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Istituto Superiore di Sanità
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Epidemiology for public health - ISS

First discovered in 1811, iodine is a mineral found in nature, but only in very small percentages. As iodide, it is found in small amounts in sea water, and as sodium iodate, it occurs abundantly in some salt deposits. Used also as a disinfectant, in iodine tincture, iodine plays an important role in the prevention of several diseases, especially of the thyroid gland. Indeed, in the human body, iodine tends to concentrate in the thyroid and is essential for the production of two hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), which help regulate metabolic functions, including development of the central nervous system and bodily growth.


Health problems caused by iodine deficiency

Iodine is absorbed by the thyroid as iodide and chemically combined with amino acid tyrosine to synthesize the thyroid hormone. Iodine deficiency (one of the most serious public health problems, according to estimates by the World Health Organization) is responsible for a number of disorders, the severity of which depends on age and sex, such as excessive or insufficient production of thyroid hormone by the thyroid gland.


Thyroid hormone deficiency during the foetal and neonatal periods can have detrimental and irreversible effects, including arrested brain development, which results in impaired intellectual development, causing mental retardation, deaf-mutism and spastic paralysis. The most severe forms of iodine deficiency can lead to cretinism, a rare condition in Europe. However, moderate iodine deficiency in some areas is known to be responsible for minor cognitive and neuropsychological deficits.


Publication date: 28 January 2021