People who avoid dairy, seafood, processed food, and iodized salt can become deficient. Iodine deficiency can cause low thyroid function, goiter, and cretinism. Although iodine deficiencies are now uncommon in Western societies, the U.S. population has shown a trend of significantly decreasing iodine intake from 1988–1994.16 If this trend continues, iodine deficiency diseases may become more common.
Severe iodine deficiency during critical periods of brain development can lead to physical abnormalities and profound mental impairment. Little is known about the effects of mild iodine deficiency on neurological development and cognitive function. Iodine deficiency has become more common in New Zealand because if the lower concentration of iodine in milk resulting from the discontinuation of the use of iodine-containing sanitizers in the dairy industry and because of the declining use of iodized salt along with increasing consumption of processed foods made with non-iodized salt. 184 children (aged 10 to 13 years) in Dunedin, New Zealand, were randomly assigned to receive, in double-blind fashion, 150 mcg/day of iodine or placebo for 28 weeks. At baseline, children were mildly iodine-deficient (median urinary iodine concentration, 63 mcg/L; thyroglobulin concentration, 16.4 mcg/L). After 28 weeks, iodine status improved in the supplemented group (urinary iodine concentration, 145 mcg/L; thyroglobulin, 8.5 mcg/L), whereas the placebo group remained iodine-deficient. Iodine supplementation significantly improved scores on 2 of 4 tests of cognitive function assessed. The overall cognitive score was significantly greater in the iodine group than in the placebo group (p = 0.011). Iodine supplementation had no significant effect on the serum total T4 level. It is concluded that iodine supplementation improved cognitive function in mildly iodine-deficient children, and that mild iodine deficiency could prevent children from attaining their full intellectual potential.