Shellfish and Iodine Food Allergy: Myths and Facts

Iodine food allergyIodine is an important nutrient that all people need to have in their diets in trace amounts. This element is an important component of certain hormones and is needed for the thyroid, a gland involved in energy regulation in the body. Deficiencies in iodine can lead to health conditions like hypothyroidism and goiters. Important sources of dietary iodine include fish, shellfish, iodized salt and dairy products. Some people may be sensitive to iodine, and this is often mislabeled as an allergy. Because shellfish is rich in iodine, it is often assumed that an iodine food allergy exists alongside shellfish allergy. Here are some important myths and facts about shellfish, iodine and allergies.

Fact: Iodine Sensitivity Is Real

While it is not considered to be a true allergy because it doesn’t follow the same immune response pathway that allergic reactions do, sensitivity to iodine is real and it can be serious. No one fully understands why iodine can cause reactions in some people, but it most often occurs when radio contrast dyes are used. These are dyes, often containing iodine, that are injected into patients for certain medical imaging tests like X-rays and CT scans. The dye helps improve contrast to get a better image. Someone sensitive to iodine may have a reaction to these dyes that is similar to an allergic reaction: a rash, hives and even anaphylaxis. Reactions have also been seen with antiseptic products that contain iodine. These are usually mild reactions causing hives or a skin rash.

Myth: Shellfish Allergies Come From an Iodine Food Allergy

A common misconception is that if you have a shellfish allergy you will be at risk for iodine sensitivity, or an iodine food allergy as it is sometimes called. Shellfish is rich in iodine, hence the assumption that a shellfish allergy could be related to iodine. Research has proven that iodine is not an allergen and that shellfish allergies are caused by proteins in the food, not iodine. You can rest assured that if your child is allergic to shellfish, she is not necessarily sensitive to iodine.

Myth: If You Are Sensitive to Iodine, You Must Avoid Certain Foods

Some people assume that an allergic reaction to shellfish is caused by iodine. It is the proteins in the shellfish that act as allergens, not the iodine. Even if you are sensitive to iodine and have had a bad reaction to an antiseptic or contrast dye, you do not have to avoid foods rich in iodine, like shellfish. As long as you, or your child, are not allergic to shellfish, you can enjoy it. Other foods with iodine include dairy products like yogurt and milk, fish, enriched bread or cereal and iodized salt.

Fact: Iodine Is an Essential Nutrient

An important fact about the myth of the iodine food allergy is that it can lead you to avoid this important nutrient. If your child is allergic to shellfish or sensitive to iodine, it is important that you still ensure that he gets enough iodine in his diet. Iodine deficiency can negatively impact growth and development in children. Worldwide, iodine deficiency is the leading cause of preventative cognitive disabilities. In fact, the effects of inadequate iodine intake, both during pregnancy and infancy, are irreversible.

In people of all ages, iodine deficiency most commonly causes a condition called hypothyroidism, or low hormone production by the thyroid. This can lead to a number of side effects and health conditions including weight gain, heart disease, joint pain, infertility and the formation of a goiter, an enlarged thyroid gland. In kids, symptoms of hypothyroidism include stunted growth, delayed permanent teeth, late puberty and cognitive limitations.

An iodine food allergy doesn’t really exist, but iodine sensitivity is real. If your child is sensitive to iodine, you may need to be sure that you don’t use first aid products with iodine and that you inform your doctor of the sensitivity before your child undergoes any imaging tests. When it comes to food, though, you don’t have to worry about sensitivity. In fact, there are bigger risks from avoiding dietary iodine than being sensitive to it. Make sure your child gets enough iodine, avoids any real food allergens and that you take precautions for iodine sensitivity and he will be healthy and free of adverse reactions.


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