Lodine in pregnancy: meet the need

Iodine is an essential micronutrient that is required for many important metabolic processes. During pregnancy, iodine is of particular importance for mother and child. Find out here how iodine affects the mental and physical development of your child and how you can meet your daily needs.

What does the body need iodine for?

Iodine is an essential trace element that the body cannot produce itself and must therefore be ingested daily through food. Iodine is mainly required for the functioning of the thyroid gland, which uses about 70 to 80 percent of the iodine ingested. The nutrient passes from the gastrointestinal tract via the blood to the thyroid gland, where it is stored and released into the blood when needed or used locally to form thyroid hormones.

The thyroid hormones are involved in many different metabolic processes and thus play an important role in the regulation of body temperature, digestion, the ability to concentrate, blood pressure, circulation and physical performance as well as the function of the immune system and fertility.

iodine in pregnancy

The daily requirement of iodine for adults is around 200 micrograms per day. Studies have shown that this value is only reached in about 42 percent of all women. This is particularly due to the fact that many women use the pill for contraception , which significantly impedes the absorption of iodine. Women in general, and also pregnant women, therefore often suffer from a latent iodine deficiency.

During pregnancy, the daily requirement for iodine increases by 15 percent to around 230 micrograms. There are several reasons for this:

  • The thyroid hormones, especially the maternal thyroid hormone thyroxine, play a major role in cell division. They are therefore jointly responsible for controlling growth, bone formation and brain development in the unborn child. For this reason, approximately 50 percent more thyroid hormones are produced during pregnancy, which is why the thyroid gland also needs more iodine.
  • In the 10th to 12th week of pregnancy , the child’s thyroid also begins to produce hormones. In addition to the mother’s additional needs, the child’s needs must now also be met through the daily intake of iodine. In the case of multiple pregnancies , the value increases further.
  • Due to the symptomatic vomiting in early pregnancy , a not insignificant amount of iodine is also excreted, which then has to be compensated for by increased intake.

Since the iodine reserves are heavily used during pregnancy, it is advisable to start replenishing the iodine stores before pregnancy.

What is an iodine deficiency during pregnancy?

Iodine deficiency during pregnancy can lead to physical and mental development disorders in the baby. Since the thyroid hormones have a strong influence on the maturation processes of the child’s brain, even a minor iodine deficiency during pregnancy can result in a large intelligence deficit in the child.

Long-term iodine deficiency can lead to the formation of a so-called goiter in the mother or child. This is an enlargement of the thyroid gland, through which the body tries to absorb as much iodine as possible from the blood and thus compensate for the existing deficiency. Goiter formation can be unproblematic, but it can also result in difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath or, in the long term, an overactive thyroid gland.

In extreme cases, an iodine deficiency during pregnancy can be partly responsible for premature births or miscarriages .

How can you meet the iodine requirement?

During pregnancy you need about 230 micrograms of iodine daily. However, since this trace element is present in very few foods in appreciable amounts, it is often not easy to meet the requirement through normal nutrition. Here are some foods that are relatively high in iodine:

  • Salt: In Germany and many other countries, the soil is very low in iodine. In addition, nutrients are continuously washed out of the rock layers by rainwater and rivers and transported to the sea. Salt water, and therefore also sea salt, naturally contains iodine. But even ordinary table salt is often iodized these days to ensure a minimum supply of the micronutrient through the daily diet.
  • Sea fish and Co.: Since seawater contains iodine, the animals and plants that live there also contain an extraordinary amount of iodine. Haddock, pollock and plaice, but also seafood such as shrimp and mussels and algae contain relatively large amounts of iodine. Two to three fish meals a week can therefore help to permanently balance the iodine balance.
  • Dairy products and eggs: The iodine content of animal products such as eggs and milk is highly dependent on the animals’ diet. Since plants do not need iodine for their growth, they only accumulate very little of the trace element in their cells. So if animals are only fed plants as feed, the products they produce ultimately contain very little iodine. For some time now, however, many farms have started to add iodine to animal feed in accordance with strict guidelines and limit values ​​in order to obtain end products that are comparatively iodine-rich.

About 37 percent of the iodine intake comes from the consumption of dairy products. However, this is not because they contain more iodine than fish, for example, but is solely due to the fact that milk and milk products are eaten and drunk more frequently.

  • Iodized foods: Many foods, especially meat and sausage products, but also bread and other baked goods, are prepared with iodized salt. Since 1989, when a corresponding regulation came into force, the general undersupply of the population with iodine has been counteracted. If a food was made with iodized salt, there is a corresponding note on the packaging. It is worth asking the baker or butcher specifically.

Are supplements necessary?

Whether the body is sufficiently supplied with iodine depends not only on what and how much of it you eat, but also on many other factors, such as metabolism or energy requirements. It is therefore not possible to give a general answer as to whether you and your baby can be optimally cared for by eating a diet rich in iodine alone. However, the fact that even before pregnancy only about 42 percent of women are supplied with sufficient iodine allows the conclusion that this does not exactly change for the better with the increased need during pregnancy.

However, since iodine is of such great importance, especially during pregnancy, pregnant women are often recommended to take a dietary supplement in tablet form in order to keep the iodine reserves stable and to ensure the optimal supply of mother and child.

Important: Be sure to discuss the intake with your gynecologist beforehand in order to rule out possible side effects or an overdose. Your doctor can determine if you even need supplements and determine the exact dose.

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