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Salt against iodine deficiency symptoms

Iodine deficiency symptoms can be serious. And the use of iodized salt to fight such symptoms might be considered one of the major triumphs of modern nutritional science.

But does this mean that iodized salt is good for health? Not necessarily. This article takes a closer look at iodized salt as well as some of the iodine deficiency symptoms that it has helped to prevent.


Goitre is a disease that affects the thyroid gland and is associated with both hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (over-active thyroid).

Goitre causes the thyroid gland to swell and in turn, this can cause the neck and the voice box to swell also. A person suffering from advanced case of goitre will have what looks like a large ball at the front of the neck. This can cause difficulties in breathing as well as in swallowing food and drinks.

Usually, goitre appears at an advanced stage of either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. About 90 percent of goitre and hypothyroidism are iodine deficiency symptoms, along with about 50 percent of hyperthyroidism.

It is useful to note that these conditions are NOT ALWAYS caused by iodine deficiency. There could be other causes. Goitre, for example, could also be due to a deficiency of selenium, another trace element that occurs in very tiny amounts in food, including natural sea salt or rock salt.

The symptoms of goitre, however, are usually vague and not serious - like tiredness, coughing, a feeling of tightness in the throat or hoarseness in the voice. It is only in the advanced stages that goitre could pose serious health threats due to the large swelling (such as difficulty in breathing and swallowing.)


Much more serious than goitre is cretinism, a condition that affects both physical and mental development. And the cause is iodine deficiency (not just mainly iodine deficiency as in the case of goitre.)

In severre cases of iodine deficiency symptoms leading to cretinism, an adult may grow to no more than 1 metre (about 3 ft 4 in) tall, with under-developed bones and weak muscles. Some cannot even stand or walk.

They also tend to be slow in thought as well as in physical reflexes. Some cannot function on their own and have to depend on others for basic care. Sexual development is also affected. Sufferers commonly experience delayed puberty and end up being infertile.

Other symptoms associated with cretinism include thickened skin, enlarged tongue and a protruding abdomen.

Until the 19th century, cretinism was common in parts of America and Europe, particularly inland regions far from the sea, where the soil is lacking in iodine. Switzerland used to be badly affected with entire villages or cretins. The problem was initially thought to be hereditary (which is true in a sense, since people tend to "inherit" the diet of their parents and ancestors). Scientists only discovered the link with iodine in the early 20th century.

Today, such iodine deficiency symptoms are largely solved but cretinism remains a problem in some rural parts of China, India and other lesser developed countries.

Iodized salt

The introduction of iodized salt - that is, salt fortified with iodine - is widely credited for solving problems like goitre and cretinism.

Natural sea salt, on its own, contains very little iodine - too little to prevent such problems. But whatever little iodine it contained - along with about 80 other minerals and trace elements - had been removed in refining, such that refined salt is about 99.9 percent pure sodium chloride.

Iodized salt has much more iodine than what natural sea salt contains. And yes, it has helped solve some iodine deficiency symptoms. But it still lacks other minerals and trace elements. Are they not important?

Some scientists and nutrition experts have arrogantly dismissed these other elements as "dirt", saying that refined salt is no different from natural sea salt. The truth is that they don't know. And it is unwise to say that some things are not important just because we don't know what roles they play.

Other benefits of iodine

What we have reason to believe - even if we may not know for sure - is that iodine plays a larger role in health than merely preventing problems like goitre and cretinism. Japanese women, for example, have very low rates of breast cancer and some scientists believe this could be due to the high levels of iodine in their diet from the intake of seaweeds.

Overall, iodine is believed to help prevent cancers by ensuring programed cell death - a process that prevents cells from growing out of control. It also raises energy levels and contributes to beautiful skin, nails and hair. Plus, it helps flush out toxic chemicals from the body, including fluoride, lead and mercury.

These are the sort of roles often played by other minerals and trace elements as well. While they may not always prevent specific conditions such as goitre and cretinism, they contribute to overall health in a variety of ways.

So don't be misled by products like iodized salt. Even though they can help in certain specific conditions, they do not contrinute to overall health in the same way that naturally nutritious foods do.

This brings us to another, equally important part of the solution to problems like goitre and cretinism. This has nothing to do with doctors, nutritionists or health authorities. It is the work of engineers who improved trade and transportation networks, and business people who brought a wider range of foods - indcluding iodine rich foods - to people in previously isolated communities.

Ultimately, iodine deficiency symptoms are solved by eating foods rich in iodine.

Natural sea salt / lake salt / rock salt is one such food. But it is not enough. Other iodine rich foods include fish and seafood, as well as plants grown near the sea. Even milk, butter and cheese, if they come from cows that graze near the sea, have much higher levels of iodine comapred to those produced inland. And there are premium brands of such products, particularly from France, Netherlands and other coastal European countries, that boast special qualities from the types of grass and plants the cows eat.

Ocean fish and seafood are, again, rich in iodine. But the levels can vary greatly, from a few micrograms to over 1,000 micrograms per 100 gram of, say, fish or shellfish. A far richer and more reliable source of iodine - and other minerals and trace elements - is seaweed. And ancient Chinese physicians had been using seaweeds to treat goitre as long ago as the first century AD.

Click here to learn more about seaweeds and iodine deficiency symptoms.

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