The role of iodine in human growth and development

Semin Cell Dev Biol. 2011 Aug;22(6):645-52. doi: 10.1016/j.semcdb.2011.07.009. Epub 2011 Jul 23.


Iodine is an essential component of the hormones produced by the thyroid gland. Thyroid hormones, and therefore iodine, are essential for mammalian life. Iodine deficiency is a major public health problem; globally, it is estimated that two billion individuals have an insufficient iodine intake. Although goiter is the most visible sequelae of iodine deficiency, the major impact of hypothyroidism due to iodine deficiency is impaired neurodevelopment, particularly early in life. In the fetal brain, inadequate thyroid hormone impairs myelination, cell migration, differentiation and maturation. Moderate-to-severe iodine deficiency during pregnancy increases rates of spontaneous abortion, reduces birth weight, and increases infant mortality. Offspring of deficient mothers are at high risk for cognitive disability, with cretinism being the most severe manifestation. It remains unclear if development of the offspring is affected by mild maternal iodine deficiency. Moderate-to-severe iodine deficiency during childhood reduces somatic growth. Correction of mild-to-moderate iodine deficiency in primary school aged children improves cognitive and motor function. Iodine prophylaxis of deficient populations with periodic monitoring is an extremely cost effective approach to reduce the substantial adverse effects of iodine deficiency throughout the life cycle.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion, Spontaneous / metabolism
  • Abortion, Spontaneous / physiopathology
  • Adult
  • Birth Weight
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cell Movement
  • Child
  • Cognition Disorders / drug therapy
  • Cognition Disorders / metabolism
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Congenital Hypothyroidism / drug therapy
  • Congenital Hypothyroidism / metabolism
  • Congenital Hypothyroidism / physiopathology
  • Developmental Biology*
  • Embryo, Mammalian
  • Female
  • Fetal Development / physiology*
  • Fetus
  • Goiter / drug therapy
  • Goiter / metabolism
  • Goiter / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Infant Mortality
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / drug therapy
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / metabolism*
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / physiopathology
  • Iodine / deficiency*
  • Iodine / metabolism
  • Iodine / therapeutic use
  • Pregnancy
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary / metabolism
  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary / therapeutic use
  • Thyroid Gland / embryology
  • Thyroid Gland / metabolism*
  • Thyroid Gland / physiopathology
  • Thyroid Hormones / deficiency*


  • Sodium Chloride, Dietary
  • Thyroid Hormones
  • iodized salt
  • Iodine