Apr 192012

Shock heath claim: eat more salt!

19 April 2062

Food Web News

Stung by criticism from the UN that iodised salt was rarely used in the UK, the Minister for Health, Dame Kylie Smith, has replied that not only will all salt be of this kind in future but that an extra trace element, selenium, would be added as well.

“That way we will protect both the unborn child and boost the sperm that is needed to produce them” she announced when she opened the conference ‘Essential Elements: Our Children, Our Future’ organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC).

Although iodised salt has been available in the UK for more than 70 years it currently represents less than 2% of the salt sold in supermarkets and a recent survey commissioned by the RSC Food Chemistry Group found many of those questioned were unaware of the need for pregnant women to get more iodine to ensure proper brain development of their baby, or in the need for prospective fathers to take in more selenium because of its role in sperm production.

Leading supermarkets are now stocking the new SexI salt which contains both elements despite claims by some doctors that this will undermine a long-running campaign against salt.

Our Science Correspondent writes

Lack of selenium in the diet of European males was not a problem when most wheat came from the USA because its selenium content is high. European grain has much less of this vital element and this resulted in lower sperm counts for European males. (Selenium is particularly rich in the part of sperm which connects the head to the tail.) When men with low sperm counts were given selenium supplements they quickly doubled their output of viable sperm. Men need 75 micrograms per day of selenium whereas women need only 60.

When it comes to iodine the requirements are reversed: a woman need more than a man, and especially when she is pregnant or breast feeding. A lack of iodine can lead to brain impairment in her baby and even cretinism which manifests as an IQ of less than 85. The lack of iodine in the diet mainly affected women in developing economies but this was targeted by the United Nations in 2000 when it persuaded all countries of the world to add traces of either potassium iodide or potassium iodate to salt which they did in the early years of this century, and with noticeable benefit to children in those countries like India.

Iodine is an essential part of human metabolism as the hormone thyroxin which governs several processes such as brain development in babies, growth in young children, and body temperature in adults. The amount that the average person needs each day is only 70 micrograms but a pregnant or nursing mother need twice this level.