Iodine and Our Children’s Health

This Nutrient Is so Important

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.


Did you know that iodine deficiency is one of the leading causes of cognitive delay in children? And despite the concerted effort by organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and The International Council for the Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD) iodine deficiency is on the rise, especially in women of childbearing age.1

In fact, approximately one-third of all pregnant women in the U.S. are iodine deficient, according to the June 2014 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).2For women not of childbearing age, about 13 percent are deficient, and even more are mildly deficient.

Iodine supports thyroid function in both infants, children, and adults. It is also critical for neurological function as well as fetal and infant brain development. In adults, a deficiency in this crucial nutrient has also been linked to breast cancer, thyroid disease, fatigue, depression, breast tenderness, and more. (This makes a great Tweet! Please share.) In pregnant women, iodine deficiency has been linked to miscarriage and stillbirth.3

And just recently, researchers determined that iodine provides protection from environmental toxins in both mother and baby when the mother’s iodine levels are in the healthy range. Exposure to certain toxins can create permanent neurological damage and effect brain development as well.4

Explaining the Declining Trend

The drop in average iodine levels for the U.S. population as a whole began in the 1970s. And since then these levels have declined to about half of what they were. Experts cite a number of reasons for lower iodine levels despite the availablility of iodized salt.

  • Less iodine in the soil (which means less in the food which is grown in it).
  • Breadmakers stopped including iodate conditioners when making bread.
  • People consume fewer eggs and fish, both good sources of iodine, due to concerns about ingesting cholesterol or mercury.
  • Today people consume the majority of their salt intake from processed foods, which are not iodized.
  • Many Americans have substituted iodized salt for gourmet salts or sea salts, which don’t contain iodine. Others have cut back on all salt due to concerns about high blood pressure.

Another powerful reason that so many are iodine deficient is the fact that chlorine and fluoride in the water supply actually interfere with iodine absorption and metabolism. Many people believe they are “allergic” to iodine because they experience a rash when they begin supplementing with it. But this reaction is far more likely to be a detox reaction from the release of excess bromide, chloride and flouride from the system, resulting from the restoration of healthy iodine levels.

Best Sources of Iodine

So just how much iodine should you be getting? The US Institute of Medicine’s (IOM’s) recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of iodine is as follows:

  • Adults and adolescents – 150 mcg/day
  • Pregnant women – 220 mcg/day
  • Lactating women – 290 mcg/day
  • Children aged 1-11 years – 90-120 mcg/day
  • Infants – Adequate intake is 110-130 mcg/day

In the near future, we may learn the RDA’s of iodine are too low—something I suspect. But given that so many don’t even meet those minimal requirements, that’s another story entirely. And this gives you a place to start.

Once again, breast is best! Researchers from a study from November 2013 published in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology determined that infants assimilate additional iodine quite efficiently when they are breastfed by mothers taking iodine supplements.5This is a very convenient solution, too. Giving one dose of 400 mg iodine as oral iodized oil to the mother, preferably shortly after she gives birth, will provide enough iodine for her baby for six months.

If you are pregnant or nursing, it’s likely your prenatal supplement doesn’t have enough iodine. Only a small percentage contain the amount you need everyday.

Other wonderful sources of iodine are sea vegetables, including nori, kombu, wakame, and arame, which have the highest concentrations of iodine of any food available. I like Maine Coast Sea Vegetables (, which are sustainably gathered and processed from the pristine waters of the Maine coast.

Iodine is an essential element for our health and the health of our unborn children. I encourage you to look into this very important issue. When it comes to iodine, an ounce of prevention goes a very long way.


  1. Caldwell, KL. Iodine status in pregnant women in the National Children’s Study and in U.S. women (15-44 years), National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2010, Thyroid, 2013. Aug;23(8):927-37.
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement. Iodine deficiency: Pregnant, breastfeeding women need supplementation, AAP News 2014; 35:6 11]
  3. Council on Environmental Health. Iodine Deficiency, Pollutant Chemicals, and the Thyroid: New Information on an Old Problem, Pediatrics, 2014. May 26. pii: peds. 2014-0900.
  4. The Endocrine Society 94th Annual Meeting. Miscarriage, Stillbirth Rates Higher With Mild Thyroid Dysfunction, Abstract Oro4-1. Presented June 23, 2012.
  5. Bouhouch, R. et al. Direct iodine supplementation of infants versus supplementation of their breastfeeding mothers: a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial, Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, 2014. Vol. 2, 3:197-209.
Last Updated: June 30, 2014

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.


Add comment
  1. Rachael
    4 years ago


    Thanks for all your info…I’m a breastfeeding mother of a 13 month old boy…We both eat a plant based diet…I take an iodine supplement of 150ug daily which I will double now having read this and have started to give my son the same…I’m wondering now if I should stop supplementing him until I stop breastfeeding incase he gets too much altogether through my breastmilk supply and the supplement…Would you have any knowledge and advice in this situation?

    Thank you

  2. mario rivera
    8 years ago

    Yes, thank you very much for thisi informative article. It really helps since my little has a thyroid condition.

  3. traci
    10 years ago

    AS someone with a thyroid issue, I found this article very informative. Thank you.

  4. Christine
    10 years ago

    Hi Dr. Northrop. I am so grateful for your posts and wisdom. Thank you! I echo Sydney’s question. I have been struggling with Graves for years and refuse to do the radioactive iodine treatment. I am doing well now. But have relapsed in the past. Is iodine helpful? Should I be concerned about my intake?

  5. Judi
    10 years ago

    I have Fibromyalgia, does iodine deficiency have anything to with this condition?

  6. Andrea
    10 years ago

    How can we detect if we are iodine deficient?

  7. Aleksandra Henderson
    10 years ago

    Dear Dr. Northrup,
    What are your thoughts on taking iodine if your auto-thyroglobulin is high?
    Mine is 125 HI.
    Thank you for your time.
    Your big fan,

  8. Christiane Northrup
    10 years ago

    HI everyone– I will be changing the term “mental retardation” ( a medical term) to “cognitive delay” as soon as I’m able. I certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone with my non-pc language here. The point is you need iodine for optimal mental development. No matter what term you use.

    1. Dana
      6 years ago

      Don’t submit to the low-iq thought police. Cognitive delay is not an accurate term at all.

  9. Damselfly
    10 years ago

    I have been told (and read) that I should not consume iodine because I have Hasimoto’s thyroid disease. Is this true?

  10. Susan
    10 years ago

    I remember years ago when I got your printed newsletter you had an article about iodine and suggested we put beta dine (I think) or some other over the counter liquid on our skin. If it took less than a certain amount of time to go away, you were iodine deficient. I remember doing this maybe once a month, and it helped my body get enough iodine. Do you remember this? Thank you.

  11. Mariette
    10 years ago

    I did the iodine patch test suggested by my homeopathic doctor: pharmacy iodine spread on an inch sq. inside my arm. My body absorbed it in an hour, which means I was low in iodine. At his suggestion I purchased Thyroid Nascent Iodine and put a few drops in a glass of water every day.

  12. Carrie
    10 years ago

    This is very interesting, especially as a nursing mother. Where can one purchase oral iodized oil? Is sea salt iodized?

  13. Sydney
    10 years ago

    I was diagnosed with Graves decease .. Is Iodine beneficial to me ?
    Thank you!!

  14. Sue
    10 years ago

    I think it needs to be mentioned that if you have thyroid autoimmune disease iodine could be harmful particularly with Hashimoto’s Disease.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *