American Academy of Pediatrics: Iodine found lacking in the diets of pregnant and breast-feeding women

ELK GROVE, Ill. — The American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday reported that many pregnant and breast-feeding women in the United States may be lacking iodine in their diets, which is an essential element for their babies’ brain development, according to a new policy statement, “Iodine Deficiency, Pollutant Chemicals, and the Thyroid: NewInformation on an Old Problem,” published in the June 2014 issue of Pediatrics

In the policy statement, the AAP recommends iodine supplementation for breastfeeding mothers and should be considered for some other women of childbearing age, and recommends that young infants not be exposed to tobacco smoke or drinking water with excess nitrate. 

“We are encouraged by the new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics that both recognizes the vital role of iodine in the development of a baby’s nervous system, and recommends that pregnant and lactating women take a supplement containing iodide, a form of iodine easily absorbed by the body, to garner those benefits," stated Duffy MacKay, SVP scientific and regulatory affairs for the Council for Responsible Nutrition. "CRN urges vitamin and supplement manufacturers to review and consider the specific recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics with regard to dose and iodine form, and our association will be taking these recommendations under advisement to discuss with our member companies." 

MacKay drew the correlation between what's happening with iodine today and folic acid from several decades ago, when folic acid was found to play a critical role in reducing neural tube birth defects, like spina bifida. "We see similarities between the folic acid story and what is now happening with iodine, and hope that the same groundswell will develop for educating women of childbearing age of the critical importance of iodine in helping ensure optimal cognitive development in babies," MacKay said. 

Most of the salt in the U.S. diet is from processed foods, and that salt is not iodized. As consumption of processed foods has increased, so has the level of iodine deficiency, with about one-third of pregnant women in the U.S. being deficient. Pregnant and lactating women should take supplements that contain adequate levels of iodine, but only about 15% of this group does so, AAP reported.

Adequate iodine intake is needed to produce thyroid hormone, which is critical for brain development in children. Severe, untreated hypothyroidism in infancy has serious, permanent effects on the brain, and milder cases of hypothyroidism can also affect a child’s cognitive development. In addition, iodine deficiency in a mother increases both mother and child’s vulnerability to the effects of certain environmental pollutants — most notably thiocyanate (found in cruciferous vegetables and tobacco smoke) and nitrate (found in certain leafy and root vegetables). Perchlorate, an environmental pollutant found in about 4% of public drinking water supplies and in a few foods is an additional concern. 

The AAP calls for better and more accurate labeling of supplements to reflect the actual content of iodine. The statement also calls on the federal government to complete a national primary drinking water regulation for perchlorate, and calls on state and local governments to enact clean-air and smoke-free legislation and ordinances.

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