North Jefferson News, Gardendale, AL

September 2, 2009

Too much salt in your diet can be bad; too little can also be bad

Health Watch By Steve Mullenix

Special to The North Jefferson News

How much thought have you ever given to the salt you eat?

We all are well aware of the concerns of too much salt, and the negative effects on the blood pressure.

But, did you realize that salt is essential for good health, and that there are different kinds of salt? How many of you have ever really looked at the canister of salt you purchased years ago (that seems to last forever) to see if it is “iodized” salt or not?

Iodized salt is table salt mixed with a minute amount of one of four iodine-containing salts of hydriodic acid, Iodic acid, potassium iodate or potassium iodine. It is used to prevent and remedy iodine deficiency. Worldwide iodine deficiency affects two billion people and it is the leading preventable cause of mental retardation.

According to public health experts, iodization of salt may be the world’s simplest and most cost effective measure available to improve health. The United States Food and Drug Administration recommends 150 micrograms of iodine per day for both men and women.

Now a bit of history — In 20th-century America, goiter was especially prevalent in the region around the Great Lakes and Pacific Northwest. Goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland, and develops when it does not have enough iodine to manufacture hormones. As the gland tries to trap more iodine, the gland size increases causing a characteristic swelling in the neck.

Without supplemental iodine, a hypothyroid condition results, likely leading to fatigue, sluggishness, weight gain, and difficulty in the body regulating temperature.

In the 1930s, approximately 40 percent of the people in Michigan had goiter. This was due mainly to iodine-deficient soil. Glacier melting had washed away the iodine.

In 1924, iodine began being added to salt and by 1940, it was in general use. Even today, iodine deficiency is still a problem. You still see people with goiters in the U.S.

Cretinism is another condition caused by iodine deficiency. It is characterized by mental retardation and other problems. This condition is prevalent in iodine-deficient babies or children born to women who are lacking iodine. It is a serious and irreversible problem that could be avoided by proper iodine intake.

Humans require iodine for the production of the thyroid hormone. The thyroid gland regulates metabolic energy for the body and sets the basal metabolic rate (BMR).

The body contains a total of about 25mg of iodine. A small percentage is in the muscle, 20 percent is in the thyroid, and the rest is in the skin and bones. Only about 1 percent is in the blood.

The concentration of iodine in the thyroid gland is over 1,000 times that of the rest of the body. Iodine is well-absorbed from the stomach into the blood. About 30 percent of iodine intake is taken up by the thyroid gland, and the remaining 70 percent is eliminated in the urine. Since our bodies do not conserve iodine, we must obtain it on a regular basis from our diet.

Salt is not the only source of iodine. Foods from the ocean waters also provide a great source of iodine. Fish, shellfish and sea vegetable (seaweed) are rich sources. Cod, sea bass, haddock and perch are a few examples of iodine-rich sea food sources.

A 6-ounce portion of ocean fish contains about 500 micrograms of iodine, more than is contained in teaspoon of salt but without the 2 extra grams of Sodium. Kelp is the most common high-iodine sea vegetable. Kelp is particularly rich in other minerals and low in sodium and thus is a good seasoning substitute for salt.

The use of iodized salt has certainly reduced most iodine deficiencies. Commercially available salt contains about 76 micrograms of iodine per gram of salt. The average person consumes about 3 grams of salt per day, thus exceeding the RDA recommended amount of 150 micrograms per day. It’s important to realize that there are healthier ways to obtain your daily iodine requirements than loading up on salt laden fast food. Eating fish, especially fresh ocean fish, is the best, and has the added benefit of the omega-3 oils that reduce cholesterol and cardiovascular disease risk.

There is no danger of toxicity of iodine from a natural diet, though some care must be taken when supplemental iodine is used in drug therapy. More iodine is needed by women who are pregnant or nursing.

Also, people on low sodium diets may need supplemental iodine. However, higher iodine intake can actually reduce thyroid hormone production. Iodine supplements have also been known to worsen acne in some cases.

As you now know, salt is much more important to our daily lives than enhancing the flavor of our foods. However, like everything else in life, moderation is the key to a healthily life style.

Steve Mullenix (R.Ph) co-owns The Pharmacy in Mount Olive with his wife, Sherry Mullenix (J.D., R.N.). They can be reached at 631-1201.