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New research carried out by University of Reading scientists has resulted in some alarming findings regarding a reliance on organic and long-life milk, linked to the importance of iodine for healthy brain development.
Having studied milk certified as ‘organic’ as well as UHT milk (long-life milk treated at ultra-high temperatures), the Reading Food Production and Quality Division team found the quantity of iodine in these products to be one-third lower than conventionally produced fresh milk.
As the majority of our iodine comes from milk products, the scientists warn of major public health implications, particularly in relation to the brain development of babies within the early stages of pregnancy.
Professor Ian Givens, who led the research, said: “People are increasingly buying organic and UHT milk for perceived health benefits or convenience. But our research shows that this trend could have serious implications for public health.
“Iodine deficiency ought to be a health problem from the past. But unless this situation is carefully monitored, we risk sleepwalking into a new health crisis in the 21st century.
“Organic and UHT milk is not bad for you, and drinking all types of milk has numerous health benefits. But to get the same amount of iodine as in a pint of conventional pasteurised milk, you would need to drink around an extra half-pint of organic or UHT milk.”
Looking to support their findings with lessons from history, the team point to the fact that iodine deficiency was once endemic in parts of the UK, affecting hundreds of thousands of people in the 1930s and 1940s.
Additional health problems that the general public faced as a result included goitre, an enlargement of the thyroid and swollen glands. Scientists believe this problem was solved by an ‘accidental public health triumph’ when more conventionally-produced milk increased in production after the Second World War.
The University of Reading research, published in the Journal ‘Food Chemistry’ suggests that a greater reliance on UHT or organic milk products might see the risk of iodine deficiency re-emerge.
Department of Health figures that show 70 per cent of teenage girls are now iodine deficient, supports the argument that action needs to be taken.