Lack of iodine prompts new Australian study

A fear that Australians could be suffering serious ill effects from lack of iodine in their diets has prompted a new study of New South Wales, Riverina residents by Charles Sturt University’s (CSU) School of Biomedical Sciences.

Iodine, a trace element that is necessary for the body’s thyroid, is essential for normal growth as well as physical and mental development in humans and animals.

Dry skin and hair, depression, irritability and memory loss are just some resulting symptoms, with the most dangerous consequences being effects on unborn children such as physical abnormalities, increased infant death, still births, miscarriages, stunted growth and Cretinism – a chronic disease characterised by physical deformity.

Studies in Australia’s eastern states and Tasmania have shown the population’s iodine levels have declined, said Helen Moriarty, a lecturer of haematology and cytogenetics within CSU’s School of Biomedical Sciences.

“Those living inland may be most susceptible to lack of iodine, as most is known to come from the sea,” she said.

Ms Moriarty said dairy products were also once considered a good iodine source for Australians because cleaning solutions used to contain the trace element which in turn reached the milk. However, most of these solutions have been changed and now do not contain much iodine. This is believed to have contributed to the lowering levels in humans.

“In children and adolescents, deficiencies can lead to impaired growth, mental retardation and impaired intellectual performance,” she said. 

In response to the decline, CSU Bachelor of Pharmacy (Honours) student Leanne Uren is calling for 300 volunteers from the Riverina to take part in a study to test iodine levels in the community.

“Participants will be asked to collect an early morning urine sample – as 90 per cent of iodine that is consumed exits the body through the kidneys – and to complete a questionnaire which aims to determine the dietary intake of iodine and to obtain some information about medical conditions related to iodine deficiency,” Leanne said.

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