Iodine Deficiency During Pregnancy
Despite an important study in 2013 which found a link between iodine deficiency and lower IQ scores, pregnant mothers are still not getting adequate iodine supplementation.
As a mother-to-be, it can be hard to keep up with current guidelines and recommendations.
We might trade in a cheeseburger for a more nutrient-dense green leafy salad, knowing the importance of a healthy and balanced diet during pregnancy.
Chances are, you've probably heard about the importance of folate during pregnancy, but you haven't heard about the importance of iodine.
While iodine studies have emphasised the importance of public awareness and education, this recent study is a reminder that we still have much work to do.
What Is Iodine?
Iodine is an element that is necessary for the production of thyroid hormones. It isn't something our bodies can make, so we must consume it. If you don't have enough iodine in your body, thyroid function can be impacted.
Why Is Iodine Important During Pregnancy?
Our thyroid regulates many of our hormones and vital body functions such as:
- Heart rate
- Body weight
- Cholesterol levels
- Menstrual cycles
- Nervous systems
- Body temperature
These functions and hormone regulation are important during fetal development.
Children born to mothers with mild to moderate iodine deficiencies are at risk for cognitive and motor impairment. The study published in 2013 found eight year olds who were born to mothers with iodine deficiencies were more likely to score lower in verbal IQ, reading comprehension and reading accuracy. In the nine year follow up, they found that maternal iodine deficiency was associated with reduced educational outcomes in children.
Who Is At Risk For Iodine Deficiency?
You might be surprised to hear that nearly two-thirds of all Europeans are iodine deficient. These figures are also comparable to studies done in other countries, such as the United States.
Unfortunately, this means you're more likely to be deficient than to have adequate levels of iodine.
What Are The Recommendations For Iodine Intake?
The World Health Organization (WHO), as well as other public health organisations, state iodine levels of pregnant mothers should be 150 to 249 μg/L.
The WHO, American Thyroid Association, European Thyroid Association and the Endocrine Society recommend for women who are planning to conceive, are pregnant or lactating take a daily iodine supplement of 150 μg.
Some countries have adopted iodisation programs, but many countries haven't. While iodised salt might be available, it isn't always the majority of people's sodium intake. In the US, just 53% of household salt is iodised. In Sweden, where this study took place, only 27% was iodised.
If your country of residence hasn't adopted a salt-iodisation program, it's your important personal responsibility to be conscious of your iodine intake. This would be much easier if there was more awareness about iodine deficiency, as many pregnant mothers aren't aware of it's importance.
What Foods Contain Iodine?
While the levels of iodine can vary from one sample of the same food to another, these foods are sources of iodine:
- Seaweed such as kelp, nori and dulci
- Saltwater fish
- Iodised table salt (not all table salt is iodised, be sure to check the label)
- Soy sauce
- Soy milk
- Dairy products such as yogurt and milk (if you consume dairy, choose full fat)
While these foods contain iodine, recent studies seem to support the need for iodine supplements, in addition to consuming foods naturally containing iodine.
What Should I Do If I'm Pregnant?
Anytime you have a concern about your health or your baby's, it's important to reach out to your maternity healthcare provider. You can ask your midwife or doctor if they routinely check for iodine levels, and if your thyroid function is off according to your routine labs.
If you're planning to conceive, you can start talking with maternity care providers now, and follow the WHO recommendations to take a daily iodine supplement. You can also get into the habit of paying attention to your natural intake of nutrients. Read labels, choose a variety of whole foods and make healthy food choices that contain iodine.
Sometimes it can feel as if there's a new concern each day of your pregnancy. It's important to be educated, but it's also important not to become overly worried. Research helps your maternity care provider to give you the latest, evidence-based recommendations, and allows you to make fully informed decisions. If you're already pregnant, simply get started now, and grab yourself some iodine rich foods.