OBJECTIVE The aim of the study was to evaluate the risk of exposure to an increase in dietary iodide intake amongst potentially susceptible population groups in Britain. DESIGN A randomized controlled trial was performed in healthy women and in women with underlying thyroid abnormalities due to subclinical Hashimoto's thyroiditis (diagnosed on the basis of antithyroid antibodies) or previous iodide deficiency of supplementation with 500 micrograms/day iodide (giving a total intake of approximately 750 micrograms/day) for 28 days versus placebo. PATIENTS Two hundred and twenty-five women aged 25-54, randomly selected from a general practice in Cardiff, were screened for thyroid microsomal antibody. Antibody positive women (n = 20), and antibody negative controls (n = 30) were recruited into the trial comparing iodide and placebo. In addition, groups of patients aged 60-75 randomly selected from the Cardiff practice (n = 29), an iodide sufficient area, and a practice in Dowlais (n = 35), a previously iodide deficient area, were also enrolled into the trial. MEASUREMENTS Changes in free thyroxine and thyrotrophin levels were measured after 14 and 28 days of iodide supplementation. RESULTS All the iodide supplemented groups responded in the same way with a small fall in free thyroxine and rise in thyrotrophin levels (combined fall in free thyroxine 14 days after the start of supplementation -1.22 (95% confidence interval -0.59 to -1.84) pmol/l and at 28 days -0.86 (-0.30 to -1.43) pmol/l and rise in thyrotrophin at 14 days 0.55 (0.19 to 0.92) mU/l and at 28 days 0.59 (0.12 to 1.07) mU/l). In two of the iodide supplemented subjects thyrotrophin levels rose above the laboratory reference range and in a further three subjects initially elevated thyrotrophin values increased further. In contrast, no changes in thyroid function were observed in the placebo treated controls and none developed biochemical hypothyroidism. CONCLUSIONS Dietary iodide intakes of 750 micrograms/day or more may adversely affect thyroid function, especially in individuals with borderline hypothyroidism.