Iodine in children and teenagers

For example there are a lot of things you have to keep in mind when it comes to the health of your child. At this point one important consideration must be the right nutrition and the sufficient supply with nutrients like iodine, which is a component of the hormones produced by the thyroid glands and essential for a proper growth and development of your child. Interestingly a lack of iodine might have also an impact of the emotional health of a child.

Iodine deficiency can have some negative effects throughout childhood and adolescence. Up to 15 percent of schoolchildren in iodine deficiency regions experience difficulties in studying.1 Furthermore the risk for the development of mental retardation in these regions is two times higher than in other regions. Also a moderate iodine deficiency reduces the mental potential of the population by an average of 10 to 15%. This shows clearly how important it is to maintain the health of young people because they represent the future reproductive, intellectual, economic, social, political and cultural potential of our society. The grave implications of iodine deficiency on the learning abilities of children and the quality of their life could become obvious in the erosion of quality of our future working people.

The already existing prophylaxis programs according to recent studies show only moderate efficiency in preventing iodine deficiency. Conclusion of scientists is that the optimization of these programs to combat the iodine deficiency should be the primary task – especially in iodine deficiency regions, but also in every other country. As a recent study has shown a preventive administration of iodide can increase the capacity of short-term memory. It also reduces the level of anxiety in schoolchildren in regions with weak and moderate iodine deficiency.

So supplementation with iodide can be a good method to fight iodine deficiency – as prophylaxis or also if it has already occurred.

 

1. Consequences of iodine deficiency

Iodine is essential for the proper function of the thyroid gland and the production of thyroid hormones. An deficiency can induce the development of a goitre, an enlargement of the thyroid gland, which can lead to mechanical complications and reduce the thyroid function (thyroid insufficiency). Subsequently symptoms like tiredness, depression, weight gain, muscle aches, weakness, thick puffy skin and enlarged thyroid gland or goitre can occur. And low thyroid hormones can be particularly serious: these hormones have a decisive influence on the age-appropriate physical development and maturation processes. If children have a severe iodine deficiency it can lead to slower growth and premature puberty.

Another consequence of long-standing iodine deficiency in children can be the development of a so-called hyperthyroidism in multinodular goitres, a non-tumour enlargement of the thyroid gland.  Symptoms of this hyperthyroidism can be for example a rapid heart rate, weight loss, sweating, difficulties in sleeping, nervousness, and anxiety.

2. Iodine in pre-school children (up to 5 years)

Thyroid hormones have distinct functions in the body during different growth phases. In the course of pregnancy and in the early years of childhood they regulate the growth and development of various organs, such as the brain or the central nervous system (CNS). Therefore they are very important for proper growth and physical and mental development in pre-school children.

You can get more information about iodine and its important functions in your body in the chapter “Iodine deficiency” There you will also get some facts about food containing iodine and how the amount of iodine in soil is linked to an iodine deficiency.

A severe iodine deficiency can lead to a derangement in the development of the brain and the CNS. This can lead to psychomotor defects like the inability to stand and walk and to congenital malformations. The most serious form of these irreversible derangements is cretinism, which can lead to mental deficiency, deaf-mutism, spastic diplegia (a form of cerebral palsy, a permanent movement disorder), squint, and a short stature. But also a mild or moderate lack of iodine during the first years of a child can affect its intellectual development.

The amount of iodine and adolescents need each day depends on their age. The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend a daily intake of 90 μg for children up to the age of 59 months:

3. Iodine in school children (6 to 12 years)

A lack of iodine can make the school life of children more difficult: Even a mild iodine deficiency can cause a significant loss of learning ability – about 13.5 intelligence quotient points. Scientists also suspect an association between iodine deficiency and slower information processing, bad fine motor skills, and visual problems in school children.

And there is one thing you should keep in mind: a lack of iodine is not only a problem in iodine deficiency countries. Despite its wealth and its high standards of healthcare Europe surprisingly has had the highest percentage of iodine deficient school-age children in comparison with other WHO regions during the past decade. Even though there are plans to monitor and eliminate iodine deficiency.

In 2015, only 66 % of school-age children in the WHO European region had an adequate iodine intake.This shows the difficulty of an adequate iodine intake and that a lack of iodine can affect everybody everywhere.

You can get more information about iodine and its important functions in your body in the chapter “Iodine deficiency”.

The amount of iodine children and adolescents need each day depends on their age. The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend a daily intake 120 μg for children from 6 to 12 years.

4. Iodine in teenagers (above 12 years)

There are two reasons why a sufficient intake of iodine is very important for teenagers.

  • First of all the adolescence is an age of rapid growth where the body needs a lot of nutrients for a proper development. Therefore an adequate nutrition including enough iodine intake is recommended by various clinical and nutrition societies.
  • Secondly, a severe iodine deficiency in adolescents can result in learning disability and a lowered achievement.

Iodine deficiency can lead to some symptoms that can affect the daily life of a teenager. Typical symptoms are for example tiredness, problems with concentration, apathy, reduced mental functioning and a lack of physical energy. All of these symptoms can have an negative impact of the quality of life and academic achievement.

You can get more information about iodine and its important functions in your body in the chapter “Iodine deficiency”.

The amount of iodine children and adolescents need each day depends on their age. The United Nations International Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the International Council for Control of Iodine Deficiency Disorders (ICCIDD) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend a daily intake 150 μg for teenagers above 12 years.

5. Prophylaxis of an iodine deficiency

The first possibility to make sure your children and teenagers are getting enough iodine is to take care of their weekly diet. There are certain foods like fish, seafood, and milk products that contain more iodine than others. For preparing a meal you should use iodized table salt also. But this task is easier said than done if your child is a fussy eater or doesn’t like to eat animal products. In that case you should consider giving iodine supplementation, e. g. in the form of tablets like Iodomarin®. This could be an effective and easy alternative to provide an adequate amount of iodine every day.

In order to prevent an iodine deficiency the recommended dose for prophylaxis according to the package leaflet of Iodomarin® is:

  • Infants: 50 to 100 μg Iodomarin® once daily
  • Children: 50 to 100 μg Iodomarin® once daily
  • Teenagers: 100 to 200 μg Iodomarin® once daily

A clinical study has shown that giving iodine supplements like Iodomarin® to children or teenagers with mild iodine deficiency can improve their reasoning abilities and overall cognitive function. In children living in iodine-deficient areas, iodine supplements seem to improve both physical and mental development.

But also if your child doesn’t suffer from iodine deficiency at the moment, prophylactic administration of iodine supplement could be useful as iodine contributes to the normal growth of children and to normal cognitive function.

6. When to see the doctor

If in doubt you should consult a doctor. You notice abnormalities in your child or teenager like a persistent tiredness, an unexplained gain of weight or symptoms of a depression you haven’t seen before? Do you have a hunch that the thyroid gland of your kid looks wider than normal? Or does your child often complain about muscle pain or cramps? Do teachers report to you that your kid has problems in concentrating at school? Then it’s time to see the doctor to check if your child maybe has an iodine deficiency or any other disorder.
 

The doctor will perform some diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your child’s symptoms and to confirm or discard the diagnosis of “iodine deficiency”. First of all there will be a physical examination. He will measure the height and weight of your child, examine the whole body and inspect the thyroid gland. Changes in size, consistency or surface of the thyroid can point to a thyroid insufficiency caused by iodine deficiency.

To get more information of the thyroid the doctor can do a ultrasound of the gland. Another important examination is a blood test where the doctor will check the concentration of two thyroid hormones: the thyroid-stimulation hormone (TSH) and free thyroxine (T4). These two hormones can show him if the thyroid glands works normally or has an insufficiency.

Don’t forget: The earlier a iodine deficiency is detected and treated the easier it is to avoid potential consequences.

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