Your Chances of Getting Pregnant Reduced by Iodine Deficiency?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in Chances of Getting Pregnant, Iodine Deficiency During Pregnancy

Your Chances Of Getting Pregnant Could Be Cut In Half

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

Are your chances of getting pregnant reduced by iodine deficiency?

It shouldn’t be happening. The introduction of iodized salt in the 1920s virtually eliminated iodine deficiency in this country. However, in just the past twenty years the incidence of iodine deficiency has increased 3-8-fold in women of childbearing age. Recent studies have estimated that today 30-40% of women of childbearing age are iodine deficient.

How did that happen?

  • We have been told to cut back on sodium. Many Americans have responded by throwing away the (iodized) salt shaker. Unfortunately, we still get a lot of salt from processed foods, and that salt is usually non-iodized.
  • When we do add salt to our foods it is usually the “healthier” designer salts. First it was sea salt. Now it is trendy versions like Pink Himalayan Salt. While sea salt might have some iodine naturally, the trendier versions are non-iodized.
  • The New-Age Whole Food diets often ban salt from the diet. That increases the probability of becoming iodine deficient. For example, a recent study reported that women who followed the Paleo diet for two years became iodine deficient (S. Manousi et al, European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 72: 124-129, 2018 ).

The consequences of iodine deficiency, especially among women of childbearing age, are alarming. In a previous issue of “Health Tips From the Professor,” The Dangers of Iodine Deficiency During Pregnancy, I reported that iodine is essential for bone and neural development during fetal development and infancy. I also reported that the American Academy of Pediatrics, The National Institutes Of Health, and the World Health Organization have all declared that mild iodine deficiency during pregnancy can prevent normal cognitive development and reduce IQ levels in children.

This study (JL Mills et al, Human Reproduction, doi: 10.1093/humrep/dex379, 2018 ) reports that iodine deficiency also reduces a woman’s chances of becoming pregnant. [I might add, this almost seems to be part of Nature’s plan. If the consequences of iodine deficiency during pregnancy are so detrimental, the fact that iodine deficiency also reduces the chances of a woman becoming pregnant could be considered a good thing.]

How Was The Study Done?

This study recruited 501 couples (ages 18-40) from 16 counties in Michigan and Texas. The women had all discontinued contraception within the previous two months with the intention of becoming pregnant and were followed for an additional 12 months. Women with known thyroid disease were excluded from the study.

Urine samples were collected from each woman at the beginning of the study to determine iodine and creatine levels. The women used fertility monitors to time intercourse relative to ovulation (Basically, that means they optimized their chances of becoming pregnant). They then used digital home pregnancy monitors on the day of expected menstruation to identify pregnancies.

Finally, 90% of the women took either a multivitamin or a pre-natal vitamin during the study (The significance of this will be discussed later).

 

Are Your Chances of Getting Pregnant Reduced by Iodine Deficiency?

chances of getting pregnant iodine deficiency pregnancyThe results of the study were:

  • 3% of the women in the study were iodine deficient (defined as iodine-creatine ratios of <100 mcg/g). This was further broken down to:
  • 8% were mildly iodine deficient (50-99 mcg/g).
  • 8% were moderately iodine deficient (20-49 mcg/g).
  • 7% were severely iodine deficient (<20 mcg/g).
  • That is a total of 22.5% who had moderate to severe iodine deficiency.
  • Women who had moderate to severe iodine deficiency had a 46% decrease in the chance of becoming pregnant over each menstrual cycle compared to the iodine sufficient group.

A simple way of reporting those data would be to say that their chances of becoming pregnant were reduced by 46%, but that would not convey the whole picture. Most of the women did become pregnant during the 12-month study. However, it took the women with moderate to severe iodine deficiency twice as long to become pregnant. Iodine deficiency did not prevent pregnancy from occurring, but it delayed it.

The authors concluded: “In summary, our data show that groups of women with iodine concentrations in the moderate to severe deficient range experience a significantly longer time to pregnancy…The US and European countries where iodine deficiency is common should evaluate the need for programs to increase iodine intake for women of childbearing age, particularly those trying to become pregnant”.

 

Where Can You Get The Iodine You Need?

 

chances of getting pregnant iodine deficiency seafood seaweedThe important question becomes: “Where can you get the iodine you need?”

  • You could start by using old-fashioned iodized salt rather than designer salts in your salt shaker. However, I am reluctant to recommend anything that would increase sodium intake. We get far too much from processed foods already.
  • Seafood (or seaweed, if you are a vegetarian) are the best food sources of iodine. However, our oceans are so contaminated I would recommend consuming those foods only occasionally.
  • You will often see bread and dairy mentioned as good food sources because iodine was used in the preparation of those foods. However, iodine has largely been replaced by other agents, so those foods should no longer be considered good sources. For example:
  • 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
  • Fruits and vegetables are a variable source of iodine, depending on where they were grown. That is because iodine levels in the soils vary tremendously from region to region.
  • That leaves multivitamins and prenatal vitamins as your best source. However, you do need to read labels. You should look for supplements that provide 150 mcg of iodine. Unfortunately, only 50% of prenatal supplements in the United States even contain iodine. Remember, 90% of the women in this study took either a multivitamin or prenatal supplement and 44.3% of them were iodine deficient.

 

The Bottom Line

 

The introduction of iodized salt in the 1920s virtually eliminated iodine deficiency in this country. Now, almost 100 years later, iodine deficiency is back. Recent studies estimate that 30-40% of women of childbearing age are iodine deficient. This is concerning. Previous studies have shown iodine deficiency affects mental development during fetal development and infancy. A recent study suggests that iodine deficiency may also make it more difficult for women to become pregnant. Specifically, the study reported:

  • 3% of the women in the study were iodine deficient. This was further broken down to:
  • 8% were mildly iodine deficient.
  • 8% were moderately iodine deficient.
  • 7% were severely iodine deficient.
  • That is a total of 22.5% with moderate to severe iodine deficiency.
  • Women who had moderate to severe iodine deficiency had a 46% decrease in their chance of becoming pregnant over each menstrual cycle compared to the iodine sufficient group.

A simple way of reporting those data would be to say that their chances of becoming pregnant were reduced by 46%, but that would not convey the whole picture. Most of the women did become pregnant during the 12-month study. However, it took the women with moderate to severe iodine deficiency twice as long to become pregnant. Iodine deficiency did not prevent pregnancy from occurring, but it delayed it.

For more details about why iodine deficiency has reemerged in this country and where we can get the iodine we need, read the article above.

 

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 (2)

  • Kathy Brauer

    |

    Fascinating article. One fairly important error slipped past the proofreader. In the description of study participants is says that they had “discontinued conception” in order to get pregnant. While the accrual meaning is probably clear to most readers from the context, it’s just tidier you use “contraception” which is what I believed you meant.

    I also wonder how much this iodine deficiency affects the number of women, in particular, who need to use thyroid medications. I’m also curious about its overall effect in the “obesity epidemic” in the population at large.

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Kathy,
      Thanks for pointing out the typo. It will be corrected in the archive. Iodine deficiency does increase the risk of hypothyroidism and, potentially, the number of people who need thyroid medication. I have not seen an estimate of how much iodine deficiency contributes to use of thyroid medication in this country. I would hope most doctors would screen for iodine deficiency before recommending medication. Hypothyroidism can also contribute to obesity. Again its contribution is difficult to estimate because there are so many other contributors to obesity in this country.
      Dr. Chaney

      Reply

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Latest Article

Can Plant-based Diets Be Unhealthy?

Posted September 10, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

plant-based diets vegetablesPlant-based diets have become the “Golden Boys” of the diet world. They are the diets most often recommended by knowledgeable health and nutrition professionals. I’m not talking about all the “Dr. Strangeloves” who pitch weird diets in books and the internet. I am talking legitimate experts who have spent their life studying the impact of nutrition on our health.

Certainly, there is an overwhelming body of evidence supporting the claim that plant-based diets are healthy. Going on a plant-based diet can help you lower blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol and triglycerides. People who consume a plant-based diet for a lifetime weigh less and have decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

But, can a plant-based diet be unhealthy? Some people consider a plant-based diet to simply be the absence of meat and other animal foods. Is just replacing animal foods with plant-based foods enough to make a diet healthy?

Maybe not. After all, sugar and white flour are plant-based food ingredients. Fake meats of all kinds abound in our grocery stores. Some are very wholesome, but others are little more than vegetarian junk food. If you replace animal foods with plant-based sweets, desserts, and junk food, is your diet really healthier?

While the answer to that question seems obvious, very few studies have asked that question. Most studies on the benefits of plant-based diets have compared population groups that eat a strictly plant-based diet (Seventh-Day Adventists, vegans, or vegetarians) with the general public. They have not looked at variations in plant food consumption within the general public. Nor have they compared people who consume healthy and unhealthy plant foods.

This study (H Kim et al, Journal of the American Heart Association, 8:e012865, 2019) was designed to fill that void.

 

How Was The Study Done?

plant-based diets studyThis study used data collected from 12,168 middle aged adults in the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) study between 1987 and 2016.

The participant’s usual intake of foods and beverages was assessed by trained interviewers using a food frequency questionnaire at the time of entry into the study and again 6 years later.

Participants were asked to indicate the frequency with which they consumed 66 foods and beverages of a defined serving size in the previous year. Visual guides were provided to help participants estimate portion sizes.

The participant’s adherence to a plant-based diet was assessed using four different well-established plant-based diet scores. For the sake of simplicity, I will include 3 of them in this review.

  • The PDI (Plant-Based Diet Index) categorizes foods as either plant foods or animal foods. A high PDI score means that the participant’s diet contains more plant foods than animal foods. A low PDI score means the participant’s diet contains more animal foods than plant foods.
  • The hPDI (healthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “healthy” plant foods. A high hPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) and low in animal foods.
  • The uPDI (unhealthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “unhealthy” plant foods. A high uPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) and low in animal foods.

For statistical analysis the scores from the various plant-based diet indices were divided into 5 equal groups. In each case, the group with the highest score consumed the most plant foods and least animal foods. The group with the lowest score consumed the least plant foods and the most animal foods.

The health outcomes measured in this study were heart disease events, heart disease deaths, and all-cause deaths. Again, for the sake of simplicity, I will only include 2 of these outcomes (heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths) in this review. The data on deaths were obtained from state death records and the National Death Index. (Yes, your personal information is available on the web even after you die.)

 

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

plant-based diets reduce heart deathsThe participants in this study were followed for an average of 25 years.

The investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years and compared people with the highest intake of plant foods to people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods. The results were:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

What Else Did The Study Show?

The investigators made a couple of other interesting observations:

  • The association of the overall diet with heart disease and all-cause deaths was stronger than the association of individual food components. This underscores the importance of looking at the effect of the whole diet on health outcomes rather than the “magic” foods you hear about on Dr. Strangelove’s Health Blog.
  • Diets with the highest amount of healthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of carbohydrates, plant protein, fiber, and micronutrients, including potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and lower intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Diets with the highest amount of unhealthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of calories and carbohydrates and lower intake of fiber and micronutrients.

The last two observations may help explain some of the health benefits of plant-based diets.

 

Can Plant-Based Diets Be Unhealthy?

plant-based diets unhealthy cookiesNow, let’s return to the question I asked at the beginning of this article: “Can plant-based diets be unhealthy?” Although some previous studies have suggested that unhealthy plant-based diets might increase the risk of heart disease, this study did not show that.

What this study did show was that an unhealthy plant-based diet was no better for you than a diet containing lots of red meat and other animal foods.

If this were the only conclusion from this study, it might be considered a neutral result. However, this result clearly contrasts with the data from this study and many others showing that both plant-based diets in general and healthy plant-based diets reduce the risk of heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths compared to animal-based diets.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

There is one other subtle message from this study. This study did not compare vegans with the general public. Everyone in the study was the general public. Nobody in the study was consuming a 100% plant-based diet.

For example:

  • The group with the highest intake of plant foods consumed 9 servings per day of plant foods and 3.6 servings per day of animal foods.
  • The group with the lowest intake of plant foods consumed 5.4 servings per day of plant foods and 5.6 servings per day of animal foods.

In other words, you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet.

 

The Bottom Line

A recent study analyzed the effect of consuming plant foods on heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths over a 25-year period.

When the investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

A more subtle message from the study is that you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet. The people in this study were not following some special diet. The only difference was that some of the people in this study ate more plant foods and others more animal foods.

For more details on the study, read the article above.

 

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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