During the winter months, as I have mentioned a few times, we want to support our own internal sources of energy production. One of our primary hormone producing centers in the body is the thyroid. Generally speaking, the thyroid helps to regulate how “fast” the body runs. A good way to illustrate this is to talk about what happens when the thyroid gets out of balance: too much thyroid hormone will make the heart beat too quickly and cause weight loss from increased metabolism. Too little thyroid hormone will cause weight gain, slowed production of skin, hair and nails (causing hair loss, weak nails, and dry skin), weight gain, and constipation from slowed digestion.
Seaweed has traditionally been used as medicine for the thyroid. In Chinese medicine, it is seen as cooling and good for dissolving any type of swelling. In autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s or Graves disease, it has been used to decrease inflammation and swelling. In hypothyroid, the swelling of the thyroid known as “goiter” has also been treated by seaweed. In Western medicine, this is assumed to be related to replacement of deficient Iodine.
The Iodine content in seaweeds varies depending on the variety, but is quite high in any type you find. Iodine is a critical component in the creation of thyroid hormone. In its absence or deficiency, the thyroid will swell to many times its normal size to try to create sufficient thyroid hormone. This swelling is called “goiter”. Before salt started being iodised in the United States in 1924, iodine poor areas had extremely high rates of goiter--a goiter rate of 47% of the population of Michigan was reported at that time.
One of the primary goals for our seasonal eating during the winter is to keep the blood sugar balanced. Especially during the winter months, it is crucial to work on preserving and increasing the health of the adrenals; controlling blood sugar is one very important way to do this.
During this time of the year, because we are not getting much energy from the sun and fresh foods, we must rely more heavily on our body’s own methods of energy production from the hormone, or endocrine system. One of the primary organs we want to support during this time are the adrenal glands, as they are responsible for producing many of the hormones that help us feel energetic.
The hormone we associate most with our ability to feel “awake” is cortisol. Cortisol is a sugar-mobilizing hormone we produce for two primary reasons: as a response to stress and when our blood sugar drops too low. Historically, stress for humans has meant “fight or flight” or as I like to put it “I have to run from the bear.” During stress, our body makes adrenaline which helps prepare us for running: our heart pumps faster and lungs open wide to help provide more blood to our brain and muscles. At the same time we are producing adrenaline, we also produce cortisol, which mobilizes sugar from storage so the brain and muscles can work extra hard, run fast, and climb that tree.