Vinod Anand | 02 Aug 2013

SALT IS VERY IMPORTANT FOR HUMAN BODY (Vinod Anand) Among micronutrients required by the body, Iodine and Iron are two problem-children. Both are needed in extremely low quantities (thereby being called micronutrients), but are needed daily. If not, like a naughty child, their deficiency causes havoc on the body and mind, resulting in retarded growth and for long term iodine deficiency - brain damage. A radical solution was required. Logically, the solution was to tag both into something one consumed daily. It had to be something one ate, but in minimal quantities. The perfect carrier was found in a human discovery that was over ten thousand years old - common salt. Salt - the only rock we eat but take for granted has a long and kaleidoscopic history. It is one of the finest and first examples of the civilized nature of humans. Its discovery, adding zing to otherwise bland food, changed the course of history. Through the ages it has shaped civilizations, served as currency, influenced trade routes, provoked wars and caused revolutions, and all by simply salivating the taste- buds to make food taste better. Yet, one thing is clear - salt has broken cultural, religious and gender barriers and found global acceptance. It was but divine coincidence that one of mans most pleasurable discoveries, would become the prime reason for the safeguard of his health. It was in the 1920s America, that it was observed that daily iodine supplement in ones diet greatly reduced the incident of goiter. Later, Dr. David M. Cowie, promoted the production of iodized salt, that is salt (sodium chloride) treated with sodium iodide, in the USA. A breakthrough had been achieved, but its irh5lementation was easier said than done. To this day, globally, iodine deficiency is one of the largest and most preventable causes of brain damage and mental retardation with an estimated 1571 million people at risk of IDDs (Iodine Deficiency Disorders), while 686 million affected by goiter and about 20 million mentally handicapped by it. In India studies revel that 30% people are at risk of IDDs, while 20% pregnant women suffering from maternal iodine deficiency, are at considerable risk of giving birth to children who will never reach their optimum physical or mental potential. With a simple micronutrient carrier in salt, it would seem easy to get iodine into it. Yet, it is beset with logistical nightmares. Salt comes from different places and is processed in numerable factories which have no particular incentive to iodize it. In a country like India with abject poverty the preference is obviously for the cheaper, non-iodized salt, especially because people are unaware of the severity of iodine deficiency. Governments cannot necessarily keep track of thousands of small factories processing salts to catch a defaulter. Yet, India has indeed taken steps to counter iodine deficiency. The salt iodination program to control goiter was introduced during 1958-62 and is currently called the National Goitre Control Program (NGCP). The National Nutrition Policy (1993) and the National Plan of Action on Nutrition (1995) have been formulated for the elimination of micronutrient deficiencies, including iodine. At the policy level, there is currently a ban on the making and sale of non- iodized salt for consumption. A 2005 survey showed that a ban in place fill 2001 had led to half of the nation using iodized salt. However, in just four years that figure had fallen to 37% leading, the government to reinstate the ban. Yet, despite problems, iodine at least found a carrier in salt. The question to ask is whether some carrier like salt can be found for iron? After all, as it, stands, worldwide anaemia caused by iron deficiency is the most widespread clinical nutrition deficiency disease affecting over two billion people. In India it affects an estimated 50% of the population with the percentage among pregnant women reported to be 87%. The simple prevention of some of the biggest physical and mental ailments of humanity by adding iodine to salt is a cinch. Is it that we are missing another such simple, but far reaching solution when it comes to iron deficiency? Could salt also be the carrier of iron? The key to the maintenance of human health and managing the two problems-children- iodine and iron - might indeed be simpler than we have imagine.