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Iodine in your daily bread not enough if you are pregnant

2 July 2013

Naturopath Stephanie Hamilton discusses recent research that reveals that iodine supplementation is still essential for pregnant women in Australia despite the mandatory presence of iodine in bread.

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In 2009 a program of mandatory iodine fortification of bread was introduced in Australia after the discovery that many Australians were iodine deficient. However there have been some concerns that the fortification of bread may not sufficiently address our iodine requirements in this country and current research would seem to support this.

In 2010 and 2011 separate studies were published showing that iodine deficiency was still increasing despite this fortification.

And with a recent study published in the Nutrition Journal it would appear that this trend is continuing. Researchers at the University of Adelaide looked at the iodine levels of almost 200 women in South Australia during pregnancy and at 6 months after giving birth. The results showed that the women who were not taking iodine supplements but who were eating fortified bread had iodine levels within the mildly deficient range. The women who took iodine supplementation were more likely to be within the World Health Organisation’s iodine recommendations (150-249 μg/L).

Iodine supplementation is still recommended
Researchers found that pregnant women in this region of Australia were unlikely to reach recommended iodine levels without an iodine supplement, even after the mandatory iodine fortification of bread began in October 2009. They concluded that supplementation with a multivitamin containing iodine for pregnancy and lactation appears to be the only way to resolve deficiency at such a crucial time in fetal and child development.

Why is iodine so important?
Iodine is essential for the production of thyroid hormones which are needed for proper growth and brain development in the fetus and newborn infants. The foetus relies solely on the mother’s iodine intake in early pregnancy and so deficiency in the mother will result in deficiency in the growing baby. Iodine deficiency in pregnancy has been associated with an increased incidence of miscarriage, birth defects, mental retardation and neuropsychological disorders.

Infants also require sufficient iodine to ensure proper growth and development. Breast milk levels of iodine reflect the mother’s iodine intake and so continuing iodine supplementation throughout breastfeeding is often beneficial.

How much iodine do you need?
The National Health and Medical Research Council recommends that all women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or considering pregnancy, take an iodine supplement of 150 μg (micrograms) each day.


References available on request

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