September 25

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At an even more basic level – Iodine.

At a even more basic level…

I just received a fascinating email from a Save the Children officer in Bolivia and I thought I would pass along a finding she had – something so basic that we in the Western world take for granted – Iodized salt.  Caroline Hilari, MD, Save the Children Bolivia country manager wrote this and I want to thank her for letting me forward to everyone with her permission.  I too am a big believer in micronutrients.

Caroline Hilari, MD, Bolivia September 25 2013

  • It all started off with our SHN officer in Haiti, Gerda, asking about iodine testing kits. She couldn’t get them in Haiti from UNICEF. I tried in Bolivia at UNICEF and they didn’t have them either.
  • Next step: I asked our SHN officer in La Paz, Alfredo, and he remembered a qualitative test, putting iodized salt on a potato, adding some lemon, and it should turn purple in presence of iodine. And yes, I do remember iodine solution turning purple when I use it to disinfect fresh fruit with a lot of sugar in it, such as strawberries.
  • So, let’s try it out. I tried it with raw potato, boiled potato and starch. The best thing is starch, use ½ tablespoon starch and mix with 1 teaspoon salt.
  •  Add about 5 drops of lemon juice.
  • The salt had a label of being iodized.
  • And guess what: our salt was not iodized.
  • Big frustration. My husband running to the store at 8 pm on the corner of our street, saying: “hey, we need some really iodized salt, we are testing it.” The storekeeper relaxed: “oh yes, I think this other firm was fined for not really iodizing. Take this other one, it even smells of iodine.” (True, it had a smell resembling fresh concrete). So then with the new salt, we could finally see the purple color.
  • This has a history to it. In 1991 I had a first contact with Save the Children, visiting a community mobilization program in a very rural remote area of Bolivia. I was impressed by the program, but deeply shocked by the fact that in this area, about one third of the adults we saw, were cretins (mental retardation and deafness due to lack of iodine in their mothers during pregnancy). I thought it extremely challenging to foster development if a significant proportion of your participants are intellectually disabled. So this is how I came to believe that micronutrients can sometimes do wonders.
  • Lessons learnt:
  1. Over the last months my family and I have been consuming non iodized salt, which has a false label on it. We changed salt, and my husband says he will bring the false salt to the Ministry of Health for a claim. I am not very optimistic about this initiative.
  2. Yes, the experiment works and it can be done with school children in low resource settings. Make sure you have some iodized salt and some non-iodized salt.
  3. It works best with starch.
  4. The kitchen experiment only shows that there is iodine. It doesn’t tell you whether there is ENOUGH iodine in your salt. But better than eating your untested non-iodized salt.
  5. The chemistry (for higher grades)