A study published in The Lancet has announced that if all pregnant women took a daily does of iodine supplement it could boost IQ scores and improve the health of babies. This could achieve savings for the NHS and even increase the earning potential of the mother.
At present, it is estimated that 2/3 pregnant women in the UK have mild to moderate iodine deficiency. Severe iodine deficiency can cause impaired neurodevelopment in unborn children, which will lead to developmental, health and earning difficulties in later life. The main source of Iodine in the UK diet is from dairy products, fish, and some plants and cereals.
The study estimates that daily Iodine supplements during conception, pregnancy and breast feeding could increase the child’s IQ by up to 1.22 points. The study converted the health benefits associated with having a higher IQ into a fiscal saving to the NHS. It is estimated that the cost of treatment given to the mother could be cut by £199 per pregnant woman, where iodine is taken during pregnancy. It is also estimated that each mother would benefit from a gain of £4,476 in their lifetime, through receipt of higher earnings and lower education costs, achieved by having a higher IQ child.
The UK’s recommended daily intake for Iodine is 0.14 mg, far below the level recommended by the World Health Organisation; 0.25mg. Caution should be had however if taking Iodine supplements. A spokesperson for the British Dietician Associations has warned that kelp and seaweed supplements, which are high in Iodine, should not be used as an Iodine source, especially by pregnant women, as they can contain harmful amounts.
Whilst Public Health England has not disputed the benefits if iodine to both mother and baby, it raises questions as to whether or not supplements are necessary. It says “The longstanding government advice is that everyone including pregnant women should be able to get all the iodine they need from a varied and balance diet”.