The single most important element provided by seaweeds, is Iodine. It is more abundant in seaweeds, any seaweed, than any plants or animals. Land plants, vascular plants in particular, seem to have no detectable iodine requirement.
ALL vertebrate animals REQUIRE IODINE. This iodine is used in thyroid hormones, T4, thyroxine, and T3, tri-iodothyronine to control all fetal development, postnatal growth, and ongoing daily body metabolism. No iodine, no vertebrate life. The choice of iodine seems to have been its isoptopic stability: there is only one known natural iodine isotope, iodine 127. It is reliable, not subject to radioactive decay.
When vertebrates lived in the sea, even at about 60ppb, there was a constant reliable source of iodine. Since some vertebrates left the sea, obtaining enough iodine has been a challenge to their descendants, including ourselves.
Since no land plants have a need for iodine, their taking it in from roots or leaves may be just incidental. That has meant that few land plants are reliable or even adequate iodine sources unless consumed in large quantities as by large herbivores. Plants grown proximal to the marine environment and those deliberately fertilized with seaweeds can accumulate enough iodine to provide adequate dietary supplies for herbivores and humans. Potatoes, garlic and other root crops are the best accumulators and dietary sources of plant-based iodine supplies.
Eating 3-5 grams of most dried, unrinsed seaweeds will provide the RDA of 100-150 micrograms.
Lack of iodine can cause developmental structural and neural fetal abnormalities collectively called cretinism. This condition, directly as a result of low maternal iodine supplies, is difficult to correct postpartum, if at all. The treatment is adequate maternal iodine consumption from the mother’s initial beginning as an egg in her maternal grandmother.
That means treating the problem 2 generations before a particular pregnancy. In the moment, maternal iodine supplies can be monitored by maternal urine testing and any deficiencies immediately corrected by adding dietary iodine. Mammalian fetal iodine need is about three times per unit body weight of the mother.
In adult humans, chronic low iodine consumption often results from iodine deficient soils and water, and consequently low iodine food. The human consequence is: first, goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland, deliberately generated by TSH (thyroid-stimulating Hormone) to increase thyroid gland cell surface area and more “iodine traps”,and secondly, various manifestations of hypothyroidism.
The treatment is often simply more dietary iodine for both conditions And this can be easily accomplished with dietary seaweeds.
Chronic pernicious human iodine deficiency developed during 7000 of continuous extractive agriculture in the interior of China resulting in tens of millions of near-cretinous citizens by the mid-1900’s. For treatment,the Chinese developed warm-water Laminaria kelp varieties which they now cultivate in great quantity with entire villages growing and processing up to 650,000 metric tons each year to provide more than enough dietary iodine for 1.5 billion Chinese(Druehl,2000). This is a most curious successful marvel; nearly 5000 years ago, in an herbal attributed to the Emperor Shen Nung, goiter was described, and the treatment was seaweed, apparently Fucus. Nori seaweed was also touted as the most wonderful elixer (Katzutosi).
CAUTION: Some individuals are extremely sensitive to iodine. A little bit too much intheir diets and they begin to exhibit hyperthyroid signs and symptoms: nervousness, heart palpitations, sleeplessness, irritability and even iodine-induced goiter. If these symptoms appear, first inquire about seaweed/iodine consumption(from any source, including dairy and baked goods). Individuals with “seafood allergy” seem especially sensitive to iodine. Contrary to some practitioners and their believing patients, nobody has “iodine allergy”. No iodine, no life.
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