The chemical element iodine is an essential nutrient with many different health benefits, such as the regulation of the thyroid gland. Wounds, cuts, and bites can be purified by using the essential mineral as a skin antiseptic. Uses for iodine also exist outside the human body, such as the element's usefulness as a water purifier.
One of the primary uses for iodine is as a nutrient. The human body requires iodine for proper thyroid gland function and body growth. Adults are advised to ingest 150 micrograms of iodine daily, while infants require up to 130 micrograms. Pregnant women require the most iodine, at 250 micrograms daily, while children need the least amount of the trace nutrient, at only 90 micrograms daily.
Iodine's use in regulating the thyroid and the body's metabolism makes it a common treatment for thyroid cancer. Scientists also use it for various procedures, such as radioactive tracing used to make medical diagnoses. Sterilizing wounds, tools, and parts of the body being prepared for surgery or a catheter insertion are also uses for iodine.
Other parts of the body, including the mammary and salivary glands, also require iodine. The cervix, eyes, gastric mucosa, and other glands also receive iodine. The role of iodine in fetal development is considered crucial, as severe iodine deficiency, common in developing countries, is a preventable cause of mental retardation. In developed nations, where food sources are plentiful, this congenital condition is less common. In addition to having vast sources of food, many developed nations also ionize their salt and cattle feed, which helps to prevent iodine deficiency.
Though the extent of the connection is not yet known, scientists postulate that there may be a link between iodine and breast cancer. Other female issues, such as ovarian cancer and cysts, may also be prevented through an adequate intake of iodine. Conjunctivitis can be treated with iodine. Some doctors also prescribe iodine treatments to help clear up vaginal infections.
Treating a common cough is among other uses for iodine. Eye infections are sometimes treated with the antiseptic mineral. Cosmetic and general body health, such as the prevention and treatment of acne and the promotion of teeth, skin, and hair health, are other uses for iodine. Iodine may also be used in a similar fashion to other antioxidants, such as for cancer prevention.
Fish and shellfish are considered the best sources of iodine; indeed people with iodine allergies often have trouble eating these foods. Seaweed is a vegetarian alternative. Milk, vegetables, eggs, and fruit all contain small amounts of the essential nutrient as well.