Iodine deficiency early in life impairs cognition and growth, but iodine status is also a key determinant of thyroid disorders in adults. Severe iodine deficiency causes goitre and hypothyroidism because, despite an increase in thyroid activity to maximise iodine uptake and recycling in this setting, iodine concentrations are still too low to enable production of thyroid hormone. In mild-to-moderate iodine deficiency, increased thyroid activity can compensate for low iodine intake and maintain euthyroidism in most individuals, but at a price: chronic thyroid stimulation results in an increase in the prevalence of toxic nodular goitre and hyperthyroidism in populations. This high prevalence of nodular autonomy usually results in a further increase in the prevalence of hyperthyroidism if iodine intake is subsequently increased by salt iodisation. However, this increase is transient because iodine sufficiency normalises thyroid activity which, in the long term, reduces nodular autonomy. Increased iodine intake in an iodine-deficient population is associated with a small increase in the prevalence of subclinical hypothyroidism and thyroid autoimmunity; whether these increases are also transient is unclear. Variations in population iodine intake do not affect risk for Graves' disease or thyroid cancer, but correction of iodine deficiency might shift thyroid cancer subtypes toward less malignant forms. Thus, optimisation of population iodine intake is an important component of preventive health care to reduce the prevalence of thyroid disorders.
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