Addressing Iodine Deficiency with Mara Seaweed: Case Study

 

Why create a case study on iodine?

Here at Mara, we’re passionate about seaweed, but not just for its flavour. Our mission statement is to ‘Nourish Body and Soul,’ because we firmly believe that’s what seaweed does.

Modern farming practices and lifestyles have left a lot lacking in our diets – and often we don’t even know it. Iodine deficiency is a perfect example. The World Health Organisation have declared it “the single most important preventable cause of brain damage” worldwide. But very few people are aware iodine deficiency has been identified as a serious health problem in Europe since 1992. [1]

From iodine to iron, seaweed can play a significant role in maintaining good health, by making up for some of the missing elements in our diets. So it’s part of Mara’s job to provide information to our customers. As the saying goes, ‘let food by thy medicine.’

To demonstrate the key role of seaweed as an iodine-rich food, we’ve included testimonials from two of our customers, Lillian and Kay.

Lillian in Mara Seaweed's iodine case study

Lillian’s story

“I’m now retired, but I worked as an Interpreter for the Deaf in Aberdeen for many years. I practice yoga and have recently visited Southern India with my yoga group. My husband and I love to travel, hill walk and visit our family and granddaughters who now live in Chicago.”

 

Lillian became a seaweed convert after she was diagnosed with hypothyroidism around 2011. Throughout the case study we’ll see how this impacted on her life. Kay has also experienced hypothyroidism, and we’ll see later how seaweed has been a positive influence on her health.

We hope you find this information useful. We’ve tried to be as comprehensive as possible. If you have any questions or feedback, we’d love to hear from you.

"Sea-EO" Fiona and Team Mara

 

 

Overview

Iodine is essential to good health, especially in children and teenage girls. It is largely deficient in Western diets due to modern lifestyles and environmental changes.

Whilst iodine can be found in fish and dairy products as well as iodized salt, iodine in seaweed is most easily absorbed by the body. Mara is the best choice for edible seaweed because of our high processing standards, outstanding quality and award-winning flavours.

 

 

 

The role of iodine in the body

Iodine is an essential mineral, used in cells all over the body including the skin, pancreas, stomach and brain. It’s stored in the thyroid, which is located in the neck beneath the Adam’s apple.

Iodine is important because it helps the thyroid with

  • Brain function, including concentration and memory, especially during early years development when iodine levels play a role in determining IQ
  • Foetal development during pregnancy and lactation after birth. The mother’s milk is an important source of iodine for new-borns
  • Heart function, including maintaining healthy arteries, a good heart rate and normal blood pressure
  • Metabolism and weight loss
  • Maintaining constant body temperature
  • Healthy skin, hair and nails
  • The nervous system
  • Reducing cancer risks [2]

"what iodine does for your thyroid" infographic by Mara Seaweed

 

 

Iodine-rich foods: why aren’t we eating enough?

In 2016, it’s hard to eat sufficient iodine to meet our body’s needs. Iodine is an element naturally found in soil and seawater, which means we should get enough in our food. [3] Fish, milk, yoghurt, eggs and sea salt are all iodine-rich foods. [4] However, iodine concentrations in raw food are reduced through cooking. [5] Vegan diets are also becoming increasingly popular and modern health advice discourages consuming too much salt. [6], [7]

Iodine is also susceptible to interference from toxins and chemicals, such as bromine. Iodine deficiency can be caused by bromine, which we unknowingly ingest from pesticides, plastics and food additives. [8]

The best food source of iodine is seaweed. [9] Once, seaweed was commonly consumed by traditional Celtic societies. Freshly foraged dulse was eaten as a snack or seaweed was ground up in Welsh laverbread. But today, Western cultures rarely use seaweed as an everyday ingredient, and with dairy-free diets rising in popularity, iodine deficiency isn’t surprising.

In contrast, although the Japanese don’t eat much dairy, their consumption of raw fish and seaweed means that the symptoms of iodine deficiency are comparably rare. [10]

 

Iodine deficiency and its symptoms

A lack of iodine leads to an underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism. Although it affects everyone, 66% of women in the UK are iodine deficient. [11] Iodine is most vital for teenage girls going through puberty, pregnant women and those over 60 who are at risk of breast cancer. [12]

"iodine deficiency and UK women" infographic by Mara Seaweed

In developing countries, the effects of iodine are stark. Goitre (a big swelling in the neck) and stunted physical and mental growth are often seen in poorer areas. In developed countries, iodine deficiencies can be less severe.

Kay’s story

“Four years ago I noticed a lopsided swelling in my throat. An ultrasound revealed it to be a goitre, and my GP asked for a blood test to establish my thyroid function. The test revealed that I had hypothyroidism, even though I had not shown any of the symptoms.”

 

Because iodine is used all over the body, linking symptoms directly to iodine deficiency can be difficult. However, most people with hypothyroidism suffer from

  • A lack of energy where they used to be motivated
  • Weight gain or weight management issues
  • Thin hair and dry skin
  • Feeling cold
  • Constipation
  • General aches and pains in muscles and bones
  • Sore or lumpy breasts
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Depression

"symptoms of iodine deficiency" infographic by Mara Seaweed

Lillian’s story

“I was diagnosed around four or five years ago with hypothyroidism. I was very shocked but relieved to know why I was feeling the way I did. I felt very tired all the time, and quite low in mood, which was very much out of character for me.

My symptoms were extreme tiredness and mild depression as I was so used to having lots of energy. I could hardly walk to the end of the street without feeling panicky. I thought I'd never climb hills or go trekking again, which I loved!”

 

 

 

Treating iodine deficiency

Firstly, if you suspect you are suffering from the symptoms of iodine deficiency you should see your doctor. If you are diagnosed, it’s likely you will be prescribed a drug such as Thyroxine or Iodoral.  

Kay’s story

“My doctor suggested I begin taking thyroxine immediately, which I was wary of doing as I was aware that once I started taking it, I would have to take it for the rest of my life.”

 

Lillian’s story

 “After I was diagnosed, my doctor prescribed 75 mcg of Thyroxine which I was happy to take. It took a few months until I started to feel more like myself and to get back to doing all the things I love to do.”  

 

For most people, addressing low iodine levels with natural treatment is enough. This may be through iodine supplements including iodized salt, or through dietary changes like eating seaweed. In many cases, adding even a small amount of iodine to your diet leads to feeling better day-to-day.

Kay’s story

“I asked if we could re-test in three months, which the GP agreed to, and I had a conversation with a nutritionist who recommended seaweed as a means of giving my body the building blocks to help my thyroid to function well again.”

 

Lillian’s story

“I started to read up about foods that were good for thyroid function, and along the way also found foods that weren't so good for thyroid function, such as tofu! [Brassicas can also have negative effects. -Mara][13] I did eat lots of tofu as my diet is mainly vegetarian, but I also eat lots of fish, so not a complete vegetarian.”

 

 

 

Iodine supplements

Iodine supplements are widely available in pharmacies and health stores. Again, you should consult your doctor before taking them, as they may interfere with other treatments.

Supplements usually contain seaweed as the source of iodine. [14] However, it’s not always possible to guarantee the source of the seaweed. Seaweed readily absorbs compounds from the sea, which can make it a rich source of nutrients. But it can also mean the seaweed has absorbed heavy metals or radiation. [15]

Supplements may seem like a simple solution, but altering what you eat can be more effective, natural and enjoyable than consuming pills. [16] (‘Let food be thy medicine…’)

 

 

 

Iodized salt

Another ‘supplement’ is iodized salt. Some countries, such as the USA, have added iodine to salt to combat the problem of iodine deficiency. [17] However, this is not a perfect solution.

Iodized salt contains potassium iodide, rather than iodine. [18] (The thyroid turns potassium iodide into iodine.) This is quickly absorbed by the blood but also quickly excreted, resulting in a spike-and-crash effect. [19] The body needs a constant supply of iodine.

Secondly, too much sodium chloride, a key element of salt, isn’t recommended by medical professionals. Adding extra iodized salt to your food for the iodine would have other negative side effects. Furthermore, iodine in salt ‘sublimes’ into the air, so you can’t guarantee how much iodine you’ll ingest even before it reaches your plate. [20]

 

 

 

Eating seaweed is the best way to address iodine deficiency

At Mara, we believe that introducing seaweed into your diet is the most effective solution to combat iodine deficiency. Seaweed is the best natural source of iodine because it contains it in greater quantities than any other food. It also releases a steady stream of iodine into the bloodstream.

For example, a serving of Mara’s Dulse flakes (1 teaspoon, or 1.5g) contains the same amount of iodine (150micrograms) as two servings of low fat milk (230ml) or two pinches of iodised salt (1.5g). [21]

"one teaspoon of seaweed contains all the iodine you need" infographic by Mara Seaweed

The iodine in seaweed is chelated, which is the form in which the body requires it. Chelated iodine can be absorbed and released by the thyroid more slowly than potassium iodide found in iodized salt, creating a consistent supply around the body over several days. No spikes and crashes. [22]

Seaweed is also 85% lower in sodium than table salt. You can add much more of it and enjoy a salty flavour without worrying about your heart. Seaweed gets its salty flavour from mineral salts. So when you cook with it you’re adding the benefits of potassium and magnesium, but there’s also zinc, protein, iron, fibre and calcium to benefit from too.

 

 

 

How much seaweed should I eat?

According to the World Health Organisation, adults require 150micrograms of iodine daily. [23] However, this is really a minimum to avoid goitre and, depending on your diet, may not be enough for optimum thyroid function or during pregnancy and lactation. If you are worried about your iodine levels, ask your GP for a blood test.

The foods you eat can help your body retain the iodine it gets. By eating organic meat and vegetables you can limit your exposure to pesticides. Cooking fresh food and avoiding takeaways, snacking on raw fruit and veg and choosing natural water instead of fizzy drinks will reduce the number of food additives in your diet and aid iodine absorption.

Depending on the type of seaweed, 1 teaspoon can contain up to ten times more than the RDI of iodine. Iodine levels vary in different seaweed species and also depend on where they were grown. [24] Some people are concerned about eating too much iodine, but because iodine is water soluble, excess is removed naturally in urine. [25] The Japanese also consume much more than the West’s RDI, with many recorded health benefits. [26] So for most people, 1-2tsp of seaweed a day would be enough for a positive, noticeable difference.

Lillian’s story

“I didn't know that different seaweeds had different iodine levels until recently. I was concerned at first. But now that I know the iodine levels vary across different seaweeds, so I use Dulse at breakfast time, as it has the least amount of iodine and I've just taken Thyroxine first thing in the morning.”

Graph illustrating how much iodine is in seaweed

 

 

 

Choosing Mara Seaweed to address iodine deficiency

For any medical issue, you should always make the decision that is right for you. However, there is strong evidence that consuming seaweed is a simple, reasonable and effective way to combat iodine deficiency. Even if you don’t feel particularly affected, given the poor state of modern soils, diets and lifestyles you may benefit from a health boost from the iodine in seaweed.

As the seaweed industry continues to boom, there are many companies who will sell you edible seaweed in various forms. Mara Seaweed is an excellent choice for convenience, flavour and reputation.

Mara Seaweed Shony and Furikake pouches

Lillian’s story

“I first heard about Mara Seaweed in a television programme, went online to your website and thought I'd give it a try, especially as Mara was in Scotland!”

 

Kay’s story

“I started eating a teaspoon of Mara Kombu seaweed daily – on buttery toast, on a poached egg, in soup – and when I was re-tested my iodine levels were normal. I have subsequently been re-tested first every six months for a couple of years, then every nine months, and now annually, and my readings have remained in the normal range. I have no explanation for why this happened other than that the kombu helped me to regain my thyroidic equilibrium.”

 

 

 

Mara Seaweed and food safety

All of Mara’s seaweed is wild harvested by hand and primary harvesting locations have been chosen for their water quality. The cold, pure seas around the East Coast of Scotland are some of the cleanest in the world. [27]

Still, because the ocean can transport less desirable chemicals from oil spills or radioactive fallout, we regularly test our water quality in the lab to ensure our standards are being maintained.

During harvesting we follow strict health and safety protocols. All our seaweed harvesters are trained to recognise the best quality seaweed and to handle it correctly.

Once harvested, the seaweed is sealed in air-tight containers and quickly transported to our workshop. Dried at low temperatures, it is classified as raw. Our facilities are SALSA approved from sea to shelf, and we are the only seaweed supplier in the UK to achieve this level of food standards accreditation.

Where we work with suppliers, we always ensure their standards meet our own.

 

 

 

Cooking with Mara Seaweed

If you’re not used to cooking with seaweed it can be daunting to face a whole leaf of it. This is why Mara Seaweed comes in flakes and powders, just like familiar dried herbs, so it’s easier to add to food.

Approximately one small teaspoon of Mara Seaweed provides essential every day nutrition. More than just iodine, you can enjoy benefits from a boost of iron, calcium, fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals. Simply sprinkle over porridge or salads; marinade meat and season chips; or use as the base of a stock in soups, stews and sauces. Have a look at our recipes and see what takes your fancy.

As well as its nutritional content, seaweed is a superior cooking ingredient to salt. Mara’s different seaweeds allow you to control your iodine intake but they also add different flavours. Dulse is mildly smoky; Kombu kelp is robust and salty; Shony is sweet and fragrant.

Lillian’s story

For breakfast, I use Dulse in my porridge along with cinnamon and banana or other fruits, or I’ll have poached eggs again sprinkled with Dulse. Lunchtime, it’s a sandwich or salad with hummus sprinkled with Kombu and Shony. For dinner I always use Kombu in any sauces, or over salad - basically over whatever I happen to be eating!”

"how to use mara seaweed" infographic

 

 

 

Ready to add Mara Seaweed to your diet?

Iodine is essential to good health, especially in children and teenage girls. It is largely deficient in Western diets due to modern lifestyles and environmental changes.

Whilst iodine can be found in fish and dairy products as well as iodized salt, iodine in seaweed is most easily absorbed by the body. Mara is the best seaweed to eat because of our high processing standards, outstanding quality and award-winning flavour.

You should ALWAYS consult your doctor before making major changes for undiagnosed health reasons, or if you’re already on medication.

Kay’s story

In retrospect, I wonder if my hypothyroidism was part of a peri-menopausal state of flux and upheaval, and I feel that seaweed helped me to stabilise it.”

"iodine is needed by some groups more than others" infographic by Mara Seaweed

Lillian’s story

“My Thyroxine levels were checked a few months ago and was told I could lower the dose from 75 to 50 mcg. Six weeks ago it was lowered again to 25mcg but after another blood check this was too low. So my daily dose will be increased slightly after I discuss with my GP again. But I have to say I feel perfectly well on the lower dose, so we'll see what my GP has to say!”

 

Of course, whilst seaweed can play an important role in improving your well-being, it’s also important to remember that it isn’t a catch-all solution.

Lillian’s story

“After the results of my recent blood check we’re back up to 50mcg of Thyroxine daily instead of 25mcg. But that’s still an improvement from the 75mcg I've been on for a number of years! I do think seaweed has helped and I'm going to continue adding it into my diet.”

 

For most healthy individuals, seaweed can make a real difference to their general wellbeing. It can make you feel less lethargic, improve concentration, help manage weight loss, build muscle and care for your nervous system, hair and skin. All it takes is 1-2tsp of seaweed a day. Mara’s flakes and powders make it simple and delicious to add seaweed to your meals.

You can buy Mara Seaweed in Morrisons, Marks & Spencer and online in our shop.

 

If you’re still sitting on the fence about the benefits of eating seaweed, here’s one last push. Try any Mara Seaweed product with 15% off using the code SEASKEPTIC. (Valid in our store only.) Grab a tin, have a taste and let us know what you think.

 

 

 

Share your thoughts and experiences

If you have any questions, please get in touch with us. If you’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, or have started eating seaweed and noticed a difference, we’d love to hear from you.

 

 

 

Sources

Ahad F, Ganie S A, (2010). Iodine, iodine metabolism and iodine deficiency disorders revisited. Indian J. Endocrinol. Metab., 14 (1), pp. 13–17.

Bath SC, Steer CD, Golding J, et al. Effect of inadequate iodine status in UK pregnant women on cognitive outcomes in their children: results from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Lancet 382:331–337.

Bouga M, Combet E (2015) Emergence of seaweed and seaweed-containing foods in the UK: focus on labeling, iodine content, toxicity and nutrition. Foods 4:240–253

Brown EM, Allsopp PJ, Magee PJ, Gill CIR, Nitecki S, Strain CR, McSorley EM (2014) Seaweed and human health. Nutr Rev 72:205–216.

Combet, E., Z. F. Ma, et al. (2014). Low-level seaweed supplementation improves iodine status in iodine-insufficient women. British Journal of Nutrition 112(5): 753-761.

Farrow, Lynn. (2013). The Iodine Crisis: What You Don’t Know About Iodine Can Wreck Your Life. USA: Devon Press.

Mouritsen, Ole G.; Dawczynski, Christine et al. (2013) On the human consumption of the red seaweed dulse (Palmaria palmata (L.) Weber & Mohr). Journal of Applied Phycology 25 (6):1777-1791.

Quinn, S. (2016, May 18). Number of vegans in Britain rises by 360% in 10 years. The Telegraph. Retrieved from:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/news/number-of-vegans-in-britain-rises-by-360-in-10-years/

Teas J, Pino S, Critchley A, et al. (2004) Variability of iodine content in common commercially available edible seaweeds. Thyroid 14, 836–841.

Vanderpump MP, Laza rus JH, Smyth PP, et al. (2011). Iodine status of UK schoolgirls: a cross–sectional survey. Lancet 377: 2007–12.

Wilde, M. (2013, September 15) Tired and over 40? Seaweed and your thyroid.' From the talk at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. Updated July 2014. Retrieved from: https://napiers.net/underactive-thyroid.html

WHO, UNICEF, ICCIDD. Assessment of iodine deficiency disorders and monitoring their elimination, 3rd edn. Geneva: World Health Organisation. 2007.

 

Iodine and Thyroid: What You Need to Know (2016, Dec 8). Retrieved from: https://www.verywell.com/iodine-and-the-thyroid-3231870

Iodine Factsheet for Health Professionals. (2016, Dec 8). Retrieved from:  https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional

Iodine deficiency in Europe: A continuing public health problem. (2016, Dec 14). Retrieved from:  http://www.who.int/nutrition/publications/VMNIS_Iodine_deficiency_in_Europe.pdf

 

[1] WHO, UNICEF, ICCIDD, p1. Assessment of iodine deficiency disorders and monitoring their elimination, 3rd edn. Geneva: World Health Organisation. 2007.

[2] Brown EM, Allsopp PJ, Magee PJ, Gill CIR, Nitecki S, Strain CR, McSorley EM (2014) Seaweed and human health. Nutr Rev 72:205–216.

[3] Ahad F, Ganie S A, (2010). Iodine, iodine metabolism and iodine deficiency disorders revisited. Indian J. Endocrinol. Metab., 14 (1), pp. 13–17.

[4] Iodine Factsheet for Health Professionals. (2016, Dec 8). Retrieved from:  https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional

[5] Teas J, Pino S, Critchley A, et al., p839. (2004) Variability of iodine content in common commercially available edible seaweeds. Thyroid 14, 836–841.

[6] Quinn, Sue. (2016, May 18). Number of vegans in Britain rises by 360% in 10 years. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/food-and-drink/news/number-of-vegans-in-britain-rises-by-360-in-10-years/

[7] Combet, E., Z. F. Ma, et al., p7. (2014). Low-level seaweed supplementation improves iodine status in iodine-insufficient women. British Journal of Nutrition 112(5): 753-761.

[8] Farrow, Lynn. (2013). The Iodine Crisis: What You Don’t Know About Iodine Can Wreck Your Life. USA: Devon Press.

[9] Iodine Factsheet for Health Professionals. (2016, Dec 8). Retrieved from:  https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional

[10] Bouga M, Combet E., p248. (2015). Emergence of seaweed and seaweed-containing foods in the UK: focus on labeling, iodine content, toxicity and nutrition. Foods 4:240–253

[11] Vanderpump MP, Laza rus JH, Smyth PP, et al. (2011). Iodine status of UK schoolgirls: a cross–sectional survey. Lancet; 377: 2007–12.

[12] Vanderpump MP, Laza rus JH, Smyth PP, et al., p2011. Iodine status of UK schoolgirls: a cross–sectional survey. Lancet 2011; 377: 2007–12.

[13] Teas J, Pino S, Critchley A, et al., p839 (2004) Variability of iodine content in common commercially available edible seaweeds. Thyroid 14, 836–841.

[14] Iodine and Thyroid: What You Need to Know (2016, Dec 8). Retrieved from: https://www.verywell.com/iodine-and-the-thyroid-3231870

[15] Mouritsen, Ole G.; Dawczynski, Christine et al., p1785 (2013) On the human consumption of the red seaweed dulse (Palmaria palmata (L.) Weber & Mohr). Journal of Applied Phycology 25 (6):1777-1791.

[16] Combet, E., Z. F. Ma, et al., p5. (2014). Low-level seaweed supplementation improves iodine status in iodine-insufficient women. British Journal of Nutrition 112(5): 753-761.

[17] Iodine Factsheet for Health Professionals. (2016, Dec 8). Retrieved from:  https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional

[18] Iodine Factsheet for Health Professionals. (2016, Dec 8). Retrieved from:  https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional

[19] Iodine and Thyroid: What You Need to Know (2016, Dec 8). Retrieved from: https://www.verywell.com/iodine-and-the-thyroid-3231870

[20] Farrow, Lynn., p34 (2013). The Iodine Crisis: What You Don’t Know About Iodine Can Wreck Your Life. USA: Devon Press.

[21] Iodine Factsheet for Health Professionals. (2016, Dec 8). Retrieved from:  https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Iodine-HealthProfessional

[22] Combet, E., Z. F. Ma, et al., p6. (2014). Low-level seaweed supplementation improves iodine status in iodine-insufficient women. British Journal of Nutrition 112(5): 753-761.

[23] WHO, UNICEF, ICCIDD . Assessment of iodine deficiency disorders and monitoring their elimination, 3rd edn. Geneva: World Health Organisation. 2007.

[24] Teas J, Pino S, Critchley A, et al., p8. (2004) Variability of iodine content in common commercially available edible seaweeds. Thyroid 14, 836–841.

[25] Combet, E., Z. F. Ma, et al., p6. (2014). Low-level seaweed supplementation improves iodine status in iodine-insufficient women. British Journal of Nutrition 112(5): 753-761.

[26] Bouga M, Combet E, p248 (2015) Emergence of seaweed and seaweed-containing foods in the UK: focus on labeling, iodine content, toxicity and nutrition. Foods 4:240–253.

[27] Coastal Waters | Scotland’s Environment Web (2017, Feb 1) Retrieved from: http://www.environment.scotland.gov.uk/get-informed/water/coastal-waters/

 


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