Giving all pregnant women iodine supplements could help cut healthcare costs, even in only mildly iodine deficient countries.

A recent study estimates giving all pregnant women in the United Kingdom iodine supplements could save £200 per expectant mother and provide £4500 in monetary societal benefits per child from increased lifetime earnings, the University of Birmingham reported.

"Iodine deficiency in pregnancy remains the leading cause of preventable retardation worldwide. Even mild iodine deficiency during pregnancy is associated with children with lower IQs," said Kate Jolly, a co-author and Professor of Public Health at the University of Birmingham in the UK. "It's time for all women living in iodine deficient countries without universal supplementation of iodine, who are pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning a pregnancy to be advised to take a daily supplement containing iodine."

Iodine is not made naturally in the body, but can be acquired from eating dairy products and seafood, or taking supplements. Severe iodine deficiencies during pregnancy have been linked to mental impairment and developmental delay in children, often resulting in a lower IQ and earning potential. The World Health Organization (WHO) and European Food Safety Authority have recommended that pregnant and breastfeeding women take a daily iodine supplement, but the warning is not always issued locally in mildly iodine regions such as the U.K.

To make their estimates, a team of researchers looked at data from a systematic review of published studies and modeled the direct health service savings and monetary benefits to society based on IQ associated with iodine levels. The researchers estimated the benefits of iodine supplementation are equal to 1.22 IQ points per child and monetary benefits of around £199 per expectant mother for the NHS, and £4476 per mother for society as a whole.

"As food fortification alone may not be enough to achieve iodine sufficiency for pregnant women, our results strengthen the case for universal iodine supplementation of all women before and during pregnancy and whilst breastfeeding in mild-to-moderate iodine deficient countries," the authors concluded.

The findings were published in a recent edition of The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology.