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Iodine: Essential for neurodevelopment

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Iodine is an essential trace mineral required for many aspects of normal, healthy function. Whilst commonly considered to be a third world problem, iodine deficiency has re-emerged in Australia and is now considered to be epidemic by numerous experts.

It has been suggested that our diets no longer provide sufficient iodine due to a number of factors including depleting soil levels, low intake of seafood, a push to reduce salt intake and changes in sanitisation practices in dairy processing. As a result, iodine deficiency remains the single greatest cause of preventable brain damage and mental retardation worldwide. 

If there is an insufficiency of iodine during pregnancy the foetus cannot produce enough thyroxin resulting in retarded foetal growth and brain maturation. Severity can vary from mild intellectual blunting to frank cretinism, a condition that includes gross mental retardation, deaf-mutism, short stature and various other defects. 

Even in cases of mild iodine deficiency there is reasonable evidence of sub-optimal neurological development, most notably reduced IQ. Increased rates of ADHD have also been observed.

By exploring the changing actions of thyroid hormone throughout specific time windows of development a picture of the vital importance of iodine sufficiency emerges. 


  1. Puig-Domingo M, Vila L. The implications of iodine and its supplementation during pregnancy in fetal brain development. Curr Clin Pharmacol 2013;8(2):97-109. [Abstract]
  2. World Health Organization (WHO). Elimination of iodine deficiency disorders in the south-east Asia, 2008. Viewed 24 Sept 2014, apps.searo.who.int/PDS_DOCS/B2266.pdf
  3. Li M, Ma G, Guttikonda K, et al. Re-emergence of iodine deficiency in Australia. Asia Pac J Clin Nutrition 2001;10: 200-203. [Abstract]
  4. Iodine supplementation for pregnant and breastfeeding women. NHMRC public statement 2010. [PDF]
  5. National Health and Medical Research Council. Nutrient reference values for Australia and New Zealand. Commonwealth of Australia, 2005. [PDF]
  6. Qian M, Wang D, Watkins W, et al. The effects of iodine on intelligence in children: a meta-analysis of studies conducted in China. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr 2005;14(1):32-42. [Abstract]
  7. Zoellar RT, Rovet J. Timing of the thyroid hormone action in the developing brain: clinical observations and experimental findings. J Neuroendocrinol 2004;16(10):809-818. [Full text]
  8. Skeaff S. Iodine deficiency in pregnancy: the effect on neurodevelopment in the child. Nutrients 2011;3(2):265-273. [Full text]
  9. Marieb EN, Hoehn K, Hutchinson M. Human anatomy and physiology. Pearson Education: California, 2013.

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Melissa Lee
Melissa is a designer turned nutritionist, who has combined the two modalities to create purposeful designs for various health publications and websites. Having initially studied Multimedia Systems Design, she then went on to complete a BHSc in Nutritional Medicine which led to her involvement in the integrative medicine industry and eventually to FX Medicine.