What’s the latest buzz on pregnancy and iodine? – guest expert Frances Gilham APDExpert Examiner, Family Focus, Nutrition News — By Emma Stirling on April 5, 2010 at 9:50 pm
It can be a confusing world out there. When it comes to pregnancy, everyone has an opinion on what to eat and what not to eat – and those opinions can sometimes be pretty kooky! At the very least they can differ substantially from one another. Science is constantly evolving, and with new discoveries being made every day – and being reported on in the media – deciphering the good advice from the bad can sometimes seem like an overwhelming task. One nutrient that has recently got people talking is iodine. But let’s face it – if you are considering a pregnancy, you just want the facts. What exactly is iodine, why is it such an important nutrient for women – and importantly, how do you get it?
Frances Gilham Accredited Practising Dietitian
Frances graduated with a Master of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics in 2009, and is now enthusiastically embarking on her career. She currently works for the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing in Canberra, and is passionate about improving the health of all Australians through good nutrition. You can follow her on http://twitter.com/FrancesGilham
Iodine and pregnancy – what do you (really) need to know?
What is iodine?
Iodine is an essential nutrient used by the thyroid gland to make two hormones called T3 and T4. These hormones influence growth and metabolism of the entire body – so you can see why iodine is so important! T3 and T4 particularly affect our brain and nervous system early in development – so low levels of dietary iodine during pregnancy can affect the development of your baby and, potentially, lead to complications. The amount of iodine in your diet is especially important in the first three weeks of pregnancy because that is when the nerves and brain of your baby start to form. Many women don’t even realise they are pregnant at this stage. That is why it is so important that Australian and New Zealand women considering a pregnancy start to take iodine supplementation before they get pregnant – and continue to take it right throughout the pregnancy.
Where is iodine found?
Iodine occurs naturally in the ocean and in soil, but in varying amounts. The amount in the soil and the ocean will influence the amount in the local produce – including fruit and vegetables, meat, dairy, eggs and seafood. In Australia, iodine used to be found in the cleaners used in dairies, and this iodine contaminated milk in high enough amounts to prevent iodine deficiencies. This practice no longer occurs, and iodine deficiencies are starting to emerge in Australia as a serious public health issue due to the low levels of iodine in our soils, and thus our food. Iodised salt can provide iodine, but it isn’t advised to start eating lots of salt, due to the links between high salt intake and high blood pressure. Our government food regulator, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, has recently approved the mandatory fortification of all bread (except organic) with iodine by using iodised salt in the bread-making process. You can read more in the FSANZ Mandatory Iodine Fortification statement here.
Whilst this will improve iodine levels in the general population, this will not provide enough iodine to meet the needs of pregnant and breastfeeding women. In response to growing research about the importance of iodine for baby development, the National Health and Medical Research Council in consultation with organisations such as the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) recently put out an informative statement on iodine, including how much we need.
So how much do I need?
It is currently recommended that pregnant women should be consuming 220 micrograms of iodine per day, and breastfeeding women 270 micrograms per day. Even if you eat bread with iodised salt and have a varied diet, the best way to ensure this intake and give your baby the best start is to take a supplement which contains 150 micrograms of iodine. The amount of iodine in supplements can vary widely between brands, so it is a good idea to check the label to see how much it contains. It is also very important that anyone with a thyroid condition consult their doctor before commencing any supplementation containing iodine.
For more information about iodine and pregnancy, see the fact sheets on the following websites The Dietitians Association of Australia and Nutrition Australia. And if you would like personalised nutrition advice to help guide you through the maze of eating healthily for your needs during pregnancy, see a Registered or Accredited Practising Dietitian.
Thanks Frances for your clear update on the new iodine and pregnancy guidelines. And it’s wonderful to see that a tech savvy new grad has landed within the decision makers in our nations capital. In my experience most mums-to-be are motivated to eat a healthy diet, but iodine and other nutrients like folate are important to consider BEFORE you become pregnant. So anyone reading this post with a daughter, sister, cousin, girlfriend, walking buddy or workmate who you know is getting clucky, it’s time to spread the word girls and send a shout out for iodine supplements prior to pregnancy. We’d also love to hear about any “kooky” nutrition advice you were told during pregnancy. Did you get a cracker from your mother-in-law? Or a traditional family favourite? What did you crave or loathe? We’re opening up for comments, so don’t be shy, we’d love you to share or ask further questions.