Researchers are recommending iodine supplements for pregnant women in a bid to save the NHS money and improve the health and cognitive function of babies born in the UK.
The study findings, which have been published in The Lancet, suggest that taking iodine supplements on a daily basis could boost IQ scores and improve overall health, consequently saving the NHS money. Researchers believe that iodine is essential for the healthy development of brain cells and there is some evidence to suggest that a large proportion of the population may be deficient in the mineral.
The main source of iodine in the UK diet is milk. However, other good sources include fish, other dairy products and cereal.
Dr Louis Levy, head of nutrition science, diet and obesity at Public Health England, said that it is well-documented that severe iodine deficiency can contribute to brain development problems in unborn children. However, in the UK, advice from the government suggests that the vast majority of people should be able to get the recommended daily intake through a healthy and balanced diet.
Professor Kate Jolley from the University of Birmingham is the lead author of the latest study, which was initiated based on findings from a previous project published in 2013. That study showed that up to two thirds of the population may be mildly or moderately deficient in iodine. The findings also suggested that low levels of iodine may be a factor in determining IQ score and reading ages.
This new study analysed the impact of taking iodine supplements before and during pregnancy and after birth, during breastfeeding. The study was based on the notion that 67 percent of women do not get enough iodine from their diet and the findings suggested that taking the supplements could increase IQ by an average of 1.22 points.
Using data from other studies that link IQ to general health, researchers also estimated that taking supplements could save the NHS up to £199 per pregnant woman.