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Lifebrain Monthly E-newsletter February 2019 

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Iodine - a crucial nutrient in brain development


Iodine and the brain? 

Most of the essential nutrients seem to be important for the brain as well as the rest of the body. Still, iodine is one of the dietary components with very marked effects on brain development. Iodine deficiency is a major cause of preventable intellectual disability among infants, and population studies suggest that approximately 1.6 billion people are at risk of iodine deficiency.

How can a few hundred micrograms of a small molecule like iodine be of such importance for the brain? 

Iodine is an essential dietary element required for synthesis of the thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones regulate the metabolic pattern of most cells and play a vital role in the process of early growth and development of most organs (liver, heart, kidney), and especially the brain during fetal development and infanthood. When iodine requirements are not met, the thyroid may no longer be able to synthesize sufficient amounts of thyroid hormones. The resulting low level of thyroid hormones in the blood is the principal factor responsible for preventable intellectual disabilities.

How can we check our iodine level?

The old-fashioned way to evaluate iodine status was to search for goiter (enlarged thyroid gland on the throat), in particular among young women. Nowadays, it is possible to get more precise information about iodine status from measuring iodine concentration in urine, and the blood concentration of thyroglobulin, which is essential for synthesis of the thyroid hormones. At present, these parameters are the best biomarkers of iodine status in humans.

Who are at risk of iodine deficiency?

  • People living inland with foods from animals without feed fortification (mostly Eastern Europe and less developed countries);
  • People who eat little or no dairy products;
  • People who eat little or no white fish;
  • People on diets with goitrogens (substances that inhibit uptake of iodine in the thyroid gland) like soy, cassava, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables;
  • People consuming uniodized salt;
  • Pregnant and lactating women, and infants (high demand for iodine due to rapid building of tissues).

What can we do to improve iodine status?

Source: Colourbox


Have a diet containing iodine. In most modern European countries animal feed is added iodine; milk products contain significant amounts of iodine. Seaweed, sea fish, iodized salt, fruit and grain contain marked amounts of iodine, but has to be included in the daily diet to be of importance (see table below).
Some food supplements contain iodine and may be used, but a daily dosage above 200 microgram should never be used. Many types of seaweed contain large concentrations of iodine and should be used with utmost care or not at all because high iodine intake (above 1000 microgram) can lead to intoxication and disturbance of the thyroid gland function. Consumption of 200 g of sushi maki twice a week should be within the recommended intake.
Source: Selected food sources of iodine (website of the National Institutes of Public Health) 

Better brain health with iodine for the future

During the last decades iodine deficiency has decreased in many countries, but it is still an important unanswered question: how many may be able to improve their brain health and intellectual capacity by improving their iodine status? By improving measurements of biomarkers of iodine status and brain health, it is likely that many children and pregnant women can have better brain health, and ultimately a higher quality of life.

Source of newsletter

This newsletter was edited by Christian A. Drevon, Lifebrain researcher. Professor emeritus of Medicine (nutrition) at the University of Oslo, and consultant in the analytical contract laboratory Vitas Ltd. in Oslo Science Park. Has studied effects of nutrients and physical activity on health, with special focus on molecular nutrition and biomarkers. 

The referred studies

Skah et al.: The thyroid hormone nuclear receptors and the Wnt/β-catenin pathway: An intriguing liaison. Development Biology 2017, 422, 71-82.

National Institutes of Health-Dietary Supplement Office, Iodine Fact Sheets
downloaded: January 22, 2019


Your comments are always valuable to us, so do not hesitate to contact us.

Center for Lifespan Changes in Brain and Cognition at the University of Oslo
Kristine B. Walhovd project coordinator
Barbara B. Friedman administrative coordinator
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This project has received funding from the European Union ’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 732592.
Copyright © 2019 Lifebrain Horizon2020 project, All rights reserved.

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