Kelp belongs to the seaweed family and is a type of brown algae. This dietary supplement is used to treat thyroid problems. Kelp has dense doses of iodine.
It also contains calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium. The fiber ‘algin’ found in kelp can help purify the bloodstream. It is also rich in polysaccharides and vitamin B1, B12 and B2.
The thyroid gland, shaped like a butterfly is located above the collarbone in the neck region. This is an endocrine gland that produces the thyroid hormone which regulates metabolism rates. Thyroid diseases affect many people world over – especially women.
People who have thyroid diseases could have over an active thyroid (hyperthyroidism) which uses body energy too quickly or inactive thyroid which uses body energy too slowly (hypothyroidism).
Hyperthyroidism causes more hormones to be produced. This results in weight-loss, increase in heart rates and over sensitivity to heat. Hypothyroidism causes weight gain, loss of energy and inability to tolerate cold temperature.
Most thyroid disorders can be managed if they are diagnosed early and the patient undergoes the right treatment. While hyperthyroidism is very common, the way it occurs will vary.
Hence, we have disorders like – Graves’ disease, toxic adenomas, subacute thyroiditis, malfunctioning pituitary gland and cancers of the thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism is caused due to – surgical removal of the thyroid gland, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, excessive exposure to iodide, lithium drugs.
There are various treatments available for thyroid disorders. One important factor is to change your diet. Avoid saturated fats, refined foods, all products made with white flour and sugars.
In severe cases, avoid foods that could suppress proper functioning of the thyroid gland like Brussels’s sprouts, broccoli, kale, cabbage, mustard greens, pears and peaches.
Make sure your diet has high (at least 50%) concentration of organically grown fresh foods.
Eat foods rich in iodine like fish and kelp, kombu, nori, dulse, wakame and hijike – all sea vegetables.
Eat also vitamin A rich foods like eggs, dark green vegetables and carrots. Other minerals you require to help production of the thyroid hormone are zinc and copper, amino acids etc.
Kelp for Thyroid
Kelp contains a wide range of ingredients and is considered an excellent food to include in a thyroid diet. There are various species of kelp and the amount of absorbable iodine varies in each.
This depends on where the plant grows, the water temperature and the harvesting season. Studies have found that some species have 99% iodine and others just 16%. Most kelp supplements may not contain iodine or excess iodine. Hence, find out the quantity found of iodine in each product and use the right dosage.
Iodine is essential for the synthesis of the thyroid hormones. Most people have the right amounts of iodine in their diet. Iodine deficiency causes malfunction of the thyroid gland and other health problems.
People living in developed countries get their required iodine from table salt. Iodine-rich kelp can be used as a supplement or added to food for flavor and to provide required iodine.
Radiation exposure can increase a person’s risk to thyroid cancer. Algin content in kelp removes radiation and harmful toxins from the body, therefore providing a protective barrier for the thyroid gland.
Even for those who get sufficient iodine in their diet, kelp (in the right quantities) can be a good addition to our daily diet to maintain healthy functioning of the thyroid gland.
One study found that including 5g kelp supplements a day with an average of 475mcg iodine can improve production of thyroid hormone. This can be taken for a period of seven weeks.
Pregnant women who are iodine deficient can miscarry. Kelp can be taken during pregnancy if the person suffers from thyroid problems. It can help treat thyroid disorders in pregnant women and is safer than most other medications. Pregnant women can pass on toxins to their unborn fetus if they have higher levels of thyroid hormone.
Ways to use Kelp
Kelp is traditionally used as a cooking ingredient in Asian cuisine – especially Japanese. In the west, people prefer using kelp supplements, which are available as capsules, powders, tablets, liquids and gel caps.
These supplements will list iodine as the major or minor ingredient. Usually herbal kelp supplements only provide an estimate of the amount of iodine content in the capsule.
Kelp is easily included in our diet. Add kelp granules to sauces, soups, casseroles or smoothies. Sprinkle kelp on food as a seasoning like salt. It can even be used in baking recipes to make biscuits.
Anyone who does not like the taste of kelp added to food can always use kelp supplements.
Precautions and Side Effects
Be extremely careful about the quantity of kelp you consume, especially if you do not know the actual quantity of iodine in it. Excess iodine in the diet can set off thyroid problems.
Those who consume iodized salt may not require kelp supplements. Instead, kelp powder or flakes can be used as a substitute for salt in diet.
Kelp must not be taken on a long term basis. It can be taken for 2 weeks and then give a 2 week break before starting to use it again.
This will prevent an overdose of iodine and an imbalance in the functioning of the thyroid gland. Always check with your doctor before consuming kelp, especially if you suffer from thyroid disorders.