Massey University School of Health Sciences senior tutor and PhD candidate Ying Jin's study of the thyroid is the first known in New Zealand.
Jin has been awarded a Zonta grant sponsored by Graduate Women Manawatū Charitable Trust to attend and present her research at the 13th European Nutrition Conference in Ireland.
Jin will travel to Dublin for the conference in mid-October to give an oral presentation on the preliminary findings from her PhD research.
The conference is held over four days every four years with this year's theme: Malnutrition in an Obese World: European Perspectives.
"Attending the conference is a great opportunity for me to increase my research knowledge, and meet other researchers to discuss current trends and concerns.
"The invited speakers reflect a wide range of subject areas and expertise - to be able to meet and network with such people is something I am looking forward to immensely.
"It is a privilege to receive this award, and I offer my heartfelt thanks for making this experience possible.
"Understanding these nutrients will help to provide better health care to mothers and leads to greater knowledge about the health and wellbeing for both the mothers and their infants."
Jin examined the intake and status of three essential nutrients (iodine, selenium and iron) and the impact the combination of these nutrients has on thyroid function, rather than investigating a single micronutrient in isolation.
The study involved women from Manawatū and surrounding districts while they were breastfeeding.
The thyroid, a small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck, produces hormones.
These three nutrients are key to how thyroid hormones function which in turn, control metabolism – the way we convert food and use it as energy.
"When the thyroid hormones are not adequately produced, or their production is impaired, many other bodily functions are affected, for example, possible increased frequency of anxiety, mood disturbances and depression," Jin says.
Her study also screened for postnatal depression and explored the relationship between multiple micronutrient deficiencies and the risk of postnatal depression.
"Iodine is an essential micronutrient in thyroid hormone synthesis and physical and mental development.
"Since the introduction of government initiatives in 2009 and 2010 to up iodine levels in New Zealanders, the majority of adults and children have achieved adequate iodine status, however iodine status among both breastfeeding women and their infants is unconfirmed.
"For breastfeeding women, iodine supplementation is recommended to achieve optimal iodine status for both their infants and themselves.
"Overall, iodine status in the research sample of breastfeeding women remained inadequate at three months after birth.
"Users of supplements containing iodine, and their infants, were more likely to reach adequate iodine status when compared to non-users."
Jin, who was born in Anhui Province, China, moved to Palmerston North in 2003 to complete her Master of Science in Nutritional Science.
She has worked at Massey since 2009 and began her PhD studies in 2015.
Established in 2010, the Zonta Science and Technology Scholarship is available to a woman residing in Manawatū, who is completing her PhD.
The award provides $5000 to assist the awardee to present their research at an international conference.
From 2012, this award has been financially supported by the Graduate Women Manawatū Charitable Trust.