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Buy local, get a goiter

Posted Apr 03 2009 11:11pm
The notion of buying food locally--" buy local"--i.e., food produced in your area, state, or region, is catching on.

And for good reason: Not only do you support your local economy, buying locally saves energy, since food doesn't have to be transported from South America or other faraway locations.

But what about those of us in the Midwest, particularly around the Great Lakes basin, i.e., the region previously known as the "goiter belt"? In the early 20th century, up to a third of the residents of this region had enlarged thyroid glands, or goiters, due to iodine deficiency. Lack of iodine causes the thyroid to enlarge, or "hypertrophy," in an effort to more efficiently extract any available iodine in the blood.

Well, there's been a resurgence of iodine deficiency nationwide with 11.3% of the population severely deficient, representing a four-fold increase since the 1970s.

Why an iodine deficiency? Because more people are avoiding iodized salt, the principal source of iodine for Americans since the FDA introduced its voluntary program for iodization of table salt back in 1924. Approximately 90% of the patients I ask now declare that they use very little iodized table salt. While a few take multimineral or multivitamin supplements that contain iodine, the majority do not. The globalization of the food supply--eat global--however, has softened the blow, since we eat tomatoes from Mexico, blueberries from Argentina, lettuce from the Salinas Valley of California.

Now, we have the growing trend to eat local. In the Midwest, it means that the vegetables, fruits, and meats grown locally will also be iodine depleted, since the soil is also iodine-poor, being so far from the sea.

Ironically, two healthy trends--avoiding salt and eating local--will be accounting for a surge in unsightly neck bulges in the Midwest, as well as an increase in thyroid disease.

The lesson: Avoid salt, eat local, but mind your iodine.
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