Iodine and pregnancy

A current hot topic within the nutrition world is the UK’s status of iodine, especially in pregnant women. A study was published in The Lancet a few months ago,  written by Dr. Bath and colleagues (a couple of which from the University of Surrey where I studied for my degree) on this subject, with respect to the cognitive outcomes of the offspring when iodine status was inadequate in pregnant mothers. This study, which was quite new in its field as the UK has been considered until recently as iodine replete, has raised the concern that in fact we may be mildly deficient which is impacting our and our children’s future health. Inadequate iodine status during early gestation can pose a risk to the foetus as iodine is an essential nutrient for the synthesis of the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), which play roles in human growth and development. Therefore iodine deficiency is a significant factor in in utero and early childhood defective brain development. Mild iodine deficiency during pregnancy may lead to hypothryeoxinaemia in the mother, and/or elevated thyroid stimulating hormone levels in the foetus, causing mild and subclinical cognitive and psychomotor deficits in neonates, infants and children. Severe iodine deficiency can lead to miscarriage, increased infant mortality, cretinism and goitre.

The results of this study suggested that iodine deficiency in pregnant women in the UK should be treated as an important public health issue. An earlier study by Vanderpump and colleagues similarly assessed UK schoolgirls iodine status, finding that they may be at risk of deficiency also. Although evidence is limited at the moment to be able to cause a large public health concern, evidence within the field is growing and it does seem to suggest that this may be a large priority within healthcare especially with pregnant women in the future.

For more information on iodine and health take a look at this BDA iodine fact sheet and a similar one on the University of Surrey website.

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