Iodine Deficiency and its Impact on Pregnancy and Women

Iodine Deficiency and its Impact on Pregnancy and Women

Mehvish Hamdare profile Authored by Mehvish Hamdare on 5 Feb 2015 - 14:05.

Iodine is an essential micronutrient required in very minute quantities for normal human growth and intellectual development. It is also necessary for overall optimal health and proper functioning of the thyroid. A small gland in the neck, known as the thyroid, uses iodine to produce thyroid hormones. These hormones are vital to ensure normal development of the brain and nervous system of the fetus, in babies and young children. It is therefore very important that pregnant and breastfeeding women get enough iodine.

The disorders caused due to deficiency of iodine in the food, are called Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD). It is estimated that more than 200 million people are at risk of IDD in India, while the number of persons suffering from goitre and other iodine deficiency disorders is above 70 million.  The surveys conducted by the Central and State Health Directorates, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and Medical Institutes have clearly demonstrated that not even a single State/Union territory is free from the problem of IDD.

Iodine deficiency during pregnancy, which is rampant among Indian women, adversely affects the child's mental development and hence IDD is the most common cause of preventable brain damage and mental retardation in the world. Most foods are relatively low in iodine content. To ensure that everyone has a sufficient intake of iodine, WHO and UNICEF recommend universal salt iodization as a global strategy

Deficiency of iodine may cause following disorders:

  • Foetus: Abortion, still birth, miscarriages, congenital anomalies, prenatal mortality, infant mortality, spasticity, neurological cretinism (mental deficiency, defect in vision, deaf, mutism, squint)
  • Neonate: Neonatal goitre, neo-natal hypothyroidism
  • Child and adolescent: Juvenile hypothyroidism, impaired mental function, growth retardation
  • Adult: Goitre, hypothyroidism, impaired mental function.

Pregnancy related problems

Pregnant and nursing mothers are advised to take iodine-rich diet to ensure birth of a healthy baby. The foetus cannot produce enough thyroxin and foetal growth is retarded in the absence of iodine. Hypothyroid foetuses often perish in the womb and many infants die within a week of birth.

Severe iodine deficiency in the mother has been associated with miscarriages, stillbirth, preterm delivery, and congenital abnormalities in their babies. Children of mothers with severe iodine deficiency during pregnancy can have mental retardation and problems with growth, hearing, and speech.

In the most severe form, an underactive thyroid can result in cretinism (a syndrome characterized by permanent brain damage, mental retardation, deaf mutism, spasticity, and short stature). Congenital hypothyroidism due to iodine deficiency is the most common preventable cause of mental retardation. A study of around 1,000 UK mothers and their children, published in The Lancet, has revealed that iodine deficiency in pregnancy may have an adverse effect on children’s mental development. Pregnant women have increased requirement of iodine and hence it is imperative to monitor their IDD status to ensure optimal brain development of the foetu.

Daily Iodine Diet Intake as recommended by WHO:

  • 200-220 mcg for pregnant women
  • 250-290 mcg for lactating women
  • 150 mcg for adults and adolescents
  • 90-120 mcg for children aged 1-11 years
  • 50-90 mcg for infants younger than 1 year

Iodine deficiency diagnosis:

A 24-hour urine collection test or random iodine- to creatinine urine test is one of the best methods to detect iodine deficiency. A thyroid function test is also done to check the TSH levels.

  • A hormone test (T3, T4 & TSH)
  • An antibody test
  • Ultrasonography and thyroid scan


Even though Iodine Deficiency Disorders cannot be cured, they can be easily prevented. This is done through the consumption of foods rich in iodine such as:

  • Iodized salt
  • Seafood and seaweed
  • Eggs, meat and dairy products
  • Cereals and green leafy vegetables (depending on the amount of iodine present in the soil they were grown in)
  • Iodine supplements (usually recommended for pregnant women)

Certain vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower and radish contain glucosinolates (thiogluosides) which are potential goitrogens. Eating too much of these foods inhibits the availability of iodine to the body from the food and thus leads to the development of goitre.





*Disclaimer: This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.