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DHS news release

October 27, 2006


General contact: Bonnie Widerburg, 971-673-1282
Technical contact: Mel Kohn, M.D., 971-673-0982


Oregon updates dietary advice for women and children following new CDC findings for perchlorate levels

The Oregon Department of Human Services Public Health Division is advising women to ensure that they and their children are taking in adequate amounts of iodine in their diets as a result of a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control on the impacts of perchlorate on thyroid function.

Perchlorate is a chemical contaminant commonly found at low levels in the environment including in water, milk and some foods. The CDC study found that chronic exposure to low levels of perchlorate is associated with a measurable decrease in thyroid function for women with low iodine levels. Depressed thyroid function can result in hypothyroidism, which causes fatigue, weakness and memory problems, and in severe cases can lead to developmental problems and mental retardation in infants.

A diet adequate in iodine appears to offset the effects of perchlorate on vulnerable individuals, noted Mel Kohn, M.D., state epidemiologist.

"It should be easy for women to ensure they have adequate iodine in their diet," said Kohn. "Use iodized salt and eat a variety of foods. Just 1/2 teaspoon a day of iodized salt used in cooking or from the salt shaker should provide the necessary amount. While too much salt in the diet can also be of concern, this amount of salt intake is within the recommended levels for most people. Seafood can also be an excellent source of iodine."

Hypothyroidism can have particularly bad consequences in developing fetuses and young infants. Although Kohn noted that the CDC study did not look at young children, because of the potential for serious problems from hypothyroidism in children he especially encourages pregnant women and parents of small children to err on the side of prevention and ensure they are getting enough iodine in their diets.

"The new CDC study shows that exposure to a lower level of perchlorate than previously realized can affect thyroid function," said Kohn, "but the right diet should provide the necessary protection."

Although the full extent of perchlorate contamination of food and water sources in the United States is not known, it has been found in tests from multiple places in the United States, including in Oregon.

The CDC study is available on the Web at www.ehponline.org/members/2006/9466/9466.pdf (PDF).