As a nation, we’re facing an emerging public health issue that could negatively impact the cognitive health of our children. As an industry, we have a chance to make a real difference.
For decades now, we’ve heard warnings about the dangers of getting too much salt. But what’s been lost in translation is the value of iodized salt, which provides iodine, which is an important nutrient. As we’ve put our salt shakers back in the cupboard, we’ve seen a concerning rise of iodine deficiency from four to 15 percent among women of childbearing age over the past several decades.
Scientific evidence supports iodine’s role in healthy brain development in babies. Even mild to moderate iodine deficiency during pregnancy can result in irreversible brain damage and neurological abnormalities in newborns. In fact, one researcher, Kate Jolly, a professor at the University of Birmingham in the UK, recently published an article in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology journal with new data revealing the potential societal healthcare cost savings in the UK, an iodine-deficient country, from taking iodine supplements. She warned people about the dangers of iodine deficiency, claiming that “iodine deficiency in pregnancy remains the leading cause of preventable retardation worldwide.”
Preventable is a key word here. Just as our industry was able to be part of the solution in helping to reduce birth defects such as spina bifida by adding folic acid to multivitamins, we have an opportunity now—before our country reaches the kinds of iodine deficiency levels found in the UK—to help ensure that pregnant and lactating women get the amount of iodine they need to reduce the risk of serious cognitive problems in their babies-to-be. We need to take notice of this—and take action—before it’s too late.
Back in January, CRN issued voluntary guidelines for our members, calling on them to reformulate, if necessary, to ensure that all multivitamin/mineral supplements intended for pregnant and lactating women in the U.S. contain at least 150 mcg of iodine. These guidelines support recommendations from organizations such as the American Thyroid Association, the Endocrine Society, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. We believe our members are moving in the right direction, and hope that other manufacturers of these products will do the same.
Retailers can play a role, too, by helping to ensure, if they are selling multivitamins intended for pregnant or lactating women, that those products contain the appropriate amount of iodine.
This summer, we took another step forward in this educational fight. Along with my science colleagues at CRN, we published an article in the Natural Medicine Journal,  calling on health care practitioners—who play a vital role in this effort—to help educate women by urging them to support the public health efforts to ensure adequate iodine intake during pregnancy and lactation.
As a father, I know first-hand how fortunate I am to have two healthy children. As someone who works in the supplement industry, I know we can make a positive impact in making healthier babies.
Duffy MacKay, N.D., is Senior Vice President, Scientific & Regulatory Affairs, for the Council for Responsible Nutrition, the dietary supplement and functional food’s industry’s leading trade association.
Published on WholeFoodsMagazine.com 9/7/15
 MacKay D, Wong A, Nguyen H. Iodine supplementation during pregnancy and lactation. A collaborative public health initiative in the United States. Nat Med J. 2015; 7(7).