By Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
Seaweed (also known as sea vegetables) is beneficial to fertility health for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is that it is incredibly nutritious. They are thought to contain 10-20 times the amount of vitamins and minerals as land vegetables. Sea vegetables include chelated and colloidal minerals, making them highly bioavailable. The term “bioavailability” refers to how quickly and how much of a chemical taken is absorbed and used by the body. Calcium, iron, zinc, magnesium, manganese, and selenium are all vital minerals for fertility and can be found in seaweeds. For plant food, seaweeds are also high in protein. Some varieties have up to 48 percent protein content. In addition, these marine plants are a good source of fibre in the diet. Antioxidants are abundant in sea vegetables. Vitamins A, B, C, and E are all also found in seaweed and it is particularly high in the mineral Iodine.
What is Iodine?
Iodine is an essential mineral needed for good health. The body needs Iodine to make the Thyroid hormones known as Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3), which are two of the main hormones produced by the thyroid gland that control numerous important functions in the body, including that of the body’s metabolism, helping to control growth and repairing damaged cells. The body also requires thyroid hormones for proper bone and brain development during pregnancy and infancy.
Which other foods provide us with Iodine?
In general, foods from the sea (sea kelp and seaweed) contain the most iodine, followed by animal foods, then plant foods. Egg and dairy products are great sources. Bananas, natural yoghurt, milk from grass fed cattle, prunes, pineapple, raisins, lima beans, green peas, cheese (such as mozzarella and cheddar) are good choices. If you don’t eat fish, salt, meat, or seaweed, your options are to consider supplementation (check with your G.P or qualified Nutritional Therapist/Dietician), buy foods enriched in iodine, or ensure that the plant foods you consume come from parts of the world where the soil is rich in iodine.
Why is it needed by the body?
To make thyroid hormones which are required for normal body metabolism and growth.
Why is it needed by the body in relation to fertility?
There is growing concern from recent studies that many women in the UK are iodine deficient and this could put the unborn child at serious risk of learning difficulties as this mineral is very important during the development of the brain. It is therefore essential to ensure that iodine levels are correct not only during preconception but also during pregnancy and also if breastfeeding. Iodine is particularly important during pre-conception and the first 16 weeks of pregnancy to ensure the healthy development of the baby’s brain. Iodine is also important in the development of the skeleton and metabolism. During the first 14-16 weeks of pregnancy, a foetus is entirely dependent on the mother for its supply of thyroid hormone. Severe iodine deficiency can lead to an extreme disability known as cretinism. This does not necessarily mean that iodine levels need to be increased as too much iodine can also cause problems, but just to ensure that the correct foods (or a supplement if deemed necessary) are being incorporated into the diet (always check if you are unsure with your GP, Qualified Nutritional Therapist or Dietician as tests can be arranged to check levels).
The thyroid gland can be found at the base of the neck. The thyroid gland produces a hormone called Thyroxine, which is an important hormone as it controls your metabolic rate. Hyperthroidism is a condition whereby too much Thyroxine is produced by the thyroid gland and Hypothyroidism is a condition whereby too little Thyroxine is produced by the thyroid gland. Iodine is an important mineral in women, because it is most highly concentrated in the thyroid, breasts and ovaries. Iodine deficiency may lead to menstrual irregularities, infertility, early menopause, and ovarian diseases. It is also important for men, especially for the prostate gland.
Thyroid gland problems may affect fertility in women in a number of ways including a failure to ovulate and irregular menstrual cycles. Hypothyroidism may also cause a hormone called Prolactin to increase. Prolactin is involved in the production of breast milk and this can also prevent ovulation. Those women with Hypothyroidism are sometimes also diagnosed as having Poly-Cystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) which can also lead to fertility problems.
What can cause a deficiency of Iodine?
Deficiency is common in parts of the world where iodine is not found in sufficient quantities and as a result, the incidence of goitre and cretinism are high. Studies have linked an iodine deficiency to certain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis -among others.
What are the symptoms of a deficiency?
Dry skin, enlarged thyroid, excess oestrogen production, chronic fatigue, neurological problems, reduced immune activity and apathy.