What is cretinism?

Whoever we call ‘idiot’ today was often referred to as ‘cretin’ (derived from the French ‘crétin’) in earlier times. People who suffered from cretinism were particularly affected by dwarfism, a deformed nose, a thick  tongue  and, in some cases, by severe mental retardation.

recognize cretinism

Cretinism is defined as a developmental disorder that occurs due to a lack of thyroid hormones. Cretinism has now been eradicated in developed countries thanks to medical advances and treatment. Hormone level tests in newborns are part of everyday clinical practice in Germany. If  hypothyroidism is  detected, treatment must be given immediately to prevent irreversible damage to the brain.

This so-called endemic cretinism, which can result from an  iodine deficiency  in pregnant women, is already triggered in the womb. Regular and timely intake of thyroid hormones in tablet form prevents the clinical picture and enables the child to develop completely normally.

Goiter and cretinism in iodine-deficient areas

The connection between goiter, cretinism and nutrition has been found particularly often in areas with iodine deficiency, eg in southern Germany. In the 19th century, the development of this disease was also conspicuous among residents of Swiss high alpine regions. It is said that 90 percent of the population there suffered from goiter and up to 2 percent from cretinism.

This accumulation was even reflected in painting as a so-called ‘alpine cretin’. The measure prescribed in Switzerland from the beginning of the 20th century to use iodised table salt had a pioneering character in the fight against it. An approach that has found a worldwide echo in the practice of healthy food preparation to this day.


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