hoarseness
  • Hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) — dry skin, weight gain, hair loss, inability to tolerate cold temperatures, fatigue
  • Throat tightness
  • Trouble breathing or swallowing

Iodine is especially crucial for pregnant women, as it directly affects fetal development. Specifically, iodine is necessary for healthy brain development and cognitive function. Even a mild deficiency can result in long-term cognitive effects, including cognitive disability. 

Interestingly, there is a group of foods known as goitrogens that can also impact the thyroid’s ability to efficiently process iodine (and potentially lead to a deficiency). Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale and even strawberries can be a problem, but only in those who are already at an increased risk of developing issues with low iodine absorption. If you struggle with an underactive thyroid, you may want to moderate your intake of those foods. 

Those who don’t use iodized salt, pregnant people and vegans are also considered to be at a higher risk of deficiency. There are also certain areas of the country (like the “goiter belt” by the Great Lakes) that have been more historically prone to iodine deficiency due to their environment and soil content. 

What Are the Unexpected Health Benefits of Iodine?

Even though iodine doesn’t have the same reputation as some of the more well-known vitamins and minerals — like vitamin C or vitamin D — it is just as essential. Making sure that you have enough iodine in your diet is crucial for preventing some fairly serious health complications, and it’s not as difficult as you may think. 

Here are some of the more unexpected health benefits of iodine.

Iodine May Support Your Hair Health

While iodine itself doesn’t directly contribute to keeping your hair beautiful and healthy, making sure that you get enough of it in your diet can indirectly contribute to your hair’s overall health and wellness. A supplement that includes iodine works to support healthy thyroid gland function and helps to restore strength and volume of hair. 

However, just taking a supplement alone cannot fix all hair-related concerns. You have to find other ways to support your hair health, as well.

Being aware of what is in your hair products, minimizing your use of heat styling tools and making sure that you’re eating a healthy and well-balanced diet can all help. But if you’ve been noticing an increase in how much you’re shedding or your hair seems particularly dry and brittle, you may want to consider talking to your doctor about an iodine supplement.

Iodine Can Help Cells Create Protein

Iodine plays a pivotal role in protein synthesis within cells. This process begins with the thyroid gland, which utilizes iodine to produce two critical hormones — thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones are essential for regulating our body's metabolism, which includes the process of protein synthesis.

Protein synthesis is a complex process that involves creating new proteins by translating the genetic code from the DNA. The thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, regulate this process, ensuring that cells can make the proteins needed for growth, repair, and maintenance. Therefore, by helping to create these hormones, iodine indirectly aids in protein synthesis.

When our bodies are deficient in iodine, they can't produce sufficient thyroid hormones. As a result, the process of protein synthesis can become impaired. This could lead to various health issues, such as slower physical growth in children, decreased muscle mass in adults, overall sluggish body functions, and even intellectual disability in some cases. 

Iodine Can Affect Stress and Mental Health

Iodine's role in the production of the T3 and T4 thyroid hormones can indirectly impact mental health, as these thyroid hormones can influence various physiological processes. You see, thyroid hormones are vital for the normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. Insufficient levels, known as hypothyroidism, can lead to mental health issues like fatigue, depression, anxiety, and memory issues. 

In terms of stress, an underactive thyroid can exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety, contributing to a vicious cycle of physical and mental health problems. Thyroid hormones play a key role in the body's response to stress, and their deficiency can lead to an inappropriate or exaggerated response to stressful situations. 

This can further lead to various stress-related symptoms, such as feelings of anxiety. Therefore, ensuring an adequate iodine intake can support healthy thyroid function, which may help to mitigate these issues.

The Bottom Line

There are many uses of iodine as it features many unexpected health benefits. Fortunately, the mineral isn’t nearly as hard to get as you may think. For example, dairy products are very good sources of iodine. 

Focusing on ensuring you get enough iodine can help support your health from head to toe. Whether it’s dietary iodine or supplemental iodine, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough. If you want to learn more about holistic healthcare, check out our blog.


Iodine - Health Professional Fact Sheet | NIH

Iodine | Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements |The National Academies Press

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

Thyroid Hormones in Brain Development and Function | NCBI Bookshelf

Biochemistry, Protein Synthesis | NCBI Bookshelf

Stress and Hormones | PMC