Got Iodine? An essential nutrient for pregnancy and beyond

The Pediatric Insider

© 2014 Roy Benaroch, MD

Iodine is kind of like your pinky finger. You don’t think about it much, but you’d sure miss it if it wasn’t there.

Historically, iodine deficiency caused a swelling of the thyroid gland in the front of the neck, called a goiter. (You will notice we did not link to a Google image search of that term.) The thyroid gland is the only human tissue that requires iodine, which is a necessary component of thyroid hormone. Not enough iodine in the diet means that the precursor molecule of thyroid hormone builds up in the gland, which can grow to quite an impressive size. (Made ya click! But we still didn’t link to a goiter image. We’ve got class, here.)

Insufficient iodine does more than swell up the front of the neck. It also causes low thyroid hormone levels, which can affect the growth and cognitive development of babies and children—even unborn children. And it turns out that pregnant women, in particular, may not be getting enough iodine to keep their babies safe.

In a statement released this week, the American Academy of Pediatrics had underscored the importance of iodine supplementation in pregnant and nursing women.  They estimate that only ~ 15% of this at-risk group gets adequate supplementation, which is putting many babies at risk.

Iodine is found in many foods, including saltwater fish, shellfish, soy products, and many diary products. But for most of us on a diet that doesn’t rely on seafood, the main source of dietary iodine is table salt. Ordinary table salt is almost always “iodized,” meaning fortified with iodine. But salt used in mass-production of processed foods, pickling, and canning is not iodized, and the kosher salt preferred by foodies isn’t, either. Many people may not be able to rely on ordinary salt in the diet to provide iodine, especially those at the most risk for health problems from iodine deficiency.

If you’re pregnant or nursing, you ought to be taking a prenatal vitamin daily. Make sure the one you’re taking contains iodine. It’s a cheap, simple, safe step that might just save your own neck, and your baby’s brain too.

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4 Comments on “Got Iodine? An essential nutrient for pregnancy and beyond”

  1. Eileen Says:

    Is there any real difference between generic multivitamins and the multivitamins labeled “prenatal”, other than those labeled “prenatal” costing five times as much?


  2. Dr. Roy Says:

    Eileen, there are some specific vitamins that are recommended in certain concentrations for pregnant/trying-to-get-pregnant/nursing women, like folic acid. It’s important that prenatal vitamins have these correct constituents in the correct amounts.


  3. Eileen Says:

    Thanks. I just remember your post on baby formula, which the companies put “easy to digest” or “gas free” or whatever they want on the can, but those labels don’t actually mean anything. I’m mostly wondering if the label “prenatal” actually has an FDA approval meaning it has those correct constituents. I know the over-the-counter vitamin industry can be kind of wild and woolly, and a Google search for “FDA standards prenatal vitamins” only turns up vitamin ads and a report on lead in prenatal vitamins.


  4. Dr. Roy Says:

    Eileen, I honestly don’t know if “prenatal” on a label has a specific, FDA meaning, or if it can be used willy-nilly as a marketing term. Looking on Amazon at some of their OTC prenates, it looks like their constituents as labeled are similar to Rx products. But, we’re stuck with the usual nonsensical FDA restrictions on “supplements”– they’re not regulated, and consumers have no way to ensuring that what’s on the label is what’s in the bottle. Whenever you’re dealing with supplements, buyer beware.


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