Why 95% of Japanese May Not Suffer from Radioactive Iodine Exposure - If there's a lesson to be learned from this unfolding disaster, it's this: the secret to safety from harmful radioactive iodine exposure may lie in the typical Japanese way of life. Here's what you need to know NOW in case a toxic cloud drifts your way either from Japan or from your own future local nuclear power plant emergency.
Total Video Length: 31:42
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Total Video 2 Length: 20:26
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The nuclear power disaster unfolding in Japan, following a 9.0 earthquake and massive tsunami, has not only Japan, but also large portions of the US and even parts of Europe on edge. What could possibly be worse, however, is fear itself, according to some health experts.
The Washington Post writes:
"Although radiation escaping from a nuclear power plant catastrophe can increase the risk of many cancers and other health problems, stress, anxiety and fear ended up in many ways being much greater long-term threats to health and well-being after Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and other nuclear accidents, experts said Monday.
"The psychological effects were the biggest health effects of all — by far," said Fred Mettler, a University of New Mexico professor emeritus and one of the world's leading authorities on radiation, who studied Chernobyl for the World Health Organization. "In the end, that's really what affected the most people."
Fears of contamination and anxiety about the health of those exposed and their children led to significantly elevated rates of suicidal thinking and anxiety disorders, and rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and depression about doubled, Mettler and others said."
Needless to say, the fears are not unfounded. Radioactive exposure is clearly dangerous. However, what the most appropriate remedy might be is a controversial issue.
Washington Post March 14, 2011
MIT News March 16, 2011
Cellular & Molecular Biology January 31, 2011 [Epub Ahead of Print]
Acta Pharmacologica Sinica December 2001; 22(12):1121-4
MSNBC News March 17, 2011
Harvard Health Publications March 16, 2011
USA Today March 18, 2011
ABC News March 17, 2011
Time Magazine March 18, 2011
Dr. David Brownstein - Video Transcript
Ori Hofmekler - Video Transcript
Dr. Mercola's Comments:
I've received many requests from concerned readers, particularly in California, asking for guidance on strategies to help protect against radioactive fallout from the recent nuclear disaster in Japan.
Unfortunately the timing of this, even from a personal perspective, was less than optimal as I was at Expo West and then outside the country for another five days with very poor internet connection and a massive backlog of urgent projects. But even beyond that, this is not a simple issue and I typically take many weeks, more typically months, before I give a recommendation that I can stand behind as there are simply too many variables to carefully analyze.
I realize that many other health sites have been commenting on this but the danger of providing recommendations without detailed analysis is that there is a risk one will not carefully consider the implications of the recommendations.
Nevertheless I am providing you with what I have compiled so far. Please understand that these are only preliminary recommendations that are still pending more careful analysis.
I simply wasn't convinced that the standard recommendation to load up on potassium iodide was the best recommendation, as it is controversial at best. Above, you'll find interviews with health experts Dr. David Brownstein and Ori Hofmekler, both of whom offer further insight into the best ways to protect your health from radiation damage.
Before You Do Anything Else, Address Your Stress
It is crucial to recognize the importance of remaining calm and avoiding panic, despite the dire outlook of the current situation. As discussed in the Washington Post articleabove, fear in and of itself may actually be one of the most dangerous side effects of this horrific tragedy:
"In the unprecedented disaster in Japan, where an earthquake triggered a tsunami that was followed by a major nuclear power plant emergency, all those negative psychological effects are being magnified in ways that no one can predict.
… In the long run, such incidents can negatively transform entire cultures. In the areas affected by the 1986 Chernobyl accident, a crippling sense of hopelessness set in and was passed down through generations. "What we know from experience is the psychological footprint from a nuclear disaster can not only be massive, but in many ways greater than the effect of radiation," Becker said. "
On an individual level, these range all the way from anxiety disorders, depression and substance abuse to a kind of culture of fatalism and hopelessness that has gripped the population in many areas, and it continues today."
There's no doubt that this kind of emotional stress and trauma can have far-reaching and devastating effects on your health, so please, first and foremost, I urge you to address your emotions and stress levels during this challenging time.
The first step is to relax and seek not to worry as it is likely that will cause you far more damage than this relatively small exposure to radiation will. One potent method that I can wholly recommend is the Emotional Freedom Technique which is a form of psychological acupressure. For more information, please see my EFT page, which includes detailed instructions and illustrations for how to apply this powerful technique.
Radiation Fallout—How Dangerous is it?
Unfortunately, there are many variables involved when trying to determine the level of danger a particular area may face, this question is virtually impossible to answer—especially since the nuclear crisis is still ongoing, and it's anyone's guess what will happen next.
Our sense of reassurance that this is not anything serious is bolstered by CNN reports yesterday with readings in Washington and California. It was expected to find trace amounts of the isotopes released from the Japanese plant. "There is no health risk," Gail Shibley, administrator of Oregon's Office of Environmental Public Health, Oregon Public Health Division, said in a statement.
However, going by what we currently know about the situation at the time of this writing, let's put some things into perspective, because proper perspective is the key.
Please remember that nearly everything in life you do has a risk. Let's take driving a car. No one would deny that every time you get in your car you could be killed by a drunk or texting driver. That is why we wear seat belts and have air bags. Yet we all are willing to take that risk as we believe the benefits we receive from travelling outweigh the relatively minor risk.
Likewise, according to John Boice Jr., a radiation expert at the International Epidemiology Unit in Rockville, MD, you are exposed to a number of other more potent carcinogens on any given day than nuclear radiation (barring direct exposure within the area of the nuclear reactor or atomic blast, of course.)
"The average amount of radiation that victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were exposed to would increase the risk of dying from lung cancer by about 40 percent. Smoking a pack of cigarettes a day increases the risk of dying of lung cancer by about 400 percent," Boice is quoted as saying.
These statistics are not very reassuring to a lot of people though, especially anyone in Japan or on the West coast of the United States.
It is my belief and understanding that NO amount of radiation is "safe."
Even medical diagnostic scans have been attributed to causing tens of thousands of unnecessary cancers each and every year, so the fear of heavy fallout is understandable. But I urge you to remain calm; unless you are in Japan this is a relatively low threat to your health.
Educate yourself, follow the situation closely as it unfolds, and be prepared—but don't over-react, as some prophylactic strategies against radioactive fallout have their own health risks and should not be used willy-nilly.
Understanding Radiation Measurements
The Editor of the Harvard Health Letter recently published a short but helpful article about radiation measurements, and how to put them into perspective. We've been hearing a lot about radiation levels of 400 millisieverts being registered in the vicinity of the Fukushima nuclear plant, but what does that mean?
Four hundred millisieverts is the equivalent of 40,000 millirem, or 40 rem. Rem is an older unit measure still frequently used in the US.
The Harvard Health Letter included the following chart, showing how a 400 millisievert per hour exposure compares to other common types of radiation exposure.
Average annual background exposure in the U.S.
Cardiac nuclear stress test
CT scan of the abdomen
Average exposure of evacuees from Belarus after 1986 Chernobyl disaster
Annual dose limit* for nuclear power plant workers
Spike recorded at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant
Acute radiation sickness begins
1,000 (or 1 sievert)
Sources: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Health Physics Society, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, International Atomic Energy Agency
As you can see, the situation is far from inconsequential within the vicinity of the Japanese power plant. However, it remains to be seen what kind of radiation levels end up reaching the American west coast.
Helpful sites for more information about radiation measurements, the regulations, and guidance on protective limits of nuclear radiation include:
- The EPA
- The CDC
- The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
In addition, here's a helpful web page showing the latest radiation measurements in various parts of Japan.
Is Potassium Iodide a Good Idea?
If you've been following the news, you've probably heard that many stores have already sold out their supplies of potassium iodide, which is the conventional recommendation to ward off some of the health dangers of radiation exposure. In Japan, stores even report having sold out their stocks of iodine-enriched salt!
First, please understand that loading up on commercial table salt will simply NOT protect you against radiation exposure, and may be quite harmful to your health!
Like many questions in life the answer is - - it depends. In the case if you are near active radiation fallout it is wonderful idea as the benefit outweighs the risk. But for virtually everyone reading this that is not their personal circumstance and taking 130mg of potassium iodide is NOT a good idea and could result in thyrotoxicosis.
I believe many "expert" health resources that are advising this are highly irresponsible. This is part of the problem with rushing to press with recommendations without carefully considering the implications of those recommendations, and they can be quite severe.
At this time the radiation exposure from Japan does not appear to be at high enough levels to warrant taking a large amount of potassium iodide. The problem with this large a dose is that if you have an autonomously functioning thyroid nodule and take this large a dose, you can precipitate a thyroid crisis.
Why is Iodine Even Recommended in the First Place in a Nuclear Disaster?
Many people are relatively deficient in iodine, and because of this they will readily absorb iodine from the environment. Your body is unable to recognize the difference between regular iodine and radioactive iodine. It will absorb them equally well. So if you are deficient in iodine and a radioactive cloud passes by, your body will tend to suck that radioactive iodine into your thyroid gland to fill up its iodine stores
In an ideal situation you will have been taking adequate amounts of iodine from safe sources which will not only protect you from radioactive iodine but from environmental toxins that can poison your thyroid gland like fluoride, bromine and chlorine.
If you have not been taking iodine and a radioactive cloud comes near your area then it would make sense to take large doses of prophylactic iodine to prevent your thyroid gland from absorbing the radioactive iodine. However it is important to understand that the large dose of potassium iodide only protects your thyroid for one to three days, no longer and it does absolutely nothing to protect you from detoxifying the radiation.
At this time there does not seem to be a serious threat in the US from the Japanese radiation cloud. However, it would seem wise to have doses of potassium iodide for yourself and your family should another nuclear crisis emerge that would affect you. It is just a wise safety resource to have on hand.
Although a sounder long term strategy would be to make sure you are getting enough iodine from high quality food sources that will protect you more naturally. But these need to be done over long periods of time to build up your iodine stores.
More on that below.
Just How Many People are Deficient in Iodine?
This past weekend Dr. David Brownstein was gracious enough to do an interview with me on this topic. It is important to understand that he has compiled a tremendous amount of clinical data on this topic and can be considered a true expert in this area.
Dr. Brownstein has been working with iodine for the last twenty years and has tested over 5000 patients in his clinic and found over 95% of them to be iodine deficient. This is an incredible result as it puts iodine on par with the percentage of people that are deficient in vitamin D.
An interesting side note on vitamin D is that Dr Brownstein has worked with iodine and vitamin D as understood by the principles I have been teaching and his clinical experience suggests that iodine replacement is even more important than vitamin D in seeing immediate clinical improvement. This is quote a bold claim and I assure you I will be providing more details from him in future interviews.
Fluoride and Bromide are the REAL Dangers to Your Thyroid
As we review in the interview, the massive prevalence of iodine deficiency is a new phenomenon that is likely a result of an absolute deficiency of iodine intake combined with exposure to other environmental halogens that compete for iodine receptors. This would be the fluoride and chloride that is pervasive in our water supply, along with the halogenated byproducts. Additionally we have bromine, which is part of most white flour products and added to many items like rugs, carpets and pesticides added to commercial fruits and vegetables. Dr. Brownstein has measured these levels on thousands of patients and he actually finds bromide to be the most serious culprit.
Adverse Side Effects of Potassium Iodide
Dr. Brownstein has been using iodine supplementation in large doses for over two decades and found side effects from supplementation to be very uncommon. However when using the higher dose recommendations of potassium iodide, there have been some concerns expressed by others.
Recent media reports are starting to document the side effects of taking potassium iodide. Then there is also the issue of unscrupulous vendors selling fake potassium iodide.
According to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), general side effects of potassium iodide include:
- Intestinal upset
- Allergic reactions (possibly severe)
- Inflammation of the salivary glands
Although detrimental side effects involving the thyroid gland are rare, you're at an increased risk of damaging your thyroid gland when taking potassium iodide if you:
- take a higher than recommended dose
- take the drug for several days, or
- have pre-existing thyroid disease
According to the CDC:
"Newborn infants (less than 1 month old) who receive more than one dose of KI are at particular risk for developing a condition known as hypothyroidism (thyroid hormone levels that are too low). If not treated, hypothyroidism can cause brain damage.
Infants who receive potassium iodide should have their thyroid hormone levels checked and monitored by a doctor. Avoid repeat dosing of potassium iodide to newborns."
This is important advice, as Poison Control Centers have already received seven cases of iodide over-exposure at the time of this writing… MSNBC reported that two of these cases suffered more serious symptoms such as vomiting, racing heart and vertigo (dizziness), adding that:
"Panic could spark a "mini-epidemic" of potassium iodide ingestion and overdoses, predicted Dr. Leonard Wartofsky, spokesman for the Endocrine Society and a thyroid expert.
He warned that the drug could cause serious reactions in some people and even backfire in the case of an actual emergency, putting people past a two-week window of safe dosage. After that period of time, the drug can induce severe hypothyroidism, a condition that essentially shuts down thyroid function.
"It is inappropriate, foolhardy and dangerous to be taking iodine supplements at this time," Wartofsky said. "It's very important to hold off until it's absolutely necessary."
Taking potassium iodide can be harmful to people who are allergic to iodine, those who have certain skin disorders and people with thyroid diseases including goiter, Graves' disease or autoimmune thyroid disorders."
It is also important to remember that potassium iodide only provide temporary protection and should only be taken immediately prior to the radiation exposure, because it's cleared from your body within 24-72 hours after swallowing it . More importantly, it does absolutely nothing to counter the effects of the other radioactive isotopes that you would be exposed to. It ONLY decreases exposure to radioactive iodine, nothing else. It also does not help your body detoxify any radiation exposure.
Let's View this Nuclear Crisis as a WAKE UP CALL!!
The good news is that in all likelihood this is NOT a serious threat to your health. The even better news is that the attention this has brought to focus has highlighted the fact that 19 out of 20 people are deficient in iodine, and have toxic levels of bromide, which could lead to thyroid impairment, breast and prostate cancers.
Fortunately this is easily remedied with sources of supplemental iodine. Dr. Brownstein recommends about 12.5 mg every day, which is about what the Japanese typically would consume in their diet. He believes this will provide about 95 percent of the protection that the 130 mg one-time adult dose that is currently recommended by public health authorities for radiation prophylaxis.
It is tragic for a nuclear crisis to occur anywhere but Japan is probably better prepared than any country in the world from a health perspective, as it is likely that 19 out of 20 Japanese have enough iodine and will not be at risk from the radioactive iodine exposure.
So the lesson is that you and your family should ideally be on a comprehensive iodine/iodide supplement. I actually have been researching this for the last three years and we were in the process of bringing a unique product to carry on our site.
Considering the US has loads of older nuclear plants that are susceptible to disasters and the high incidence of iodine deficiency, it would make sense to start supplementing.
This may not be the best time to start however, as this specific crisis has made it very difficult to find supplies at a reasonable price. If you have access to them then it would seem to make sense to supplement with 10-15 mg of an iodide/iodine supplement right away. If you have to wait until the hysteria dies down, there seems to be very little harm in waiting until the supply becomes more readily available.
The REAL Issue for Americans is NOT the Radioactivity but Bromide Toxicity
One of my favorite strategies to live life by is W. Clements Stones being an inverse paranoid and believing that the universe is conspiring to make you better, that for every apparently bad experience there is some hidden good that you typically just can't see because you are all wrapped up in the emotions of the "bad" experience.
So while it is clearly tragic that so many thousands lost their life in Japan in this crisis and many more will suffer for long periods, the saving grace is that we are more aware of this issue to be prepared for future disasters.
But from my perspective the more important point is that virtually all of us have an issue with overexposure to bromide that would benefit from iodine supplementation.
I have previously written an excellent article on this topic http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/09/05/Another-Poison-Hiding-in-Your-Environment.aspx but when I can assure you that when I wrote it I was virtually clueless as to the full impact of what I wrote about.
This crisis has brought this to my attention and I am now even more focused on it.
There is not enough time to go into all the details now but I can assure you that I will be providing much more insightful thyroid information in the future that will be able to really help bring light to this important topic.
Issues Other than Radioactive Iodine You Need to Know About
It's also worth mentioning that radioactive iodine is certainly not the only danger you face from nuclear fallout. There are a number of radioactive compounds that wreak havoc on the environment and the human body, and iodine will not protect against those.
Dr. Brownstein and I agree that taking a comprehensive mineral supplement to make sure your entire mineral stores are replenished is a good idea, to decrease your potential for absorbing other radioactive isotope minerals.
Additionally, you'll want to make sure you stay well hydrated, and Dr. Brownstein also highly recommends taking vitamin C to keep your antioxidant defense mechanism strong.
"If you do get exposed to toxicity, vitamin C is one of the best anti-toxicity nutrients you can take," he says. "In this case, it's wise not only to be taking vitamin C going into the situation, but if you know a radioactive cloud is coming, to increase your intake of vitamin C to give your body a little cushion against this toxic load."
To that, I would add taking Co Q10, or Ubiquinol if you're over 40, along with the vitamin C.
Because vitamin C only works when it's reduced. Once it donates an electron, it's oxidized and cannot work. Therefore, you need something to recharge it and Ubiquinol tends to do that—it's a powerful, synergistic combination.
Are Sea Vegetables Like Kelp a Healthier Alternative to Potassium Iodide?
Typically, vegetables provide enormous health benefits and those from the sea should provide loads of additional benefits over terrestrial vegetables. However, just like eating fish, the issue of contamination is a major factor here.
You probably know that I don't advise eating most fish because they typically are contaminated with heavy metals like mercury, and chemicals like PCBs and dioxins. Well, similarly most sea vegetables are contaminated. So while they were an ideal source of nutrition you need to be VERY careful about consuming them as an alternative to supplemental iodine.
Dr. Brownstein actually sent out many sea vegetable samples to labs and found that most of them were contaminated with heavy metals and had bromine instead of iodine. So if you chose to use sea vegetables like kelp, nori, and kombu, then make sure you have independent third party lab verification that they are not contaminated and indeed have iodine.
Another concern here is that kelp harvested after the Japanese radiation leak could be contaminated with radiation. So if you chose to use kelp you will certainly want to not only select organic versions, but also make sure that the company is able to prove to you that it has been screened for radioactivity by an independent third party and passed.
In conclusion I believe that toxin free sea vegetables are likely the ideal way to obtain your iodine. Just as toxin free fish is the best source of animal based omega-3 fats. However, with all the 20th century industrial pollution that is an increasingly difficult challenge to acquire. But if you can be certain the sea vegetables or seaweed supplement you want to use is toxin free it would likely be the ideal way to receive your iodine.
Spirulina—Another Potent Protector Against Toxic Radiation
Spirulina—a blue-green algae—might be another great alternative to protect against the effects of radiation, and there is in fact research backing this up. Spirulina was actually used to treat children exposed to chronic low-levels of radiation after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
According to a scientific review of spirulina's benefits:
"Up to very recently, the interest in Spirulina was mainly in its nutritive value. Currently, however, numerous people are looking into the possible therapeutic effects of Spirulina.
Many pre-clinical studies and a few clinical studies suggest several therapeutic effects ranging from reduction of cholesterol and cancer to enhancing the immune system, increasing intestinal lactobacilli, reducing nephrotoxicity by heavy metals and drugs and radiation protection."
But what is it about this blue-green algae that gives it this radiation-protective capacity?
Spirulina has a 16 percent phycocyanin content—a blue pigment that is attached to its photosynthetic membranes. Phycocyanin is also a nitrogen storage molecule. The nitrogen atoms can form a complex with heavy metals such as radioactive cesium and stronium, hence "cleansing" these radioactive metals from your body.
In one animal study from China, published in 2001, the authors concluded that "spirulina has chemo-protective and radio-protective capability, and may be a potential adjunct to cancer therapy."
Another study published in the journal Cellular and Molecular Biology in January this year found that spirulina was effective in the treatment of anemia and age-related decrease of immune function in seniors.
Spirulina, and chlorella, have similar concerns as sea vegetables though. They can easily absorb the radiation so if you are purchasing any that were harvested after last week you will want to make sure they have been screened for radiation.
What about Chlorella?
Chlorella is another amazing tool for detoxification and is also loaded with chlorophyll which will increase your resistance to radiation.
Kelp and other seaweeds (high in natural iodine)
Zeolites (to neutralize radiation) or bentonite clays
Ashwaganda (an adaptogenic herb)
Reishi mushrooms (strong immune support)
High-dose vitamin C
Coconut oil, which supports optimal thyroid health
Astaxanthin is another supplement I'd seriously consider, as it too has been found to have some protective function against ionizing radiation.
Additional Resources You Need to Aid with Radiation Detox
I also interviewed Ori Hofmekler on this topic for alternative viewpoint with regards to how you can decrease the risk to your health from radiation. The interview can be accessed by clicking the link at the top of this page. Ori makes some compelling arguments for the use of sweet whey to help protect against absorbing radioactive minerals.
One of the reasons for using sweet whey in a situation like this is because whey protein contains all the precursors that help your body produce glutathione, which is one of the best ways to detoxify these toxins.
"The other reason is that sweet whey is a whole whey… It's the highest source of all minerals and trace minerals that exist in nature. It has every possible mineral and trace elements—including organic sodium—that your body needs in the most bioactive form.
For more detailed information and explanations, please listen to Ori's interview, or read through the transcript. It's a fairly compelling argument, and I wanted to offer you a number of perspectives.
Clearly, consuming whole whey has so many other health benefits (and I recommend consuming it daily anyway for optimal health) so you can't go wrong by taking it now if you've never tried it before.
If you want to use whey as a source of minerals, I strongly recommend making sure it's grass-fed organic whey from raw milk.
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Minelli R, et al. Effects of excess iodine administration on thyroid function in euthyroid patients with a previous episode of thyroid dysfunction induced by interferon-alpha treatment. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf). Sep, 1997; 47(3):357-361.
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Source: Dr. Mercola