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Nuclear radiation leaks and your health

With all the media coverage of Japan’s crisis, what has grabbed the attention of the world, is the potential disaster relating to the Fukushima nuclear reactors going into meltdown. This is not a local issue but potentially can affect the world. It ‘fires’ up the debate of nuclear energy for human use (and abuse) and its safety or otherwise.

These days there are many sources of radiation – medical uses and otherwise – and with the advent of nuclear reactors and their occasional (but impactful) problems there is an increasing background radiation world wide, largely due to low grade nuclear fallout.

We need to remember that all damage from all radiation is cumulative, regardless of the source but without getting into the debate on whether or not we should utilise nuclear energy, there are ways we can reduce the negative effects on our health.

Obviously if a person receives a very large dose of radiation, this is a life threatening situation. What is more common and more treatable, is the smaller doses we receive – often on a daily basis, added to the frequently higher doses administered medically. All of it is cumulative.

With nuclear fallout, the forms of radiation released include Iodine-131 with a half life of 8 days (iodine is taken up by the thyroid), Cesium -137 with a half life of 30 years (cesium affects the muscles and is carcinogenic). Strontium-90 displaces calcium in bone and is implicated in leukemia. It has a half life of 28 years. These take about 200 years to be fully inactive. Plutonium-239 tends to settle in the lungs and contributes to lung cancer. It has a half life of 24,000 years – longer than we will be around.

There are a few steps that are important to consider in radioprotection.

Supplemental iodine: If exposed to radioactive fallout it is important to block thyroid uptake of radioactive iodine for a couple of weeks as it will store in thyroid. If the dose is high enough, it will destroy thyroid cells (I-131 is given medically to destroy the thyroid gland in cases of thyrotoxicosis), so blocking the uptake of I-131 with non-radioactive sources for a few weeks is sensible. However be careful of amounts of iodine ingested as there is currently a large number of people taking excessive iodine and causing thyroid problems.

Iodine in some form should be supplemented ie seaweeds in foods. Miso soup is particularly good as it contains seaweed and fermented soy which protects against radiation. Lugol’s solution (soluble iodine) – a couple of drops rubbed into the palms of the hands or soles of the feet is a safe way of supplementing. Potassium iodide is also prescribed at times.

Radiation damages DNA with oxidative damage, so a good antioxidant formula is important for repair. Vitamins C and E have been shown to assist in the repair of DNA damaged by irradiation. Betacarotene research has shown promising results. Glutamine should be considered as it helps protect the gut mucosal wall.

Radioactive cesium-137 and strontium-90 can be transmitted through the food chain. To protect against Strontium -90 make sure you have more than adequate calcium and associated mineral supplementation to reduce the uptake in bone. Supplemental calcium hydroxyapatite is excellent.

Good detoxification formulas will also help remove the radioactive waste from the body. Foods like chlorella, pectin and clays such as bentonite clay are excellent.

Plutonium, cesium and strontium are all heavy metals so supplementing with heavy metal chelators such as chlorella and coriander is a good idea. Coriander pesto is great on your toast at breakfast – swap the basil leaves with coriander, and this along with the garlic will assist detoxification. Chlorella helps reduce the bond between the radioactive particles and the soft tissue of the body, coriander helps remove it through the urine. Drink 2 to 3 litres of purified water per day to facilitate this process.

 

Herbal medicines

Chaparral has been show to protect the body against damage caused by radiation exposure. Panax ginseng and Panax quinquefolium (American ginseng), with their antioxidant and immuno-modulating activities provide radioprotection, and they assist in reducing radiation-induced toxicity in those with the risk of radiation exposure from occupational accidents.

Garlic defends against ionising radiation. Grapeseed extract as a major antioxidant should also be considered. Even a cup of good peppermint tea has been shown to be radioprotective.

Radiation causes oxidative damage and generates an inflammatory response – herbs that reduce inflammation such as turmeric along with nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids should also be supplemented.

 

References

i Kumar K., et al, Nutritional approaches to radioprotection: Vitamin E. Mil Med 2002;167(2S):57-9
ii Sakamoto K, Sakka M. Reduced effect of irradiation on normal and malignant cells irradiated in vivo in mice pretreated with vitamin E. Br J Radiol 1973;46(547):538-540
iii Umegaki K., et al Beta-carotene prevents x-ray induction of micronuclei in human lymphocytes. Am J Clin Nutr 1994;59(2):409-12
iv Diestal C., et al., Role of L-Glutamine and glycine supplementation on irradiated colonic wall. Int J Colorectal Dis 2007;22(12):1523-9
v Singh S., et al., Post exposure radioprotection by Chlorella vulgaris (E-25) in mice. Indian J Exp Biol 1995;33(8):612-5
vi Lee T., et al ., Radioprotective potential of ginseng. Mutagenesis (July 2005) 20 (4): 237-243
vii Borek, C. Antioxidant Health effects of aged garlic extract. J Nutr 2001;131(3s):1010S-5S
viii Cetin A., et al The effect of grape seed extract on radiation-induced oxidative stress in the rat liver. Turk J Gastroenterol 2008;19(2):92-8
ix Manjeshwar S., et al., Radioprotective potential of mint: A brief review. J Canc Res & Therapeut 2010;6(3):255-262

Dr Karen Bridgman

Dr Karen Bridgman

Karen Bridgman is a holistic practitioner at Lotus Health and Lotus Dental in Neutral Bay.

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