Dietary Iodine Exposure and Brain Structures and Cognition in Older People. Exploratory Analysis in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936

J Nutr Health Aging. 2017;21(9):971-979. doi: 10.1007/s12603-017-0954-8.


Background: Iodine deficiency is one of the three key micronutrient deficiencies highlighted as major public health issues by the World Health Organisation. Iodine deficiency is known to cause brain structural alterations likely to affect cognition. However, it is not known whether or how different (lifelong) levels of exposure to dietary iodine influences brain health and cognitive functions.

Methods: From 1091 participants initially enrolled in The Lothian Birth Cohort Study 1936, we obtained whole diet data from 882. Three years later, from 866 participants (mean age 72 yrs, SD±0.8), we obtained cognitive information and ventricular, hippocampal and normal and abnormal tissue volumes from brain structural magnetic resonance imaging scans (n=700). We studied the brain structure and cognitive abilities of iodine-rich food avoiders/low consumers versus those with a high intake in iodine-rich foods (namely dairy and fish).

Results: We identified individuals (n=189) with contrasting diets, i) belonging to the lowest quintiles for dairy and fish consumption, ii) milk avoiders, iii) belonging to the middle quintiles for dairy and fish consumption, and iv) belonging to the middle quintiles for dairy and fish consumption. Iodine intake was secured mostly though the diet (n=10 supplement users) and was sufficient for most (75.1%, median 193 µg/day). In individuals from these groups, brain lateral ventricular volume was positively associated with fat, energy and protein intake. The associations between iodine intake and brain ventricular volume and between consumption of fish products (including fish cakes and fish-containing pasties) and white matter hyperintensities (p=0.03) the latest being compounded by sodium, proteins and saturated fats, disappeared after type 1 error correction.

Conclusion: In this large Scottish older cohort, the proportion of individuals reporting extreme (low vs. high)/medium iodine consumption is small. In these individuals, low iodine-rich food intake was associated with increased brain volume shrinkage, raising an important hypothesis worth being explored for designing appropriate guidelines.

Keywords: Diet; MRI; ageing; brain; cognition; iodine; white matter hyperintensities.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diet / adverse effects*
  • Exploratory Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iodine / deficiency*
  • Iodine Isotopes
  • Male


  • Iodine Isotopes
  • Iodine