Iodine supplementation and the prevention of cretinism

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1993 Mar 15:678:158-68. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1993.tb26119.x.


Normal development of the CNS requires adequate thyroid hormone exposure. Since iodine is an essential component of the thyroid hormone molecule, its deficiency during fetal development can cause hypothyroidism and irreversible mental retardation. The full-blown syndrome, called cretinism, includes deaf-mutism, short stature, spasticity, and profound mental retardation. The clinical spectrum can vary in degree and combination of these features. Screening programs in iodine-deficient countries show that up to 10% of neonates have elevated serum TSH levels, putting them at theoretical risk for permanent brain damage. About one billion people worldwide risk the consequences of iodine deficiency, all of which can be prevented by adequate maternal and infant iodine nutrition. Iodized salt is usually the preferred prophylactic vehicle, but iodized vegetable oil, iodized water, and iodine tablets are also occasionally used. The United Nations and the heads of state of most countries have pledged the virtual elimination of iodine deficiency by the year 2000. This goal is technically feasible if pursued with sufficient vigor and resources.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Central Nervous System / embryology
  • Congenital Hypothyroidism / etiology
  • Congenital Hypothyroidism / prevention & control*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iodine / administration & dosage
  • Iodine / deficiency
  • Iodine / therapeutic use*
  • Nutrition Assessment
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Complications


  • Iodine