Trendy diets and veganism could lead to birth defects
Trendy diets and veganism are putting pregnant women at risk of giving birth to children with neurological defects, experts warn.
A University of South Australia study found women in a trial had disturbingly low levels of iodine, essential for foetal intellectual development.
In the 1960s, a former chancellor at the university, Basil Hetzel, made the link between low iodine and birth defects, leading to an international push to put iodine in products such as salt.
Now, the small UniSA study - which compared iodine levels in 31 vegan participants with 26 omnivores - has flagged the potential health risk.
Urine samples showed iodine readings of 44 micrograms per litre (ug/L) in the plant-based group, compared to the meat eaters' 64. Neither group came close to the World Health Organisation's recommended 100ug/L.
Women from both groups who chose fashionable pink or Himalayan salt instead of iodised salt - about a quarter of all participants - had severely deficient iodine levels, averaging 23ug/L.
UniSA research dietitian Jane Whitbread said adequate iodine was essential for foetal intellectual development.
"Mild to moderate iodine deficiency has been shown to affect language development, memory and mental processing speeds," she said.
"During pregnancy, the need for iodine is increased and a 150-microgram supplement is recommended prior to conception and throughout pregnancy. Unfortunately, most women do not take iodine supplements before conceiving.
"It is important to consume adequate iodine, especially during the reproductive years."
Dietary sources of iodine include fortified bread, iodised salt, seafoods including seaweeds, eggs and dairy foods.
Concerns about the link between poor iodine intake and impaired neurological conditions in newborns prompted the mandatory fortification of non-organic bread with iodised salt in 2009 in Australia.
It has since been reported that women who eat three slices of fortified bread every day - or 100g - have a five times greater chance of meeting their iodine intake.
In the study, women consumed an average of one slice of bread.
The growing preference of Himalayan salt over iodised table salt may also be an issue, Ms Whitbread said.
The researchers recommended that new salts and plant milks be fortified with iodine as well as a campaign to raise awareness about the importance of iodine in the diet, especially for women in their reproductive years.
Originally published as Trendy diets, veganism could lead to birth defects