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Iodized Salt and the Looming Iodine Deficiency Crisis

(ARA) – Lara Martin grew up with iodized salt on her family’s dinner table and now she makes certain her two children, ages 15 and 9, get enough in their diets.

“We were always taught that iodized salt is good for you,” says Martin. “If you don’t get your iodine from salt, where will you get it?”

Morton Salt began adding iodine to table salt in 1924, and other U.S. salt companies quickly followed suit. Consequently, iodine deficiency – the leading worldwide cause of childhood brain damage – became rare in the U.S. and many other Western countries.

But an alarming new medical study shows 70 percent of teenage girls in Great Britain are iodine deficient, and as many as 100,000 British babies are born every year with brain damage that could have been prevented if their mothers used iodized salt.

In light of this and other studies, the Salt Institute has expressed concern that sodium-restricted diets may reduce consumption of iodized table salt, increasing the risk of an entirely preventable major health problem — iodine deficiency. The benefits of iodized salt are sometimes missed because it is one of the most overlooked brain foods ever developed.

“It may be a stretch to say iodized table salt put man on the moon, but it has helped provide the intellectual development needed for so many of our technological breakthroughs,” says Mort Satin, vice president of science and research at the Salt Institute, an authoritative source on salt. “Fortifying table salt with iodine was one of the greatest public health triumphs of the 20th century.”

The British study, published June 2 in the journal Lancet, has prompted some health experts to call for mandatory iodization of salt in Great Britain. At the same time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other federal agencies continue to push for dramatic reductions of salt consumption.

Satin — who was responsible for the first commercial supplementation of bread with folic acid, reducing the risk of neural tube defects in babies — explains that iodine is especially critical in the development of the fetal brain.

“Thousands of babies are born with brain damage that could have been avoided with just a few pinches of iodized salt,” said Satin. “In light of this tragedy, it’s nothing short of reckless for governments to be removing salt shakers from school lunchrooms. But that’s exactly what we’re seeing.”

The Salt Institute says about 70 percent of all table salt in the United States is now fortified with iodine, but salt used in processed food is rarely iodized and many sea salts also lack iodine. Thanks to iodized table salt, goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland caused by iodine deficiency, has dramatically decreased in the U.S. since 1924, as has childhood brain damage.

Still, the World Health Organization says iodine deficiency remains the world’s most significant and preventable cause of mental disability, despite the availability of a “spectacularly simple, universally effective, wildly attractive and incredibly cheap technical weapon … iodized salt,”

Health experts estimate that even a moderate deficiency of iodine can lower intelligence by 10 to 15 IQ points. Fortunately, a powerful protector of brainpower is within easy reach.

That’s why Martin tells her friends: “Make sure your children use iodized salt. It doesn’t take a lot to help their brains.”