Seaweed and your thyroid

Posted by on Apr 16, 2012 in Uncategorized | 2 comments


For years, I’ve received requests to write about thyroid disease and menopause. And for years, I’ve swept the topic under the table; that is, until now. However, in light of recent news, I’d like to approach it in a slightly different way. I hope that the following is helpful.

Symptoms of menopause and an underactive thyroid (inability to produce enough thyroid hormone to run the metabolism) can be very similar. In fact, hypothyroidism is 10 times more common in women than in men, and experts say that as many as 10% of all women have some sort of thyroid deficiency. Additionally, risk increases exponentially as we age.  Moreover, symptoms like fatigue, depression, weight gain and sexual dysfunction can all be signs of an underactive thyroid and not menopause. More troubling are data from the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists demonstrating that only one in four women who discussed menopausal symptoms with their practitioners were also tested for thyroid disease.

But what about thyroid cancer? Is there a link to hypothyroidism? And what’s the latest news in that area?

Thyroid cancer is currently one of the fastest growing cancers in the world, and is 2.9 times more likely to occur in women than in men. In fact, last year, doctors from Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston reported that for every four patients they were seeing with thyroid cancer, three were women.

Researchers have hypothesized (but have not concluded) that the interaction of the environment, reproductive and menstrual factors account for the disparity in cancer rates between women and men. And just last week, Japanese researchers reported that study findings show that postmenopausal women who consume seawood daily have 3.8 times greater risk for thyroid cancer compared to women who ate it 2 days a week or less. The reason for this may be due to the level of  iodine in the seaweed, which has been shown to impair thyroid function and has been specifically linked to the most common type of thyroid cancer — papillary carcinoma.

Importantly, in most cases, thyroid cancer has no early signs or symptoms, and as the cancer grows, it may be diagnosed by a painless lump on the neck, hoarseness, swollen lymph nodes or difficulty swallowing. But take note: while hypothyroidism may increase the risk for heart disease,  it has not been linked to a higher risk of thyroid cancer.

It’s all very confusing but the main take-away points are that if you are experiencing menopausal symptoms, be sure that your practitioner tests your thyroid to rule out any sort of thyroid condition. Moreover, if you notice a nodule in your neck, contact a health professional to rule out cancer. Most importantly, 95% of thyroid masses are benign. But you may want to keep iodine intake moderate just to be safe.



  1. 4-16-2012

    Yikes! This is a complete reversal of conventional thyroid health wisdom. Thanks for bringing this study to everyone’s attention. It will be interesting to see how the “thyroid” community responds.

    • 4-16-2012

      Interesting comment Laura. It is counter to conventional thinking because…? I asked an endocrinologist to look at it for accuracy and she concurred. Interested in hearing more.

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