Maternal Iodine Drugs Linked to Newborn Thyroid Disorder

August 3, 2012 — The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that pregnant women consume an iodine supplement to prevent thyroid birth defects. Unfortunately, case reports in the Journal of Pediatrics have found that taking excessive amounts of iodine could actually increase the risk of congenital hypothyroidism, a condition when the thyroid does not produce enough hormones. Untreated, it could cause permanent neurological impairment.


The doctors and researchers who collaborated on the project described three cases of newborns with congenital hypothyroidism. The mothers consumed supplements that bumped up their iodine to 12.5-mg per day, more than 11-times higher than the recommended daily allowance. The increased iodine also passed in breast milk to newborns who were breastfeeding. When doctors performed blood tests, the infants had 10-times more iodine in their system than is considered healthy.

For healthy adults who are exposed to high amounts of iodine, the system usually recovers within a few days after the supplement is discontinued. For an infant, however, especially one exposed to excessive iodine in the womb, the detrimental effects on the thyroid could be permanent. The thyroid gland compensates for the excess iodine by producing less hormones. Infants who are born with congenital hypothyroidism have a thyroid gland that does not produce enough hormones.

Iodine is typically consumed in prenatal vitamins, dietary supplements, and foods like seaweed or kelp.

The authors of the study warned, ““The use of iodine-containing supplements in pregnancy and while breastfeeding is recommended in the United States. However, these cases demonstrate the potential hazard of exceeding the safe upper limit for daily ingestion.”

The labels on dietary supplements often fail to include warnings about potential risks when they are taken during pregnancy or while breastfeeding. Many women also fail to inform their doctor about all supplements they are taking. Dietary supplements are often falsely assumed to be ‘all natural’ and therefore safe, when in reality, many supplements are neither natural nor safe. This study shows that dietary supplements can have adverse effects on unborn babies in addition to the people who consume the supplement.

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