Iodine Deficiency Disorder (IDD)

How much iodine are you getting in your diet? Your children or grandchildren? Most of us just don’t know. With many people conscientiously avoiding salt, Australian adults and children are becoming more iodine deficient.

Iodine is found in some, but not all, soils and is needed for proper brain development. Without it, children suffer low IQ, stunted growth and adults get goitres.

While Australia has never suffered extreme cases, a national study has shown an alarming drop in iodine levels in children in the past five years. Globally, 2.2 billion people live in iodine-deficient areas and Australia is no longer an exception. Professor Creswell Eastman, from the Australian Centre for Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD) was involved in an Australian study testing the iodine levels of over 1700 school children in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania. The study showed a staggering 50% have been found to suffer from some degree of iodine deficiency. Children with IDD can suffer from stunted growth, apathy, mental retardation, impaired motor functions, speech impediments, and loss of hearing. There is also a possible link to ADHD.

Australians’ iodine intake is currently half what it was five years ago, but most are unaware that a problem exists.  Iodine deficiency is very simple to avoid. Just one teaspoon of iodine is all we need over a lifetime, but it needs to be consumed regularly. 

 Many countries address this problem by putting iodine in common salt, but in Australia, only 10 per cent of households use iodised salt.

Iodine deficiency is also being discovered in increasing numbers of pregnant women in Australia, which means that many babies are being born with low levels of iodine. 

Iodine deficiency is most critical during pregnancy, endangering the unborn baby. 

 Pregnant women with a thyroid problem are considered an emergency. Professor Eastman says that if we don't address the iodine problem in Australia then we are likely to see a lot of children born in coming years with lower IQs, hearing and learning difficulties.

The best source of iodine is from seaweed and seafood. There are also reasonable quantities of iodine in animal products, such as milk, yoghurt, eggs and meat, with smaller amounts present in plant foods. 

 Tasmania has always had low iodine levels. Five years ago health authorities asked bakers to use salt that had been mixed with iodine (iodised salt) in their bread, which has led to a significant improvement in Tasmanians iodine levels. Iodine in Australia’s food supply could be hugely improved by food manufacturers simply using iodised salt. This doesn’t mean adding more salt to food – just adding iodine to the salt already being used. 

 Sadly, there is resistance from the food manufacturers because of costs, inconvenience and problems with exports with no sign of the Federal or other state governments stepping in. Professor Eastman says that we can't accept that because here are too many Australian children being born in Australia that aren't protected. The more time that passes without positive action, the more babies will be at risk. Professor Eastman believes that without mandatory iodisation of salt he will be seeing more and more patients for a condition he shouldn't have to deal with. 

  “This is not rocket science. It is a very simple way of overcoming a problem and it can be done so easily.

Next time you’re at the supermarket, buy some iodised salt and don’t be afraid to have a little each day.

You and your family can have a simple, inexpensive test of your urine to check your iodine levels, from your family doctor.

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