Thyroid health is one of the most neglected medical issues in the Philippines today. And one leading cause of thyroid diseases is the lack of iodine in the body. In the Philippines, iodine deficiency is more widespread now more than ever.
Studies presented by Dr. Nemencio Nicodemus, a respected endocrinologist and immediate past president of the Philippine Thyroid Association, in an online forum last year, iodine deficiency is especially pervasive in urban poor and rural areas where poverty levels are high.
In May this year, in a webinar that is part of a series of events celebrating the International Thyroid Awareness Week (ITAW) led and organized by the Philippine Thyroid Association in partnership with various private and government agencies including the Department of Health, Dr. Nicodemus expounded on the topic by outlining several reasons for iodine insufficiency in most parts of the country.
Low dietary intake of food rich in iodine such as milk, eggs, and yoghurt. Another is the low consumption of seafood, which is considered the best natural source of high-quality iodine. Low iodine intakes are mostly attributed to low-income households or areas below the poverty line.
Iodine deficiency is usually the main cause of common thyroid disorders such as goiter, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Another widespread thyroid disease is thyroid cancer.
“In fact, Filipinos are afflicted with goiter more than diabetes. Nine out of 100 Filipinos have it,” according to Dr. Nicodemus, who also shared previously in another thyroid forum that the three other known thyroid disorders— hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism and thyroid cancer—affect a significant number of Filipinos.”
The thyroid gland is a small but powerful organ that plays a vital role in bodily processes such as metabolism, heart rate, digestion, among others. It basically produces two important hormones, T3 and T4 that regulate vital bodily functions in coordination with other organs.
In the same webinar, Glenda P. Azan, a registered nutritionist from the Department of Science & Technology’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute (DOST-FNRI), explained that although the Philippines is one of the 105 countries with relatively adequate iodine intake, there is still a lot of work to do especially in the lactating and pregnant women population.
She said that the FNRI’s Expanded National Nutrition Survey (ENNS), a comprehensive survey conducted every five years to assess the nutrition of Filipinos, is a good indicator of the iodine intake of the Filipino populace.
She said the most vulnerable for iodine-deficient disorders are pregnant women and lactating mothers. In their findings, iodine deficiency was common among lactating and pregnant women as they had insufficient iodine intake in the last 10 years.
“The health consequences for iodine deficiency for pregnant women are increased risk of still birth and miscarriage. While for children, their mental growth and development can be impaired,” she added.
“But this can be arrested by strengthening thyroid health education using simple and easy-to-understand messages such as the consumption of readily available iodized salt and iodine-rich foods such as seafood and dairy products,” she explained.
Another recommendation is to encourage the community to utilize available local health and nutrition services such as the provision of micronutrient supplementation (iodine capsules) and nutrition counselling.
As a parting message, Azan also emphasized the strict implementation of the ASIN Law, otherwise known as the Act for Salt Iodization Nationwide, from the national down to the local level.
Dr. Jeremy Robles is heading the initiatives of the Philippine Thyroid Association (PTA) on thyroid diseases in the country. “We need to be cognizant of the fact that the prevalence of thyroid diseases in our country is about the same as diabetes. Interventions should be in place to prevent the complications of thyroid disorders.” according to Dr. Robles.
The ITAW celebration is one of many events highlighting care for thyroid patients aside from Goiter Awareness Week every January and Thyroid Cancer Awareness Week every September.
Merck, a leading science and technology company, has been doing its share of preventing and treating thyroid disorders worldwide by supporting fact-based, scientific education programs, and media forums like the ITAW, while constantly improving their medicines and drugs.
“We see to it that our research and development is well funded and capable of producing the best medicines and treatments for thyroid problems,” said Henry Wilson, President and Managing Director in Merck, Inc.
Merck has a disease awareness page in Facebook called “Unmasking Your Thyroid” to educate the public about proper thyroid health care. You can reach them through their website at www.merckgroup.com.