The recent events in Japan are devastating and have hit some of us quite personally. My heart goes out to all those there struggling with the situation. Even though it has been two months, Japan still struggles with many small aftershocks, and with recovering from the devastation.
Understandably, some of my patients have expressed concern about the possibility of excess radiation reaching our area from Japan, and wondering what we should do about it. In particular, they have said that some health food stores are pushing Potassium Iodide (KI), a salt that provides your body with extra iodine. More about that below.
First of all, I have checked many times over the past 2 months, and both official U.S. monitoring, and independent sources, such as The Radiation Network, are NOT reporting increased radiation in the U.S. so far by monitoring the air. It is true that many are saying we should monitor the rainwater more closely, and some are taking steps to do that. If it interests you, definitely check out their website.
That said, it is reasonable, and a step in the right direction, for us to have increased awareness around radiation in our atmosphere, and what we can do about it. There is always a low level of natural radiation in the atmosphere. We are always slightly at risk of a stray emission causing a defect. While of course this is also part of the way we have evolved, too much exposure is highly dangerous, particularly for developing fetuses.
The sad news is that our concern should not be new and not just about the radiation from Japan. We have nuclear reactors right here in the U.S., and nuclear testing was done here in the 60s and 70s. We have all been exposed too much as it is, some more than others. In addition, testing by X-rays and CT-scans is pretty routine, and even flying in a plane we get more exposure than here on the ground. I heard a report on the radio recently that new data is showing that increases in autism have never correlated with vaccine use, but they are now finding a profound correlation between autism and other diseases and living near increased radiation areas. So we need to protect ourselves all the time as best we can.
The idea behind Potassium Iodide (KI) is to make sure your thyroid is full of healthy iodine so it doesn’t take in radioactive iodine, which is a major component in what is released by nuclear reactors. So all KI can do for you if you take it is protect your thyroid from radioactive iodine. It cannot protect any other part of your body, and it cannot protect against other forms of radiation. Generally, it is only recommended to take KI if there is a significant raise in radiation levels. Most Americans get plenty of iodine in salt, and so most of our thyroids are probably pretty full of iodine already. On the other hand, having too much in the form of KI can cause its own problems.
Mild reactions include intestinal upsets, rashes, possibly severe allergic reactions, and an inflammation of the salivary glands. Potassium Iodide can have more adverse health effects in some people, for instance in those who have pre-existing thyroid disease (and many people do without even knowing it), certain rare skin diseases, a known sensitivity to iodine, and in newborns. Newborns can possibly develop hypothyroidism, which at their age can cause brain damage. So pregnant and nursing mothers should also be especially careful about taking KI, doing it only if there is an emergency and under the supervision of a doctor. Older people are also more likely to have thyroid reactions, like thyrotoxicosis. Read the full Center for Disease Control write up here.
Sea vegetables are better long term for protecting your thyroid. They are very high in naturally occurring iodine (100-200mcg per gram). Adding kelp, wakame, dulse, sea lettuce, kombu, bladderwack, hijiki, nori and others to your diet will help protect your thyroid and reduce your risk of cancer. Eating these plants may benefit you more than supplementing with KI because the organic form of iodine found in kelp matches the way the element is stored in thyroid hormones and sea veggies are packed with complimentary nutrients. Eat your sea greens, but try not to exceed 1000 micrograms in a day. This is too much for most bodies to process and may lead to nausea, stomach ache and burning sensations in the mouth and throat.
As for the rest of your body, that’s a whole article; but briefly, I recommend the following. Keeping healthy in general helps our body fight off any cancer cells that come along. Adequate exercise and rest are both important from Chinese Medicine point of view to keep the Qi and Yin adequate and circulating. Acupuncture and Chinese herbs also are great for this. Come see me!! Eating lots of greens, whole grains and fruit both provides us with plenty of anti-oxidants to neutralize free radicals that can add to damage to cells, and also help alkalize us, making an environment inhospitable to cancer cells. Doing a cleanse can help clear your body of excess toxins. Avoid X-rays as much as possible; make sure your throat is covered with the shield at the dentist. And last but not least, we need to keep lobbying our governments to STOP testing nuclear weapons and STOP using nuclear reactors.