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Fighting an ancient curse – The Monster of Iodine Deficiency Disorders by KHALID IQBAL

I am not a scholar, an intellectual, a philosopher or a think tank. I am a student. Therefore, I always try to learn. I pose questions when I do not understand something and discuss them when the issues are beyond my comprehension. Once I comprehend the issues, I follow the truth and spread the words. Thus, the cycle of this so-called wisdom continues.

Today, I am restless to share with you some facts on a critical issue I have known over an extended period. This is a centuries old story, the story of a menace, the story of devastating health condition, the story of people living on iodine deficient diets … the story of iodine deficiency disorders.

When I go out for a walk in the evening, I see many children running around or sitting in the corner of the streets enjoying gossips, or playing games and having fun. But I have never thought about how smart they are, how well they perform in their schools or how well they adapt to the set of challenging environment. Why should I? It has never bothered my imaginations for at least I am no more a kid. Candidly, I am no more a kid but admittingly I love children as I do have lovely children. Not only this I have nephews and nieces that I love a lot. Like all children, they are so cute and innocent. After this realization, I have started thinking about children … in my imaginations … I see a young child playing around, with apparently healthy body and a healthy mind. There are other kids beside him; his brothers, sister, cousins and friends. All of them play to their strength and when get tired go back to have a big meal and enjoy jokes with each other and their parents. When it is evening, the school going study, complete their homework, and afterwards they retire to their beds and enjoy a sound sleep. It is such a beautiful dream having lovely smart and intelligent kids … this must be a parenting love.

Often thinking about kids, being a nutritionist, one thing incessantly haunts me i.e. the health of my kids. I would like my children to be healthy, smart, and intelligent. So do I think about other children in my family. But to let grow these children smart and intelligent I must ward off a number of big enemies between them and their good health and mind. Today, I will talk about the biggest monster among these – the monster among monsters.
So what is that? This is an enemy that has deprived 22.9% children in Pakistan from gaining their potential physical and mental milestones besides jeopardizing health of 36.5% women in our country alone. Moreover, catastrophe of this menace is believed to mentally impair approximately 2.1 million children in this country. We all must know about it. It has usurped the health and minds of our forefathers and now it’s after us. It’s kept away our forefathers from attaining their intellectual heights thus pushing us into corners of poverty and under-development and now it’s after our young and next generations. This is our common enemy, we all must know, this is … iodine deficiency disorders (IDDs).

I have learnt over the years that Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDDs) are a set of conditions that results from deficiency of iodine in the body. This iodine deficiency results from intake of foods lacking sufficient iodine needed for normal physiological functions of body. Iodine deficiency causes devastating health problems during various stages of life cycle. Severe iodine deficiency in results in still births (birth of dead child), physical deformity, early deaths and cretinism (a condition of severely stunted physical and mental growth). Iodine deficiency in early childhood results in poor development of brain and consequently poor intellectual capacity, retarded physical development, and goiter (enlargement of thyroid glands in neck). In later stages of life, it may result in goiter and other physiological disruption in body. The most important about iodine deficiency is the fact that “it is the most common cause of mental retardation that can be prevented by ensuring regular intake of iodine”. On the average iodine deficiency results in loss of 13 IQ points.

Now the question arises, if iodine is such an important component of our bodies, how can we get it? Answer is simple but tricky. Simple because, iodine can be found in sea weeds, fish, milk, and vegetables, fruits and cereals grown on iodine rich soil. It is not strange to mention that we all eat at least some of these food groups in our daily lives. If this is true, then why should talk about iodine at all? Here lies the tricky part. Our soil lacks sufficient iodine that vegetables, fruits and other plants can take up and animals and humans can in turn ingest to fulfill their daily requirement of this important micronutrient. This lack of iodine in soil results in lack of iodine in our daily food putting us at risk of devastating effects of iodine deficiency disorders.

Having said that it appears that we are in a difficult situation; what to do now? No worries! Thanks to the mind-blowing work of many scientists we now know that there is an uncomplicated way to get iodine even if it is not available in our foods i.e. through regular consumption of Iodized salt. Consumption of iodized salt is a cheap and an effective way of regular intake of iodine. Iodine is added to salt to increase dietary intake of iodine because salt is consumed by a majority of population (including all age groups); it is cheap and is readily available. Most interestingly, we do not need to worry about the quantities of salt to be consumed for adequate intake of iodine. If we consume even small quantities of iodized salt as we do in our daily lives, it will fulfill our daily requirements of this important micronutrient.

It is very gratifying to think about this scientific progress as we can now can conveniently ward off the big monster of iodine deficiency from all kids by ensuring regular consumption of iodized salt at our homes. I know some years back there had been rumors that iodized salt contain some contraceptive (family planning) compound but this is wrong. Truth is, Iodized salt contain only iodine added to fulfill the physiological needs of bodies; interestingly both of humans and animals.

I can now lie back and foresee these kids grow-up into healthy, smart and intelligent sons, daughters, nephews and citizens of this great country. In the words of Martin Luther King “I have a dream” and now I have a way to realize it.
We all have dreams as we all have sons, daughters, nephews, nieces and so on. To realize these dreams, make sure that you purchase only and only iodized salt when you go out for kitchen shopping. Remember this is the only way to make your children smarter and intelligent!

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