Iodine Deficiency

Iodine deficiency – an important issue in Germany due to, among other things, iodine-poor arable soils. With the appropriate measures, an iodine deficiency and the associated physical complaints can usually be prevented at an early stage.

Iodine Deficiency

What is iodine deficiency?

According to, the doctor examines the thyroid glands, especially if there is an iodine deficiency.

Iodine deficiency is an undersupply of the organism with iodine. In order to avoid an iodine deficiency, a sufficient intake of iodine through food is necessary, because iodine cannot be produced independently in the body.

If there is an iodine deficiency, this has, among other things, a negative impact on various thyroid hormones. The latter are responsible for intact metabolic processes, for example. Loss of energy, frequent freezing and also concentration difficulties can be associated with an existing iodine deficiency.

One speaks of an iodine deficiency when the iodine supply is below a recommended minimum amount. The German Society for Nutrition (DGE), for example, recommends a daily dose of around 200 micrograms of iodine for male and female adults. Children require a lower dose according to their size and age.


The cause of iodine deficiency is usually the supply of food that is not enriched with iodine. An iodine deficiency caused in this way can be geographically determined, among other things: According to the German Society for Nutrition, large parts of Germany are iodine deficiency areas.

In southern Germany, an iodine deficiency in food is more evident than in northern Germany – this is due, among other things, to the increasing distance from the sea: Arable soils in Germany are often not sufficiently enriched with iodine, which can promote an iodine deficiency – even if cultivated food is consumed which are principally rich in iodine.

Furthermore, less seafood and saltwater fish, which have a high iodine content, tend to be consumed in the southern areas of Germany.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

Iodine deficiency can lead to many ailments. First, too few thyroid hormones are formed, which leads to hypothyroidism with fatigue, listlessness, sensitivity to cold, concentration problems and an increased need for sleep. The most common symptom of prolonged iodine deficiency is enlargement of the thyroid gland in the form of goiter (goiter).

With the help of the increased formation of hormone-producing thyroid tissue, the thyroid tries to compensate for the iodine deficiency. Therefore, a normal thyroid function can be present with a goiter. However, the goiter often grows unevenly, forming nodules that can turn into both autonomic adenomas and, more rarely, carcinomas. If there are autonomic adenomas, a normal iodine supply suddenly leads to hyperthyroidism with increased basal metabolism, nervousness, tachycardia and diarrhea.

A permanent hypofunction of the thyroid gland due to iodine deficiency restricts mental development and often leads to obesity due to the low basal metabolic rate. Iodine deficiency is particularly dangerous during pregnancy. This has serious effects on the development of the fetus. Miscarriages are common.

Newborns in iodine deficiency areas often suffer from goiter with breathing and swallowing difficulties as well as reduced intelligence development. If the iodine deficiency is not corrected in time, so-called cretinism occurs with complete mental retardation, growth disorders and obesity. Even with a slight iodine deficiency during pregnancy, the children often suffer from psychomotor development disorders and learning disabilities.

Diagnosis & History

If there are symptoms such as lack of energy or chronic states of exhaustion, which can indicate an iodine deficiency, the suspicion of an iodine deficiency can be confirmed by a blood test, among other things.

However, iodine deficiency can also lead to sequelae that are accompanied by visible symptoms. Such symptoms can also lead to a suspected diagnosis of iodine deficiency. Corresponding symptoms are, for example, enlargement of the thyroid gland ; in this context one also speaks of the development of a so-called goiter (formation of a goiter due to iodine deficiency).

Altered thyroid tissue or the formation of nodules in the thyroid gland can indicate a long-standing iodine deficiency. Enlargement of the thyroid gland due to iodine deficiency can also lead to problems with swallowing and breathing over time.


In most cases, iodine deficiency can be prevented relatively well or treated directly, so that there are no particular symptoms or complications. However, if there is an iodine deficiency, those affected suffer from severe exhaustion and reduced resilience. Likewise, the patient’s thyroid gland can greatly enlarge due to the lack of iodine.

The symptoms of the thyroid gland can also lead to swallowing difficulties or breathing difficulties and generally reduce the patient’s quality of life. Without treatment, iodine deficiency has a very negative effect on the general condition of the patient and can lead to severe complications or other ailments.

Treatment usually proceeds without any particular complications. With the help of suitable food or dietary supplements, iodine deficiency can be combated and limited. With early and successful treatment, there is still no reduction in life expectancy.

However, the affected person is dependent on a healthy diet and may need to be examined regularly to prevent these symptoms from reoccurring. Older people may also need surgery to remove a possible goiter.

When should you go to the doctor?

People who suffer from constant tiredness and exhaustion should consult a doctor and have them examined. In the case of a lack of drive, an increased need for sleep or very rapid fatigue despite adequate sleep at night, a visit to the doctor is recommended. If the person concerned suffers from a disturbance in their concentration and attention, their level of performance drops prematurely or their motor skills slow down a few hours after the start of the day, they should see a doctor for a check-up.

If the cold sensation is unusually strong compared to other people, if the affected person looks pale or if there are hormonal disorders, a doctor should be consulted. In the case of menstrual irregularities, it is advisable for the affected woman to consult a doctor. If there is a rough or hoarse voice or if the eyelids are always swollen, these warning signs of the body should be examined more closely by a doctor. Swelling of the thyroid gland, difficulty swallowing or breathing disorders should also be examined by a doctor.

If a pregnant woman suffers from the symptoms described, see a doctor as soon as possible. Iodine deficiency leads to an increased number of miscarriages or stillbirths, which can only be prevented by adequate medical care. In addition, children later show developmental disorders that are based on an iodine deficiency during pregnancy.

Treatment & Therapy

If a patient has an iodine deficiency that cannot be compensated for through food intake, there is the option of taking in additional iodine through so-called food supplements or medicines. If secondary diseases have already developed as a result of the iodine deficiency, treatment that goes beyond remedying the iodine deficiency may also be necessary:

To treat goiter caused by iodine deficiency, for example, thyroid hormones can be administered as medication. These drugs are often supplemented with iodine. This therapy aims to reduce or eliminate the iodine deficiency goiter.

Thyroid hormones are also often used to treat hypothyroidism as a result of iodine deficiency; the individually appropriate amount of thyroid hormones for a patient can be determined on the basis of the hormone blood values.

If iodine deficiency has led to the formation of a very large goiter, drug treatment is not always an adequate measure; the consequences of the iodine deficiency must occasionally be combated here by surgical measures. Such a surgical procedure may be necessary, especially in older people.

Outlook & Forecast

The prognosis for iodine deficiency is usually favorable. The disorder can be treated well through medical measures but also through various self-help options. Without adequate care, the existing symptoms will persist and, in many people, will have an increasing character over the course of life. The quality of life is limited in these cases, but does not represent a serious condition.

If you have an iodine deficiency, you can do a lot to maintain your health by regulating your diet. If the consumption of products particularly containing iodine increases, a deficiency that has occurred can be regulated. The existing symptoms are reduced or completely alleviated. Those affected are free to complain. In the case of a severe iodine deficiency, medical support should be sought for a good prognosis. This ensures a sufficient supply of iodine based on the individual measured values.

Iodine deficiency in pregnant women can lead to problems in the offspring. Sufficient and timely medical care is absolutely necessary here in order to avoid any disturbances in intelligence or growth restrictions. In order to achieve a good prognosis for the offspring, the pregnant woman must be supplied with a sufficient amount of iodine. Otherwise lifelong impairments of the child are to be expected.


The most effective way to prevent iodine deficiency is to eat a diet that contains enough iodine. Seafood and fish, for example, are particularly rich in iodine. However, iodine is also found in mushrooms, broccoli or peanuts.

To prevent iodine deficiency, the use of iodized salt in the kitchen is still recommended. In addition to food, so-called iodide tablets can also prevent iodine deficiency; However, this possibility should be discussed in advance with a doctor.


Follow-up care is aimed at preventing the disease from recurring. After an initial diagnosis, this is best achieved with a suitable diet. Fish, seafood, peanuts and mushrooms can cover the body’s natural need for iodine. The doctor informs his patients about this during the initial diagnosis.

The person concerned is responsible for the implementation of the food consumption. Further examinations are sometimes only necessary for pregnant women and other risk groups. Suitable methods for determining a deficiency are blood analysis and ultrasound imaging. The measures mentioned above are usually completely sufficient to prevent complications.

If the risk potential increases, doctors can prescribe dietary supplements and iodine-containing tablets. Follow-up care for iodine deficiency is not aimed at long-term medication. Rather, a recurring occurrence points to a permanent hypothyroidism. An operation then becomes inevitable.

Patients counteract iodine deficiency with a balanced diet. Medical aftercare provides information and tips that every patient can implement in their everyday life. No further scheduled investigations are planned. Risk groups, on the other hand, are summoned more times. Clear statements about the progression of the disease can be made via the thyroid gland. Medicines containing iodine also provide freedom from symptoms in everyday life.

You can do that yourself

Iodine is not produced by the body and must be supplied to the organism from outside. A balanced diet is sufficient for optimal iodine supply. Walks in iodine-rich sea air supplement the nutrient supply and replenish iodine reserves. The use of iodised table salt prevents deficiency symptoms, as does the regular consumption of sea fish.

However, an iodine deficiency that occurs cannot be compensated for by food intake alone. The pharmacy offers preparations to eliminate iodine deficiency. Unlike natural intake, iodine from fortified products can lead to overdose. It is essential to follow the recommended intake of the trace element, since regularly exceeding the maximum daily amount triggers thyroid dysfunction.

If an iodine deficiency is accompanied by a low blood iron value, the iodine cannot be fully absorbed by the body. In the case of an unbalanced diet or in a phase of increased need, a preparation with a sensible combination of minerals and trace elements is suitable.