What Are the Different Uses for Iodine?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt
Iodine is critical in fetal development to prevent mental retardation.
Iodine is critical in fetal development to prevent mental retardation.

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 is often used on cuts and wounds.
Iodine is often used on cuts and wounds.

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.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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Discussion Comments

donasmrs

I heard that most of us are deficient in iodine and suffer from fatigue due to it, despite living in a developing country. Apparently, there is a way to check for this, an iodine deficiency test that can be done at home. They say to apply liquid iodine on the skin. If the skin absorbs all the iodine, it's supposed to mean that there is a deficiency.

Has anyone heard of this or has anyone tried this?

SarahGen

I'm being treated with iodine for hyperthyroidism. It seems to be working! I hope I will be all better soon!

bear78

If any of you use iodine to clean cuts and scrapes regularly, please don't leave the iodine on your skin for a long time.

Iodine is great for cleaning cuts and scrapes, it's used in hospitals a lot. But when it stays on the skin for a long time, it burns skin.

When I was young, I taped a cotton ball dipped in iodine to a cut on my leg overnight. It was a very stupid thing to do. I got a second degree burn from that and still have a scar from it! It's enough to just wipe a cut with iodine on a cotton.

croydon

@Mor - Universities will fund studies as well, as will charities, so I don't think it's as bad as all that. And sometimes it's common sense as well. They do know that seaweed has a large amount of iodine. That's one of the reasons that people who are not used to it shouldn't eat too much at once. The iodine can upset your stomach.

But, for a while, it was considered a treatment for goiters (which are one of the iodine deficiency symptoms). During one of the wars, I can't remember which, they would get school children to eat a chunk of seaweed each morning in order to make sure they got their daily iodine.

Now, of course, they usually add it to salt and everyone gets some without trying.

Mor

@clintflint - I doubt it and I don't think there will be one any time soon. Iodine by itself is not very expensive and there's no point in a company investing in a study (which is how these things get done).

On the other hand, putting iodine into supplement form, where it can be sold for large markups is definitely worth something to a company, so they will sponsor studies that show that iodine supplements will help to prevent types of cancer.

Never mind that you can actually get a good amount of iodine from things like seaweed (like the seaweed wrapping on sushi) and seafood.

clintflint

I actually read recently that one of the uses of iodine in everyday life is actually not a great idea. Putting it on a cut can damage healthy cells and make it slower to heal. Since we have other ways to keep bacteria out of small cuts (even just using clean water is enough), adding iodine or rubbing alcohol to it only makes the situation worse.

Not by a huge amount, of course, but still, I wonder if anyone has ever done a decent study on this.

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    • Iodine is critical in fetal development to prevent mental retardation.
      By: hartphotography
      Iodine is critical in fetal development to prevent mental retardation.
    • Iodine is often used on cuts and wounds.
      By: perfotoalek
      Iodine is often used on cuts and wounds.