The Dangers of Iodine Deficiency During Pregnancy

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Iodine Deficiency During Pregnancy

Does Your Prenatal Contain Enough Iodine?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

iodine deficiency during pregnancyA recent study (S.M. O’Kane et al, British Journal of Nutrition, doi.org/10.1017/S0007114516003925)  concluded that 2/3 of Irish women had no idea that iodine was important during pregnancy. In fact, 57% of the women had no idea what iodine was, and 41% were unable to name any health problem related to iodine deficiency. The authors of the study considered this ignorance about iodine to be alarming. I’ll discuss why below.

First, let’s consider the situation in the United States. I suspect ignorance about the importance of iodine is just as widespread in the United States as it is in Ireland. Think about the nutrients we have been told are essential for healthy pregnancy outcomes.

  • We have heard about the importance of iron and calcium for decades.
  • The importance of folic acid and other B vitamins has been widely publicized over the last 20 years.
  • In recent years, we have learned about the importance of omega-3s, especially DHA.

But who has been telling us about the importance of iodine? Almost nobody.

What Are The Recommendations For Iodine Intake?

The RDAs for iodine are:

  • 150 ug/day for adults
  • 220 ug/day for pregnant women
  • 290 ug/day for breastfeeding women

How Common Is Iodine Deficiency During Pregnancy?

iodine deficiency pregnant womenHere are some quick facts about iodine deficiency in the US from a recent American Academy of Pediatrics position paper  and the National Institutes of Health Consumer information site:

  • Approximately 1/3 of pregnant and lactating women in the United States are at least marginally iodine deficient.
  • To meet their RDA requirements for iodine during pregnancy and lactation the American Thyroid Association, The National Academy of Sciences, and The American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend pregnant and lactating women take supplements containing 150 ug of iodine.
  • Although most pregnant and lactating women take supplements:
    • Only 50% of prenatal supplements in the United States contain iodine.
    • Even worse, only 15% of the supplements pregnant and lactating women take contain iodine (some pregnant and lactating women take multivitamins rather than prenatal supplements).
  • Labeling can be deceptive. Most multivitamins and prenatal supplements specify the amount of potassium iodide in the supplement, not iodine. It requires at least 197 ug of potassium iodide to provide 150 ug of iodine.

In short, many pregnant and lactating women in this country are not getting enough iodine from their diet and the supplements they are taking may not provide the iodine they need.

 

Why Are So Many Americans Deficient In Iodine?

iodine deficiencyThe best and most reliable natural sources of iodine are seaweeds and ocean fish. Meats, dairy, and grains can be moderate sources of iodine, but their iodine content is highly variable. It depends on the iodine content of the soil in which they were produced and how they were processed.

Because the soil in the interior of this country is very low in iodine, crops and animals raised in much of our country are also low in iodine. That lead to widespread iodine deficiency in this country prior to the introduction of iodized salt in the 1920s. Iodized salt largely eliminated iodine deficiency in the 1920s. However, since the 1970s, iodine deficiency has been gradually returning to this country for many reasons.

  • In the 1920s most of our food was prepared at home, so most of the salt in our diet was iodized. However, today:
  • Processed foods are replacing home-cooked meals, and the salt used in processed foods is not iodized.
  • Much of the salt we use today is “gourmet” salt that is not iodized. Even sea salt often contains far less iodine than iodized salt.
  • Seaweed has never been considered a delicacy in this country, and increasingly, Americans are avoiding ocean fish because of concerns about our polluted oceans.
  • Iodine in commercial breads has traditionally come from the use of iodate as a dough conditioner. Today iodate has largely been replaced with bromide in commercial bread making. Not only does this trend decrease the amount of iodine available in our diet, but bromide  also interferes with iodine utilization in our bodies.
  • Iodine in milk has traditionally come from the use of iodine-containing disinfectants to clean milk cans and teats. However, they have largely been replaced with other disinfectants.

Together these trends have combined to create the “perfect storm”. Iodine deficiency has, once again, become a major health concern in the US and other developed countries.

 

The Dangers Of Iodine Deficiency During Pregnancy

dangers of iodine deficiency during pregnancyIodine is an essential component of the thyroid hormone. Accordingly, inadequate iodine intake leads to hypothyroidism. Thus, you might expect iodine deficiency to be associated with symptoms like fatigue, sensitivity to cold, dry skin, and unexpected weight gain.

However, you may not have known that thyroid hormone is also essential for bone and neural development during fetal development and infancy. Because of that, thyroid hormone production increases dramatically during pregnancy and lactation (Hence, the increase in iodine requirement for pregnant and lactating women).

I can’t emphasize strongly enough the consequences of iodine deficiency during pregnancy and lactation. Here is what the experts say:

 

The Bottom Line

 

  • Iodine is important for bone and neural development during both fetal development and infancy. Because of this, iodine requirements are significantly higher during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
  • The iodine content of the American diet has decreased significantly since the 1970s. Today approximately 1/3 of pregnant and lactating women in the United States are at least marginally iodine deficient.
  • The National Institutes of Health, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the World Health Organization all warn that even mild iodine deficiency during pregnancy and lactation can result in cognitive impairment in children.
  • Because of this, the American Thyroid Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that pregnant and lactating women take a supplement providing 150 ug of iodine. That corresponds to at least 197 ug of potassium iodide (the unit shown on most supplement labels).
  • Only 50% of prenatal supplements and 15% of multivitamin supplements contain iodine. Many that do contain iodine do not provide the recommended 197 ug of potassium iodide.

In short, many pregnant and lactating women in this country are not getting enough iodine from their diet; the consequences of even mild iodine deficiency are significant; and the supplements they are taking may not provide the iodine they need.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (1)

  • Richard O Brouse

    |

    Dr. Chaney,
    What an excellent article on iodine and the need in pregnancy.

    Reply

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Latest Article

High Protein Diets and Weight Loss

Posted October 16, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do High Protein Diets Reduce Fat And Preserve Muscle?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

Healthy Diet food group, proteins, include meat (chicken or turkAre high protein diets your secret to healthy weight loss? There are lots of diets out there – high fat, low fat, Paleolithic, blood type, exotic juices, magic pills and potions. But recently, high protein diets are getting a lot of press. The word is that they preserve muscle mass and preferentially decrease fat mass.

If high protein diets actually did that, it would be huge because:

  • It’s the fat – not the pounds – that causes most of the health problems.
  • Muscle burns more calories than fat, so preserving muscle mass helps keep your metabolic rate high without dangerous herbs or stimulants – and keeping your metabolic rate high helps prevent both the plateau and yo-yo (weight regain) characteristic of so many diets.
  • When you lose fat and retain muscle you are reshaping your body – and that’s why most people are dieting to begin with.

So let’s look more carefully at the recent study that has been generating all the headlines (Pasiakos et al, The FASEB Journal, 27: 3837-3847, 2013).

The Study Design:

This was a randomized control study with 39 young (21), healthy and fit men and women who were only borderline overweight (BMI = 25). These volunteers were put on a 21 day weight loss program in which calories were reduced by 30% and exercise was increased by 10%. They were divided into 3 groups:

  • One group was assigned a diet containing the RDA for protein (about 14% of calories in this study design).
  • The second group’s diet contained 2X the RDA for protein (28% of calories)
  • The third group’s diet contained 3X the RDA for protein (42% of calories)

In the RDA protein group carbohydrate was 56% of calories, and fat was 30% of calories. In the other two groups the carbohydrate and fat content of the diets was decreased proportionally.

Feet_On_ScaleWhat Did The Study Show?

  • Weight loss (7 pounds in 21 days) was the same on all 3 diets.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused almost 2X more fat loss (5 pounds versus 2.8 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • The high protein (28% and 42%) diets caused 2X less muscle loss (2.1 pounds versus 4.2 pounds) than the diet supplying the RDA amount of protein.
  • In case you didn’t notice, there was no difference in overall results between the 28% (2X the RDA) and 42% (3X the RDA) diets.

Pros And Cons Of The Study:

  • The con is fairly obvious. The participants in this study were all young, healthy and were not seriously overweight. If this were the only study of this type one might seriously question whether the results were applicable to middle aged, overweight coach potatoes. However, there have been several other studies with older, more overweight volunteers that have come to the same conclusion – namely that high protein diets preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss.
  • The value of this study is that it defines for the first time the upper limit for how much protein is required to preserve muscle mass in a weight loss regimen. 28% of calories is sufficient, and there appear to be no benefit from increasing protein further. I would add the caveat that there are studies suggesting that protein requirements for preserving muscle mass may be greater in adults 50 and older.

The Bottom Line:

1)    Forget the high fat diets, low fat diets, pills and potions. High protein diets (~2X the RDA or 28% of calories) do appear to be the safest, most effective way to preserve muscle mass and enhance fat loss in a weight loss regimen.

2)     That’s not a lot of protein, by the way. The average American consumes almost 2X the RDA for protein on a daily basis. However, it is significantly more protein than the average American consumes when they are trying to lose weight. Salads and carrot sticks are great diet foods, but they don’t contain much protein.

3)     Higher protein intake does not appear to offer any additional benefit – at least in young adults.

4)     Not all high protein diets are created equal. What some people call high protein diets are laden with saturated fats or devoid of carbohydrate. The diet in this study, which is what I recommend, had 43% healthy carbohydrates and 30% healthy fats.

5)    These diets were designed to give 7 pounds of weight loss in 21 days – which is what the experts recommend. There are diets out there promising faster weight loss but they severely restrict calories and/or rely heavily on stimulants, they do not preserve muscle mass, and they often are not safe. In addition they are usually temporary.  I do not recommend them.

6)    This level of protein intake is safe for almost everyone. The major exception would be people with kidney disease, who should always check with their doctor before increasing protein intake. The only other caveat is that protein metabolism creates a lot of nitrogenous waste, so you should drink plenty of water to flush that waste out of your system. But, water is always a good idea.

7)     The high protein diets minimized, but did not completely prevent, muscle loss. Other studies suggest that adding the amino acid leucine to a high protein diet can give 100% retention of muscle mass in a weight loss regimen – but that’s another story for another day.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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