Monday, December 18, 2006

Good nutrition makes you smarter!

Full disclosure now: I work in the field of Public Health, with a current concentration on nutrition. I actually think it's fun to talk about breastfeeding and Vitamin A.

Over the weekend, The New York Times ran an article called "In Raising the World’s I.Q., the Secret’s in the Salt". The article is about about salt iodization, which sounds dull, but is really an interesting topic.

The story reminded me of my first overseas position in Eritrea, where I worked under the mentorship of a brilliant, sensitive, and philosophical woman who taught me much of what I know about malnutrition. We had a problem there with the drivers - they seemed incapable of remembering anything for more than about 30 minutes. When they inevitably forgot to pick us up at the arranged time, Angela would turn to me and say, "I really think it's the iodine deficiency."

Since then, iodine deficiency has been my standard (jokingly, of course) excuse for memory lapses in my friends and colleagues. Don't blame them - blame the salt.

More seriously, though, in Darfur I saw the effects of iodine deficiency in a very stark and horrifying way. Many of the mothers of malnourished children came to the clinic with huge goiters, indicating widespread iodine deficiency. Even worse, I came across a number of children with cretinism, which is a rare form of severe physical and mental retardation caused by iodine deficiency. These children could not feed themselves from the household pot, as is common in Sudan. Mothers are often out of the home tending their fields all day, so the children slowly starved to death, as they had no one to feed or care for them.

2 comments:

Dad said...

It must be heartbreaking to see such easily prevented misery. And I hope it gives you a lot of pride and satisfaction that you are out there trying to do something about it.
But I thought that we add iodine to salt, not that it is an intrinsic part of salt. Though I suppose we could be adding it back after refining it out?

Gwyneth said...

Yes, Iodine is added to salt to prevent deficiency. In many countries, salt is still available that is not iodized. It can be added to other things like rice, but salt seems to be the simplest vehicle...I don't actually know the background on it.