Israeli women found to be wildly deficient in iodine, the trace nutrient that protects against radiation damage

Israel’s very first national iodine survey revealed alarming low levels of iodine among children and pregnant women. Iodine is an essential mineral that promotes healthy pregnancy and metabolism. The mineral is also important is preventing a wide array of adverse health conditions such as goiter, skin disease, fibrocystic breast disease and cancer. Iodine was also shown to help protect the body from the potentially harmful effects of radiation exposure.

The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Iodine Global Network (IGN) actively promote mandatory, universal salt iodization. However, only a small fraction of salts in Israel were iodized. These iodized salts were also sold at a much higher price compared with regular table salt.

A team of researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Maccabi Healthcare Services, Barzilai University Medical Center in Ashkelon, Israel and ETH Zurich in Switzerland were able to come up with Israel’s first nationally representative data on iodine status by examining pre-discard spot-urine samples from 1,074 pregnant women and 1,023 school-age children. Research data showed that 85 percent of pregnant women and 62 percent of school-age children had severely low iodine levels.

The study also found that the median urinary iodine concentration was only 61 micrograms iodine/liter in pregnant women and only 83 micrograms/liter in children. The World Health Organization recommends a population median of 150-249 micrograms/liter for pregnant women and 100-199 micrograms/liter for school-age children. The researchers did not observe differences in median iodine levels across various ethnicities and region. This suggests that iodine deficiency was widespread in the country.

The results suggest that the prevalence of iodine deficiency in the country puts both pregnant women and school-aged children at an increased risk of maternal and fetal hypothyroidism and impaired neurological development of the fetus.

“The immediate implication of our findings is that we need to improve the public’s intake of iodine. It seems that as in most other countries, Israel’s food supply and our collective dietary habits do not ensure iodine sufficiency. Thus eliminating iodine deficiency and achieving optimal iodine status in Israel’s population will require a sustainable, government-regulated program of salt or food iodization. The costs are small and the benefits substantial and have been proven in over 160 countries around the world where this is done, ” said lead researcher Prof. Aron Troen.

The researchers have called for an immediate universal salt iodization and monitoring program, and urged the Israel Endocrine Society to develop guidelines in providing care for pregnant and lactating women. “Caregivers should recommend adequate iodine intake during pregnancy and lactation, and a randomized clinical trial of risk and benefit for correction of mild-moderate iodine deficiency during pregnancy must be considered,” said Dr. Jonathan Arbelle, lead co-investigator of the study.

The results also highlight the urgent need for the country to perform routine public health surveillance for other nutritional and environmental factors indicative of the general population’s overall health, a researcher added.

The findings were presented at The 46th Annual Meeting of the Israel Endocrine Society.

The adverse effects of Iodine deficiency

According to Unicef, Iodine deficiency is the culprit behind preventable brain damage in children. The condition’s most severe effects occur during fetal development and during the first few years of childhood, the organization stated. Up to 30 percent of the world’s total population live in areas where iodine deficiency is rampant, Unicef added.

In another landmark study, iodine deficiency during pregnancy was tied to subsequent learning difficulties in children. Researchers examined up to 1,000 families and found that children born to iodine-deficient mothers were more likely to have IQ scores that were in the bottom 25 percent. The findings of the 2013 study were published in the journal The Lancet.

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