Melatonin is abundant in many seaweeds, up to 1000 times the amounts found in land plants such as Feverfew and St. Johnswort. This may explain some of the calming effects of eating seaweeds. Nighttime harvested seaweed has much more melatonin content than daytime-harvested seaweed of the same species. There may be some useful therapeutic opportunities using seaweed-sourced melatonin.
Thyroid Hormones in Seaweeds
Brown seaweeds are the only known non-animal sources of thyroid hormones. The presence of organically bound iodine in brown seaweeds as thyroid hormones may explain some of the effects of eating some brown seaweeds.
Fucus spp of brown seaweeds have been used as treatment for thyroid disorders. The thyroid hormone present in Fucus is di-Iodothyronine (DIT); it is weakly active if al all as a thyroid hormone in the mammalian body. Two DIT molecules are condensed in an elegant esterification reaction to produce tetraiodotyrosine (T4, Thyroxine). The organically bound iodine in Fucus may enhance T4 production by providing some prefabricated portions of T4. I have not seen any studies tracing Fucus-sourced DIT to either the thyroid gland or circulating T4.
The therapeutic effects of using powdered Fucus, 3-5 grams daily resemble the therapeutic effects of thyroxine medications: shrinking of goiters, weight loss, resolution of symptomatic non-autoimmune hypothyroidism, return of vim and vigor, lessening of psychiatric disruptions, and resolution of eczemas. This is especially true of women enduring postpartum physiological depression after several years of being pregnant and nursing one or more children. I have seen no reports of thyrotoxicity from Fucus consumption. Women with low thyroid function, according to thyroid panel blood tests, report improved test results. Any similar results from using Fucus teas will be due to inorganic iodine supply increase and probably not from DIT. DIT is not very water soluble.
Fucus is used to wean mildly hypothyroid patients off thyroid hormone medication. This can work only if the patient has a thyroid gland mass capable of making T4 and T3 in sufficient quantities to supply body needs. Those without a thyroid gland may be helped by the iodine from Fucus, alleviating the need to mine thyroid medications for iodine. This may also explain in part the alleged weight loss results from ingesting Fucus; to wit, upregulation of basal body metabolic rate from iodine alone.
Thyroxine and Tri-iodothyronine in Brown Seaweeds
T4 and T3 have been found as the main organically bound iodine compounds in several brown seaweeds, notably Laminaria spp. (Kombu) and Sargassum spp. Up to 10% of the iodine in Lamiaria may be in the form of MIT, DIT, T3, and/or T4; even more in the less commonly available Sargassum (less commercially available; it is a rapidly expanding invasive of all temperate coasts; this may be good news for thyroid sufferers) (Kazutosi 2002).
Kombu is one of the top 5 most consumed seaweeds in Japan and USA. The physiological effects of regular Kombu consumption can be: resolution of coronary artery disease, healthier liver function, higher metabolic rate, faster food transit time, lower LDL cholesterol, higher HDL cholesterol blood levels. If the thyroid hormones in kombu and Sargassum are available from food, this could turn out to be an effective treatment to replace both synthetic thyroxines and animal-thyroid medications.
I assume at least some T4 and T3 get into the human body from dietary Kombu and stimulate more rapid clearing of fatty wastes from the liver, enabling more rapid removal of blood borne fatty wastes. T4 and T3 are biphenols and are not water soluble. Oil extractions of Kombu may provide T4 and T3 as well as DIT and MIT (Mono-iodotyrosine) and be an effective thyrosupportive medicine.
Powdered Fucus is mixed with olive oil as a vegan replacement for cod liver oil and seems to work as well or better than cod liver oil
ESSENTIAL FAT AND VITAMINS IN SEAWEEDS
Most seaweeds are rich in vitamins, especially the B vitamins, including B12.
They also have significant amounts (1-3%)of Omega-3 fatty acids. Nori, in particular has 3% omega-3 fatty acids and large amounts of vitamins A and C. Interestingly, eating lots of nor is the Japanese prescription for boys who may have inherited male pattern baldness. In Scandinavia, the eating of refined sugars is discouraged for the same condition. Perhaps a combination could treat both hair loss and slow the progression of pattern baldness in both men and women?
EXTERNAL SEAWEED TREATMENTS
Ireland, the Pacific Northwest, and other coastal areas have long histories of using seaweed baths for relief from muscle and joint pains, eczema, ectoparasites, and prostate swelling.
A Case of the Knees
A 50-year old woman presented with terribly painful knees. She was told her cartilage had severely deteriorated. She was using a cane or walker all of the time and was expecting the wheelchair soon. She had been a very active herb grower and weekend clown for over 20 years. The combination of working on her knees and clowning around had been very bad for her knees. I told her I could fix her knees if she was completely compliant. Here was the treatment: I told her she would need to soak her legs in a hot Fucus (Bladderwrack) bath for four hours each day for up to a year. When she categorically refused, I could only remind her of the painful alternatives.
We agreed on a compromise: tall (l6 inches) rubber boots, several sizes too large. Hot Fucus slurry, made from DRIED FUCUS, was poured into the boots and her feet placed in them, with about 2 inches between the top of the Fucus slurry and the top of the boot. That way she could sit at her shop, walk around, and keep the boots on for four hours. Heat was a problem - keeping the boots and slurries warm. A hot pad applied external to the boots worked well. I provided both the boots and all of the Fucus she would use without charge. All she had to do was comply And that included no more clowning around, at work or home.
She did and after almost a year, all symptoms were resolved, she could walk without either pain or cane. I checked her every year for a decade and no return of symptoms Now, 15 years later she is still symptom free.
I had perhaps excessive confidence in the treatment based on local and traditional First Nations folklore about the use of prolonged hot Fucus mush soaking by mostly elderly women to relieve aching leg and foot joints.
The Invader Gets Soaked
Traditionally, English Victorians took long holidays to the impoverished West Coast of Ireland. There they steamed and soaked luxuriously in very hot baths filled with seawater and at least 10 gallons of fresh Fucus serratus, a particularly mucoidal brown seaweed. This treatment performed very thorough exfoliation of old dead skin squamous debris, stimulated peripheral circulation, and imparted comfort to many aches and pains. Swollen prostate glands seemed to shrink.
The most exciting part was the amazing increase in skin sensitivity and touchability. Seaweed bathing became a must for newlyweds and those seeking romantic revivals in fading libido relationships. Nearly 100 years ago, scores of seaweed bathhouses existed. Only a handful survives from those times. Dozens of new seaweed baths have been built in the past decade in response to both renewed interest in the healthy effects of seaweed bathing, and the entry of the Irish Republic into the European Union and a great influx of European immigrants and tourists.
My favorite therapeutic traditional use of seaweed is as a parlor floor shock absorber. In Hildene, the palatial home of Robert Todd Lincoln in Manchester, Vermont, a thick layer of dried seaweed, (probably stiff fronds of Chondrus crispus) is underneath the parlor dance floor to reduce impact trauma to dancing couples’ feet. I was not able to obtain a sample.
Bergner, P.1997. The Healing Power of Minerals
Druehl, L. 2000. Pacific Seaweeds
Drum, R. 2000. Sea Vegetables. In Planting Our Future. Gladstar &Hirsch, eds. Pp 277-284.
Erhart, S. and Cerier, L. 2001. Sea Vegetable Celebration
Flaherty, R. Man of Aran. Documentary film with scenes of Aran farmers making soil from rocks and seaweeds.
Kazutosi, Nisizawa.2002. Seaweeds Kaiso: Bountiful Harvest from the Seas. Sustenance for Health and Wellbeing
Kingsbury, J. and Sze, P. 1997. Seaweeds of Cape Cod and the Islands. 2ndED
McConnaughey, E. 1985. Sea Vegetables.
O’Clair, R. and Lindstrom, S. 2001. North Pacific Seaweeds.
Schecter, S. 1997. Fighting Radiation and Pollution
Shannon, S. 1993. Diet for the Atomic Age.
Ryan Drum, PhD, AHG, has a BS in Chemical Technology and a PhD in Botany (Phycology) from Iowa State University. While a NATO Scholar, he did postdoctoral studies on Cell Biology using the Electron Microscope and Microcine at the Universities of Bonn, Germany and Leeds, England. For 10 years Dr. Drum taught Botany and related subjects at Universities (UMASS/Amherst, UCLA, WWU). He studied Herbal Medicine with Ella Birzneck, founder of Dominion Herbal College in British Columbia for 12 years, and taught at their summer seminars for 25 years. He has been an adjunct faculty at Bastyr University since 1984, and he lectures at major herbal conferences and herbal schools. He specializes in Seaweed Therapies, Thyroid issues, and Men's Health. Dr. Drum is the author of over 30 scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals, the author of Electron Microscopy of Diatom Cells 1966, Springer Verlag, a 100-Plate Atlas, in print for 20 years, and a contributing author of two chapters in Planting the Future (Gladstar and Hirsch 2001) and a chapter in Fundamentals of Naturopathic Endocrinology, M. Friedman 2005. The proud father of three wonderful children and two fantastic grandchildren, he lives in a rustic little hilltop cabin he built 30 years ago on a remote island, off the grid, without indoor plumbing or refrigeration. Dr. Drum believes in true patient autonomy: the freedom and right to choose one's caregivers, independent of their official certification. You can contact Ryan at his website www.ryandrum.com.