Healthy living

Many in UK are iodine-deficient

Many in UK are iodine deficient Deficiency can cause mental impairment

Iodine deficiency may be widespread throughout the UK, experts have warned.

In a study of more than 700 teenage girls, almost seven out of ten were iodine deficient, according to standards laid down by the World Health Organisation.

Without iodine, the thyroid gland would not be able manufacture hormones essential for body growth and development. As the body cannot make iodine, most of what it needs comes from the foods we eat.

Women of childbearing age are particularly at risk of iodine-deficiency. Even mild deficiency can affect the developing brain of a baby, the researchers said.

Iodine deficiency is the most common cause of preventable mental impairment in children worldwide. Since 1993, the WHO has added iodine to salt to try to combat iodine deficiency, mostly in developing countries.

However, experts from the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust say the UK may also need to do this.

The researchers measured urinary iodine levels in samples from 737 girls aged 14-15, from nine centres across the UK: Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dundee, London, Newcastle, Birmingham, Exeter, Cardiff and Belfast.

Some 69 per cent of the samples were deficient in iodine with levels below 100µg/L, and 18 per cent of samples tested had very low iodine levels, below 50µg/L.

The researchers say the findings warrant a full-scale investigation into the status of the entire UK population.

Dr Mark Vanderpump, a consultant physician at the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust said: “We are very concerned about these findings as the consequences of iodine-deficiency are grave: iodine-deficient communities score lower in IQ tests, and even mild iodine-deficiency during pregnancy can cause serious mental impairments in children.

“The World Health Organisation has made iodine-deficiency a global priority and has been campaigning for at-risk countries to add iodine to their salt, a campaign which has been very successful. If it turns out that we do have a problem, this could be the most viable solution."

The study findings will be presented today at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Birmingham.

This article was published on Tue 12 April 2011

Image © herreneck -

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