The Importance of Iodine for Children (and Pregnant Women)

22 April 2022
Posted by: Chelsea

Iodine is a naturally-occurring substance that our bodies need for good health.

What is iodine?

Iodine is found in nature in the sea, soil and some natural dairy food products like cheese and milk.

The importance of iodine relates to its role in helping our bodies to regulate certain hormonal products through the thyroid gland.

How do we take in iodine?

Most of our iodine is obtained through foodstuffs.

Some vegetables take up iodine from the soil. Most forms of fish contain it, as do some animal products where the animal has grazed on iodine-rich pastures.

Some salt also contains iodine and as a result, it is found in many commercially-produced foods

Can you have too much or too little iodine?

Yes, although taking in too much is a very hard thing to do accidentally.

To consume too much one would need to consume perhaps 25-30 eggs or a kilo of cheese or 5 large glasses of milk in a single meal!

Having too little is much more common. That can arise from a generally poor diet or in some cases, if you’re eating a restricted or specialised diet, for example, a combination of:

  • no dairy produce;
  • home-baked bread without salt (or salt made without iodine);
  • largely local vegetables grown in iodine-poor soils;
  • a vegan or other fish-free regime.

What are the effects of iodine deficiency?

For all people but especially children and pregnant women, the effects will vary depending on many factors.

If the thyroid becomes severely impacted by a lack of iodine, the results might include:

  • growth irregularities;
  • impacted intellectual development;
  • skin disorders;
  • weight gain;
  • depression and anxiety;
  • for pregnant women, severe shortages can mean stillbirths, miscarriages and later mental disabilities in the child.

What can be done to prevent iodine shortage?

For the vast majority of people, eating a normal healthy diet should be sufficient.

Given the importance of iodine for children and pregnant women in particular but also everyone in general, the following recommendations are usually made by health care professionals:

  • if you are on a vegan diet, make sure you consume seaweed (usually strong in iodine) or an iodine-enhanced soy milk. You may also need to take iodine supplements. It would also be highly advisable to take medical advice before placing young children on a vegan regime;
  • if you have removed or drastically reduced salt from your diet, your lost iodine may need to be replaced by increasing your consumption through other sources. This would also apply if you have switched to a salt without iodine;
  • as part of ante-natal checks, your doctor or nurse should advise whether you should be taking an iodine supplement, as your body’s need for it will increase significantly when pregnant. You may need to continue to do so if you’re breastfeeding, as your baby’s only source of iodine will be through your breast milk.

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