Consultancy corner: Iodine deficiency during pregnancy can affect foetus

Iodine is a micronutrient that is essential for health. A mineral that is needed by the human body to make the all-important thyroid hormone, iodine is needed for growth and development, including during the crucial period of development of a baby’s brain during pregnancy and early life.
C Satheesh, Senior Consultant Paediatrician, Apollo Children’s Hospital
C Satheesh, Senior Consultant Paediatrician, Apollo Children’s Hospital


Iodine deficiency adversely affects growth and development and is a major global threat to health and development.

There are around 2 billion individuals who suffer from iodine deficiency due to insufficient intake. This is particularly so in South Asia of which India is a part. In India, the entire population is prone to iodine deficiency disorders due to deficiency of iodine in the soil of the subcontinent and consequently the food derived from it. While most are safe due to the use of iodised salt in their diet, an estimated 35 crore people are at risk of iodine deficiency disorders as they consume salt with inadequate iodine.
Iodine intake important for pregnancy and childhood
Pregnant women and young children are particularly susceptible. Every year 90 lakh pregnant women and 80 lakh infants are at risk of IDD in India. Globally, India has the largest number of children born vulnerable to iodine deficiency. Addressing this is important because this common cause of mental impairment can be easily prevented. One of the easiest ways is to ensure intake of adequate amounts of iodine in the daily diet.
Iodine in milk
Iodine is found in a range of foods, with milk and dairy products a good source of natural iodine. Studies have shown that a cup of milk around 250 ml. contains around 56 mcg of iodine. This indicates that a cup of milk can provide around 37 percent of the recommended daily amount (RDA) of iodine. However, what is not commonly known is that the time of year and type of milk can affect the amount of iodine available.

 Iodine content lower in summer milk
Studies have shown that milk produced in summer has a lower iodine content than winter milk. There is a large seasonal variation in iodine content of milk with studies showing that the concentration of iodine in winter milk is approximately double that of summer milk. Studies have also shown that globally, 30% of schoolchildren are still believed to consume sub-optimal amounts of iodine. This deficiency of iodine gets aggravated in summer.
Iodine content lower in organic milk
Another factor that affects the amount of iodine is the type of milk. Studies have shown that organic milk has significantly less iodine than conventional milk. Given the increasing popularity of organic milk, it is important to be aware of the nutritional implications of lower iodine concentration of organic milk, particularly in pregnant women and growing children. While individuals may prefer organic milk due to their concerns on the use of antibiotics in cattle or presence of pesticides and chemicals in regular milk, it is necessary for these individuals who choose organic milk to be aware that they may not be getting an equivalent quantity of iodine from organic milk. They should take necessary steps to ensure adequate iodine intake from alternative sources such as iodised salt.

 The above facts are particularly important in India where children face nutritional challenges. It has been found that the best method to combat iodine deficiency is iodisation of salt. More than 70 countries, including the United States and Canada, have salt iodisation programs. This is oneof the most cost-effective ways toprevent iodine deficiency disorders and contribute to economic andsocial development.

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