Iodoprophylaxis and thyroid autoimmunity: an update

Claudia Teti, Marta Panciroli, Elena Nazzari, Giampaola Pesce, Stefano Mariotti, Antonella Olivieri, Marcello Bagnasco

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Adequate iodine intake is necessary for normal thyroid function. Iodine deficiency is associated with serious complications, but also iodine excess can lead to thyroid dysfunction, and iodine supplementation aimed to prevent iodine deficiency disorders has been associated with development of thyroid autoimmunity. The epidemiology of thyroid diseases has undergone profound changes since the implementation of iodoprophylaxis, notably by means of iodine-enriched salt, specifically resulting in decreased prevalence of goiter and neonatal hypothyroidism, improved cognitive function development in infancy, and reduced incidence of more aggressive forms of thyroid cancer. The main question we address with this review is the clinical relevance of the possible effect on autoimmunity exerted by the use of iodine-enriched salt to correct iodine deficiency. In animal models, exogenous iodine is able to trigger or exacerbate thyroid autoimmunity, but it is still not clear whether the observed immunological changes are due to a direct effect of iodine on immune response, or whether they represent a secondary response to a toxic effect of iodine on thyroid tissue. Previous iodine status of a population seems to influence the functional thyroid response to increased iodine intake and possibly the development of thyroid autoimmunity. Moreover, the prevalence of thyroid antibodies, regarded as hallmark of autoimmune thyroid disease, varies between populations under the influence of genetic and environmental factors, and the presence of thyroid antibodies does not always coincide with the presence of thyroid disease or its future development. In addition, the incidence of autoimmune diseases shows a general increasing trend in the last decades. For all these reasons, available data are quite heterogeneous and difficult to analyze and compare. In conclusion, available data from long-term population surveys show that a higher than adequate population iodine intake due to a poorly controlled program of iodine prophylaxis could induce thyroid dysfunction, including thyroid autoimmunity mostly represented by euthyroid or subclinical hypothyroid autoimmune thyroiditis. Close monitoring iodine prophylaxis is therefore advised to ensure that effects of both iodine deficiency and iodine excess are avoided.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-138
Number of pages10
JournalImmunologic Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021


  • Goiter
  • Iodine
  • Iodized salt
  • Thyroid
  • Thyroid autoimmunity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology


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