Research reveals iodine deficiency in Australians

A study of 16 communities in New South Wales, Australia by Charles Sturt University (CSU) researchers has revealed more than half of those tested in the Riverina in south west NSW suffer a mild iodine deficiency.

“While about a-third of all of those involved in the project had sufficient levels, almost 53 per cent showed a mild deficiency, and just under one-fifth were diagnosed as moderately or severely deficient,” said CSU researcher Ms Helen Moriarty from the 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.

“These results raise questions about the adequacy of our iodine intake and the impacts this deficiency is having on public health,” said Ms Moriarty.

“It contributes to growing evidence that suggests the presence of mild iodine deficiency in Australia, and adds to the argument for ongoing monitoring of iodine levels and legislation to include iodine in common foodstuffs such as bread,” said CSU student Leanne Uren who undertook the research project for her pharmacy honours degree.

“Iodine levels varied across the region with Tumbarumba and Wagga Wagga recording mild deficiencies, but Griffith registered a moderate deficiency,” said Ms Moriarty.

“The study suggests that to maintain an adequate iodine intake, people need to regularly take a vitamin supplement that contains iodine, and ensure their milk intake meets the recommended Australian dietary guidelines,” said Ms Uren.

Dry skin and hair, depression, irritability and memory loss are just some symptoms of iodine deficiency, 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.

“A surprising finding was that iodine levels did not increase proportionately with a higher intake of fish, despite previous evidence that fish was a major source of iodine whilst another unexpected finding was that most people who used iodised salt were still deficient in iodine,” concluded Ms Moriarty.

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