A vital ingredient for baby’s health

Are you getting enough iodine in your diet? A new policy statement by a national physicians’ group says there’s a good chance you aren’t — and that’s worrisome if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. It could be risky for your child.

Iodine is an essential element for a baby’s brain to develop normally. And if mom gets too little, it can weaken both her and her child’s defenses against certain environmental pollutants — including some found in some foods and public water supplies.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said this week that many pregnant and breastfeeding women should be taking iodine supplements — mainly because of a shift in how people consume salt. While table salt in the United States is fortified with iodine, the salt found in processed foods often is not.

“The current intake of iodine in the general population continues to decrease as most of the salt in the U.S. diet comes from processed foods, and that salt is not iodized,” said Dr. Cynthia Blanco, a neonatologist at University Hospital and associate professor of pediatrics at UT Health Science Center San Antonio. “Iodine is needed to process thyroid hormone, and this hormone is critical for brain development.”

The academy statement recommends that pregnant and lactating women take supplements with adequate levels of iodine. Only about 15 percent of those women currently do. Supplements should also be considered for certain other women of childbearing age, the group added.

“Since consumption of processed foods has increased in the U.S., now about a third of pregnant women are iodine deficient,” said Blanco, who studies the nutritional needs of premature infants. “Therefore, pregnant and lactating women should take supplements if they consume a lot of processed foods, or increase iodized salt intake by adding it to freshly cooked food.”

The statement also recommends that young infants not be exposed to tobacco smoke or drinking water with excess nitrate levels, which can cause harm when iodine intake is low.