Could an iodine deficiency cause sudden weight loss?
July 29, 2008 5:02 PM   Subscribe

Could my sudden and drastic weight loss (which has so far baffled doctors) possibly be linked to a deficiency in iodine?

I am a 20 year old female, 5'3, and in fairly good health -- until recently. Within the last two months, I've lost 14 pounds without any conspicuous dietary changes or eating disorders, dropping from an already-low 104 (my weight for the last three years, right up to my last check-up in May) to a scant 92. On top of my frustration, I feel anxious, have been increasingly absent-minded, and am often unable to sleep despite being exhausted.

Additionally, I've only had two periods since January (in March and April), after having never missed a period in my life. At first, I acknowledged it as my body's way of responding to a spell of heightened stress (academic, familial); however, I now suspect that something else is amiss. When I last visited my physician, she told me that, apart from a very slight incline towards hyperthyroidism (something that they had been monitoring since September), there was nothing apparently wrong with me and sent me off to take a battery of tests which, judging from the lack of results, haven't alerted them to anything of immediate concern.

Today, something occurred to me: might this be all because of an iodine deficiency resulting from a vegetarian (lacto-ovo) diet, coupled with a very small budget as a student that has me almost never eating out and preparing my own meals from scratch? Living in Berkeley, where cheap organic produce is available, I've eschewed processed junk food (soda, chips) in favor of natural snacks (fruits, nuts, and other "whole" foods). I've also been cooking with kosher salt which, unlike table salt, does not supply any iodine.

This website, of unknown authority, tells me that iodine plays an essential role in thyroid functioning:

I've never heard of iodine's connection to the thyroid. However, the more that I research online, the more evident it seems that I do indeed have a deficiency. Is an iodine deficiency a likely culprit? What else could be going on? Any ideas? I'd appreciate your input, immensely.
posted by Aleatoire to Health & Fitness (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IANAD, though I have dealt with thyroid disease (Hashmoto's thyroiditis, then thyroid cancer) for 15+ years.

Yes, iodine is linked directly to thyroid function. An iodine deficiency, though, generally leads to hypothyroidism (i.e., underperforming thyroid), rather than hyperthyroidism (i.e., overperforming thyroid), which is what your symptoms (weight loss, anxiety, amenorrhea) seem to be suggesting.

Iodine is easily acquired through a Western diet, even if you're using kosher salt and not eating a lot of processed foods; it's present in abundant levels in dairy, eggs, soy, and seafood (including seaweed). So if you're not getting enough now, it would be easy for you to increase.
posted by scody at 5:23 PM on July 29, 2008

Sorry, borked the intended link. Also, I should have typed Hashimoto's thyroiditis in the first line.
posted by scody at 5:30 PM on July 29, 2008

Have you been thirsty? Have you been checked for diabetes?

I discovered my Type 1 diabetes (at 38), when I went through a similar episode. Diabetes and thyroid problems are similar enough that they are both handled by endocrinologists.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:33 PM on July 29, 2008

Running out the door, so this will be short: the thyroid has a very large range of what is considered "normal". Some people feel better at the higher end, others at the lower end -- so a drop could definitely put you past the threshold of what is decent level for you. You should get your T3 and T4 levels checked - not just your TSH levels. All of your other symptoms fit me perfectly while dealing with Grave's (a form of hyperthyroidism). Other endocrine issues (like diabetes) should also be considered.
posted by barnone at 5:45 PM on July 29, 2008

If you are seriously underweight, and it sounds as if you are, and in particular if your body fat percentage is too low, then it is completely believable that your menstrual cycle would be disrupted.
posted by Class Goat at 6:21 PM on July 29, 2008

I second what Class Goat said. I'm about your height (5'2.5" to 5'3") and I'm around 105 pounds right now (recent stress led to a tiny bit of weight loss), and when I went in for a check-up a few weeks ago, I was told to be careful not to lose any more weight or I might stop having my period.

However, that still doesn't answer why you lost the weight in the first place. Good luck figuring it out and treating it!
posted by quirks at 6:30 PM on July 29, 2008

I had a friend who had your same symptoms in college; she got scary-thin and stopped menstruating for a year. I believe she ended up consulting a dietician and switching from a vegan diet to a pescetarian plan. (I realize you are already lacto-ovo vegetarian.) She's probably the healthiest person I know now.
posted by roger ackroyd at 6:45 PM on July 29, 2008

Sounds like you're on a decent diet, but if by chance it has been low on iodine, you could try adding some seaweed salad into the mix, it's a good source of iodine. It couldn't hurt, and if it reverses the symptoms, problem solved. Meanwhile, however, keep nagging the docs, because a 14 percent weight loss is nothing to be trifled with.
posted by beagle at 6:49 PM on July 29, 2008

Thank you everyone for your very helpful responses! I am wary to believe that a pinch of table salt would suffice to banish these symptoms, though the fact that there exists a direct connection between the two is fascinating to me!

Benny - Diabetes hadn't occurred to me, as it doesn't run in the family (hyperthyroidism does, I've learned recently). However, I'm constantly thirsty, so I will definitely ask about the possibility.

barnone - Thanks for the explanation. This was precisely something that I had asked the physician during my last check-up and, I assume, the rationale behind having to take the additional tests (T3 and T4) that morning. I wasn't certain if I had understood her correctly, but it looks like I did. If the results aren't telling, then I will visit an endocrinologist. I'll keep diabetes in mind!
posted by Aleatoire at 7:14 PM on July 29, 2008

I think you should seriously consider including more fat in your diet: butter, or avocado, or nuts, or oil when you cook.
posted by Class Goat at 8:31 PM on July 29, 2008

An amazing number of folks have Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. Most of them bounce wildly up and down until the thyroid dies, which is a good thing, as then you can get thyroid replacement thyroid therapy and it's predictable. You get one dosage for the rest of whatever instead of playing whack a mole with it.
I'm a big fan of sea salt, which has all the trace minerals in it, but it does come with iodine added, if you look around.
I saw once somewhere that levothryroxine is the only prescription drug you can be on all your life without any side effects to worry about. I can only vouch for my experience, but I've been on it for 45 years with no side effects. They test it every few years and it never changes. It seems to run in families; both the kids had it as well, and the one grandkid who is old enough has it as well.
I don't know why it's more common than it used to be, but it seems to be true.
posted by unrepentanthippie at 9:15 PM on July 29, 2008

Have you been tested for a B12 deficiency? My husband has some symptoms similar to yours (foggy thinking, insomnia) and turned out to have a significant B12 deficiency.
posted by Squeak Attack at 6:12 AM on July 30, 2008

I had a similar period of drastic, startling weight loss when I was at uni, and it sounds as though your circumstances are very much the same. It turned out to be simply not eating enough for me, I was very busy and would just forget to eat and not realise until I felt faint. EAT MOAR! I eventually learned to set an alarm to remind me to eat, and carried food with me everywhere and made sure I wasn't skimping on fat and salt (I also have low blood pressure, and through this period had more 'spells' than at any other time in my life). I also started taking a multi-vitamin (although tests didn't identify any notable deficiencies) and it seemed to help (possibly placebo). Also, for me the amenorrhoea was directly caused by the weight loss - get your body fat to over 8% and your period will return (and your arse will hurt less when you sit and the soles of your feet won't hurt anymore from walking witthut any padding).

Good luck! I hope you're feeling better soon.
posted by goo at 7:13 AM on July 30, 2008

er, without any padding.
posted by goo at 7:15 AM on July 30, 2008

Hi Aleatoire, I meant to include inexplicable weight loss among my husband's symptoms.

B12 deficiency can be a problem for vegetarians, which we were at the time. And I don't know how accurate this is, but his doctor told him it's not usually included among the common blood tests.
posted by Squeak Attack at 9:20 AM on July 30, 2008

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