To optimize fitness under conditions of varying Darwinian opportunity, organisms demonstrate tremendous plasticity in their life-history strategies based on their perception of available resources. Higher-energy environments generally promote more aggressive life-history strategies, such as faster growth, larger adult size, greater genetic variation, shorter lifespan, larger brood sizes, and offspring ratio skewed towards the larger-sized gender. While numerous mechanisms regulate life-history plasticity including genetic imprinting, methylation, and growth factors, evidence suggests that thyroid hormone plays a central role. Given the pivotal adaptive role of thyroid hormone, the teleology of its dependence on dietary iodine for production remains unexplained. We hypothesize that iodine may have emerged as a substrate for production of thyroid hormone in prehistoric ecosystems because the former represented a reliable proxy for ecologic potential that enabled the latter to modulate growth, reproduction, metabolic rate, and lifespan. Such a scenario may have existed in early marine ecosystems where ocean-surface vegetation, which concentrates iodine for its antimicrobial and antioxidant properties, formed the basis of the food chain. Teleologic parallels can be drawn to the food-chain accumulation of antimicrobials that also exhibit antioxidant properties and promote adult size, brood size, and offspring quality by modulating central hormonal axes. As each higher species in the food chain tunes its life-history strategy based on iodine intake, the coupling of this functional role of iodine with its value as a resource signal to the next member of the food-chain may promote runaway evolution. Whereas predators in prehistoric ecosystems successfully tuned their life-history strategy using iodine as a major input, the strategy may prove maladaptive in modern humans for whom the pattern of iodine intake is decoupled from resource availability. Iodine acquired through sodium iodide supplementation may independently contribute to some biologic dysfunctions currently attributed to sodium.
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