The relationship between autoimmune thyroid disease and iodine intake: a review

Endokrynol Pol. 1992;43 Suppl 1:53-69.


There is evidence to suggest that elevated levels of iodide in the diet are associated with autoimmune thyroid disease (ATD) in susceptible individuals, and that autoimmune thyroiditis (Hashimoto's disease) is less common in susceptible individuals who live in regions with dietary iodine deficiency. There are epidemiologic studies in endemic goiter areas that report an increase in ATD, particularly thyroiditis, after the therapeutic administration of iodized salt, bread and oil. Lymphocytic infiltration of the thyroid is rarely found in patients from severe endemic goiter regions, yet there is a reversal of this observation after dietary iodine supplementation. Thyroid antibodies, both thyroglobulin (TgAb) and peroxidase (TpAb) or microsomal, were not detected in serum from patients with endemic goiter, but became positive in 43% of subjects three and six months after therapy with iodized oil, and there developed transient hyperthyroidism. Similarly, the addition of iodine to the diet or the administration of iodine-containing medications increases the frequency of ATD and the severity of existing autoimmune thyroiditis. Furthermore, autoimmune thyroiditis has been induced by the administration of excess iodide to strains of chickens and rats that are genetically predetermined to develop the disease. We are beginning to understand the pathogenesis of ATD. In hyperthyroidism the evidence clearly supports the hypothesis that TSH receptor antibodies (TRAb) stimulate the TSH receptor to induce excessive and sustained secretion of thyroid hormones. Cellmediated immune mechanisms, such as antibody dependent cellmediated cytotoxicity (ADCC), initiate the lymphocytic infiltration and thyrocytotoxicity in autoimmune thyroiditis. The mechanisms that initiate the development of the abnormal immune response and the relationship of ATD with excess iodide are poorly understood. There is evidence that an increase in the iodination of thyroglobulin (Tg) enhances its immunogenicity. The results of clinical and experimental studies support the requirement of a genetic predisposition to the development of ATD that may be precipitated by exposure to certain environmental factors. Another mechanism supported by experimental data is the direct toxic effect of excess iodide on iodide-deficient thyroid glands. High concentrations of iodide after oxidation to iodine causes epithelial necrosis and inflammation associated with lipofuscin accumulation suggestive of toxicity mediated by lipid peroxidation from excessive amounts of free radicals. The epithelial damage would initiate inflammatory and immune responses. Although these mechanisms would relate to the onset of autoimmune thyroiditis on exposure to excessive amounts of iodide, the relationship of iodide intake and autoimmune hyperthyroidism is less clear.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / etiology*
  • Humans
  • Iodine / adverse effects*
  • Thyroid Diseases / etiology*


  • Iodine