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Project: The role of nutrition in early life development

Adequate nutrition during pregnancy and early life is essential for normal growth and development. In addition, nutritional factors can interact with toxic elements and thereby influence their toxic effects. Therefore, we also study the impact of nutritional factors such as iron, iodine, zinc, and selenium. Selenium is as an essential component (mainly found in seafood, meat, eggs, and cereals) of antioxidant systems such as glutathione peroxidases and thioredoxin reductases, and is also incorporated into iodothyronine deiodinases, which are involved in the thyroid hormone metabolism. There is a large global variation in selenium intake, ranging from below the recommended intake (~50 µg/day) in large parts of Europe, Asia, and New Zealand, to recommended or higher than recommended intake in parts of South and North America. All enzyme systems in which selenium is incorporated are important for brain development and function, and we are currently assessing the impact of early life selenium status on cognitive function throughout childhood in our Bangladeshi mother-child cohort. We also try to understand the interactions between selenium and arsenic, as it has been suggested that selenium could protect against the toxic effects of arsenic either through antioxidative properties or through interactions in metabolism.

Iodine is also essential for the production of thyroid hormones, required for normal fetal development. Therefore, the requirement of iodine increases by about 50% already from early pregnancy. Severe iodine deficiency during pregnancy has been associated with adverse pregnancy outcomes as well as impaired neurodevelopment. Since 1990 a substantial progress has been made in eradicating iodine deficiency due to effective salt iodization programs. However, recent reports have indicated that Europe appears to be lagging behind, whereas there are reports from Asian countries about excess iodization of salt. The consequences of moderate to milder forms of iodine deficiency as well as excess iodine intake during pregnancy remain conflicting. In our mother-child cohort in Bangladesh, we have measured the mother’s urinary iodine concentrations on multiple occasions during pregnancy and in their children at 5 and 10 years of age, and the concentrations indicate both severe deficiency and excess intake. These measurements are related to pregnancy outcomes and several outcomes during childhood. Recently, iodine deficiency was also reported among pregnant women in central Sweden. We aim to elucidate this further in a mother-child cohort in northern Sweden and explore if the mother’s iodine status has any potential impact on their children’s health.

Contact persons

Maria Kippler and Helena Skröder Löveborn


  • Swedish Research Council
  • Swedish Research Council Formas
  • The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
  • Karolinska Institutet

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