Pregnant women require more iodine, because iodine deficiency in pregnancy can be extremely dangerous to the mother as well as the fetus.
Iodine is found in traces in the human body. It performs one of the most important functions in the body and that is stimulation of thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones further perform several vital functions such as metabolism, growth, development, reproductive functions, etc. Since the body does not produce iodine on its own, you need to supply it through diet. There is an increased demand for iodine during pregnancy and early childhood. If this demand is not met, it could lead to a deficiency. This condition has serious implications upon the human body.
Iodine and Fetal Development
Iodine is concerned with the production of thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4), and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones are responsible for healthy mental and physical growth of the fetus. During pregnancy, the thyroid hormone production increases by 50%. Naturally, there is an additional demand for iodine in order to produce these hormones. If this demand is not met through the mother’s diet, it may lead to certain developmental issues in the fetus. Between 11 to 20 weeks of pregnancy, the brain and the nervous system of the fetus develops rapidly. If the iodine requirements are not fulfilled at this stage, the brain of the child could suffer from permanent/irreversible damage.
Implications of Iodine Deficiency in Pregnancy
Pregnant women with iodine deficiency are at a risk of several thyroid problems including goiter and hypothyroidism. Besides, the life of the fetus is also endangered if iodine intake of the mother is below the prescribed limit. Miscarriages, stillbirths, and premature deliveries are some of the common problems amongst women with this condition. Similarly, babies born to such mothers may have severe mental problems such as congenital anomalies, mental retardation, etc. Speech and hearing impairment is also very common amongst children born to such mothers. Cretinism, which essentially means severe mental retardation, is by far the most serious effect of this condition. Even a slight decrease in iodine intake during pregnancy may cause decrease in the intelligence level of the child.
Causes of Iodine Deficiency
Iodine deficiency is not much of a problem in developed countries, as people living in these countries meet their iodine requirements through diets rich in iodine. Iodine fortified table salt and bread are some of the common dietary sources which suffice the requirement of these people. However, people staying in certain geographic areas experience severe deficiencies in their diets. Women are especially are prone to such deficiencies, since they are often malnourished as compared to men. Iodine deficiency is mostly a problem amongst poorer sections of society. Dietary ignorance may also cause iodine deficiency in pregnancy.
Prescribed Iodine Intake in Pregnancy
The World Health Organization (WHO) has prescribed that iodine intake for pregnant women should be at least 200 – 250 µg/day. This condition is expressed in terms of median urinary iodine concentration. Median iodine concentration below 50 µg/L indicates severe iodine deficiency. Median urinary iodine concentration of 150 – 249 µg/L indicates healthy iodine levels in pregnant women.
Increasing Iodine Intake During Pregnancy
Women should be extremely careful about what they eat during their pregnancy. Natural iodine has a tendency to get washed off the land and enter the oceans. This natural iodine is absorbed by marine plants and animals. Hence, seaweed and seafood are excellent sources of natural iodine. These days, as even cattle and poultry are fed iodine fortified foods, dairy products and chicken, by default, are constituted as iodine rich foods. Besides the diet, one can also rely upon vitamin supplements to meet the daily demand for nutrients, but only after consulting a doctor. Multivitamin supplements with 150 µg iodine should be taken everyday during the entire pregnancy period. However, consult a doctor before you go for any vitamin supplements.
Even marginal iodine deficiency in pregnancy can induce certain undesirable problems in your child. Hence, take all possible precautions to avoid any deficiencies that could harm the growth of the fetus.