Kelp (seaweed) and goitre

Some medical research shows that in the time where transport was very poor, the people who lived near the ocean experienced this problem less often than those who lived inland or in mountainous areas.  This is because the people who lived near the ocean were eating more seaweed than the people who lived inland.

1.  What is Goiter?


I remember a few years ago a woman who was over 40 years old visited me in the clinic.  In the 6 months preceding her appointment, she had been experiencing many symptoms: emotional, anxious, insomnia, sluggish bowel movement, feeling tired, bloating and hot.  I checked her body by Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis, including tongue and pulse diagnosis, observation and questions.  Through this, I found that her neck around her throat looked unusually swollen.  Finally, I told her that she had symptoms associated with Liver disorder which was effecting the Thyroid.  I recommended she consult her family GP for further investigation.  A few weeks later, she returned to my clinic and told me she had been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  She was very appreciative that I picked this up and referred her for further investigation, leading to an earlier diagnosis.

i) Symptoms:
Goiter is primarily a thyroid problem but can also effect other parts of the body.  The thyroid can become swollen.  The swelling can grow in different parts of the thyroid and so can be seen or felt more prominently on either side of the neck (around the throat) or equally swollen on both sides.  This swelling will finally effect the thyroid function causing the following symptoms – emotional and stressed, body feeling hot, insomnia, vivid dreams, lack of energy, sluggish bowel movement, abdominal bloating, increased thirst, or even lower back & knee pain.

ii) Causes:
In ancient times Traditional Chinese Medicine already had research and recordings on this disorder.  Traditional Chinese Medicine discussed this disorder, terming it “Ying Qi” which is stagnation of pathogenic factors, and includes goiter with hyperthyroid, hypothyroid and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.  One of the Traditional Chinese books, “Yi Xue Ru Men. Ying Liu Pian”, relates the cause to the seven abnormal emotions leading to Liver Qi stagnation, finally causing Qi, phlegm and blood stagnation which all become blocked in the neck or throat area.  Internally, the Qi also effects the Liver, Heart, Spleen and Kidney function causing the symptoms mentioned above.

I suggest while having treatment for this problem, also having certain foods to help, and Kelp is one of these foods.


2.    Health Benefits of Kelp

Kelp is a food but is also quite often used in the Traditional Chinese Herbal formulas.  The taste is salty and cold or cooling in character.  These properties go to the Liver and Spleen channels.

i)     To help break down the stagnation (mentioned above)

Very famous Traditional Chinese Herbal books (“Ben Cao Gang Mu” & “Sui Xi Ju Yin Shi Pu”) all recorded the function of Kelp in breaking down the stagnation involved in Goiter.  In conjunction with your treatment, you can also eat a certain amount of Kelp to help reduce the symptoms.  Having acupuncture as part of your treatment can also make the overall treatment more effective.

ii)     Help to Clear Oedema

Seaweed works more on the Liver & Spleen to help build up their function and help the body clear fluid.  Chinese Medicine considers that some oedema is associated with Spleen or Liver disorder.  In this case, the oedema may include the following symptoms:  puffiness, especially around the abdomen, arms and legs and a feeling of heaviness in these areas; the body feels hot with a red face and increased perspiration; emotional and stressed; insomnia, maybe with vivid dreams; sluggish bowel movement; dark yellow urination with a strong odour.

3.    Recipes

i)    Pork Bone & Kelp Soup

1/2 Kg Pork Bone
1 cup dried Kelp (washed & soaked 1hr until soft)

Boil the Pork Bone in 8 cups of water then remove any fat or debris that is floating on the top.  After the Pork Bone has boiled for 1 hour, add the Kelp and continue to boil for another 1/2 hour.  Prepare a dish to drink the soup and eat the kelp, 1 serving 2x/week.

Effects of this dish: Clear heat from the body and prevent the body from being attacked by summer heat.

ii)    Stir Fry Kelp & Carrots

1 cup Kelp (washed & soaked 1hr until soft, then slice)
1 med carrot (remove skin & slice carrot)
1 tblsp Spring Onion, finely chopped
1 tblsp Olive Oil
up to 1/2 cup water

Combine all ingredients in frying pan and cook on low heat for 15 minutes.  Add small amounts of water as required to avoid burning the dish.
Once cooked, add a small amount of soy sauce or salt for flavour.

Effects of this dish: Help to break down the stagnation and balance the Spleen and Liver channels.


4.    Precautions

If you are experiencing diarrhoea, flu or cold, avoid eating seaweed or Kelp.
Avoid eating too much Kelp in each serving as this may cause bloating.
If you’re not sure if seaweed or Kelp is suitable for you or how much you should eat, then ask your experienced TCM practitioner.

Seaweed & Kelp

The health benefits of Kelp is similar to seaweed, however the effects of Kelp are stronger.
Kelp specifically, rather than seaweed, is usually used in Traditional Chinese Herbal formulas.



4 Responses to Kelp (seaweed) and goitre

  1. chintan 14 September, 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    Could you advise where I can get kelp in Sydney?
    thanks so much for all the wonderful information you have here in your site.

  2. Ping Ming Health 18 September, 2011 at 9:33 pm #

    Kelp may be found in Chinese grocery stores, some health food shops, or try the Sydney Fish Market at Pyrmont. Thanks for your positive feedback!

  3. kk 10 December, 2012 at 12:15 am #

    Hi. What’s the Chinese name (in hanyu pinyin) for kelp? Is it the same thing as the dark flat thingie found in Korean noodles? Thanks.

    • Ping Ming Health 21 December, 2012 at 9:30 am #

      The Chinese pinyin name is Hai Dai. It is also known as Kombu, konbu or dashima and is widely eaten in East Asian cuisines. Korean noodles most likely contain kelp, but you should always ask the chef to be sure!

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