Iodine Deficiency in the UK

According to new research conducted by the British Thyroid Association, the UK population is now at risk of becoming iodine deficient.

The study measured the urinary iodine levels in samples from 737 girls aged between 14-15 years old from nine different UK centres. Factors that may affect the results such as diet and ethnicity were assessed and taken into account using a questionnaire.  The median urinary level which represents 69% of the girls was 80 μg/L and according to the World Health Organisation this is regarded as deficient.  18% of the samples also showed very low iodine levels below 50μg/L.  

Iodine is normally taken in through the diet and is an essential trace element that helps the thyroid gland to function properly. Deficiency is the most common cause of preventable mental impairment worldwide. There is a global programme of salt iodisation that was created in 1993, however the UK has yet to join this programme and does not require salt producers to iodise their salt.

Those at the greatest risk of iodine deficiency are young women of child bearing age, and even a mild deficiency can harm a baby’s developing brain. However Dr Paul Jenkins, Consultant Endocrinologist at the London Thyroid Clinic, 108 Harley Street comments:

"This is indeed a topical issue which requires further careful study and evaluation. However, iodine deficiency per se does not necessarily lead to mental impairment or adverse effects on the developing foetus; it is only if these low levels lead to impaired production of thyroid hormones.”

Testing is required on a broader scale to gain a greater understanding of the problem, because the initial study was confined to a single group of only girls. However, as the results suggest that the UK is now iodine deficient a full investigation is required into the iodine status. The World Health Organisation and the global iodine programme may be the most viable solution. 

Dr Paul Jenkins concludes that “It would seem sensible for the UK to require the addition of iodine to salt, as is the case in the majority of other countries."

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