Forbes Nutrional Services

Nutrition for Radiation

I have received a lot of questions from friends and family here in Hawaii about nutritional ways to protect from exposure to radiation.  These questions are prompted by the tragic events currently unfolding in Japan.  My constant prayer and belief is that the situation will come back under control, but I still thought it would be wise to post this information for all of you out there for the sake of educational purposes and to help those of you who may be exposed to radiation at work or as part of cancer treatment.  So, here’s what I know:

  • The single most important nutrient when looking at protection from radioactive fallout is iodine, which is why almost every store here in Hawaii all the way to the west coast of the US is sold out of iodine supplements.  Radioactive iodine is a by-product of uranium fission, and iodine is a necessary nutrient for the body which is taken up hungrily by the thyroid.  If the body is low in iodine, it will absorb more than a fair share of radioactive iodine which is obviously very harmful and can lead to several types of cancer, particularly thyroid cancer.  For more info on iodine for protection from nuclear fallout, check out the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s article on the subject.
  • If you are able to flood the body with real, non-radioactive iodine before possible exposure to radioactive iodine you will be less likely to absorb the radioactivity because the thyroid is less hungry.  It’s basically the same principle as ruining your appetite for dinner by eating lots of snacks…except in this case dinner is radioactive.
  • The dosages of iodine used by the NRC are either 65 mg or 130 mg once daily, which offers 24 hours of protection.  These are very high doses intended for those living near a fallout zone.  A daily intake of about 3 mg iodine for at least 2 weeks will saturate the thyroid while a dose of 10 to 15 mg should immediately saturate the thyroid.  This is a moderately high dose but has been estimated to be the regular daily intake of a person in Japan (they eat a lot of seafood and seaweed – two of the richest sources of iodine), where rates of cancer are surprisingly low.  To put this in perspective, the RDA for an adult male is only 150 micrograms per day (a microgram equals 1/1000 of a milligram – mg).  The RDA is only enough to prevent goiter, but not enough to provide the iodine needs for the rest of the body that include cancer prevention, immunity, and skin health.  I could go on and on about iodine, but that’s not the focus of this blog.  However, if you are interested in reading more about iodine as a nutrient I recommend looking into the Linus Pauling Institute’s entry or reading the book Iodine: Why you need it, Why you can’t live without it by David Brownstein, MD.
  • Children and fetuses are most at risk in the event of fallout, because thyroid cancer takes between 10 and 20 years to develop after exposure to radioactive iodine and they are growing so quickly that their thyroids are more “hungry” and therefore more vulnerable.
  • The half life (meaning the amount of time it takes for quantities to reduce by half) of radioactive iodine is 8 days.  This means that concentration is going to be highest when exposure first happens but over the course of a couple of weeks it will gradually fade (though in the event of a nuclear meltdown, large quantities of radioactive materials will persist in the environment for decades if not longer).  My point in telling you this is that if at all possible, take preventive measures at the beginning of exposure when levels are highest.
  • Vitamin E can also be very helpful for preventing side effects from radiation exposure (particularly the kind involved in cancer treatment).  The generally suggested dose is 400 IU twice daily.  Just be sure it is vitamin E in a natural form from supplements or from vitamin E rich foods such as cold-pressed oils or raw nuts.
  • Homeopathic remedies have also been indicated in prevention of radiation side effects.  That is not my expertise, however, so I won’t get into that too much except to say that if it’s something you would like to consider I would suggest working with someone knowledgable in the subject since homeopathic remedies need to be accurately prescribed to get the desired effects.
  • As far as the current crisis goes, if things progress negatively (God forbid!) and risk of contamination is serious, our immediate exposure here in the United States depends on the jet stream pattern.  Jet streams are narrow bands of high-altitude wind that move at high speeds around the world.  To see updated jet stream maps, go to the San Francisco State University’s Jet Stream Map page.

Hopefully this information has helped you to calm your fears rather than add to them.  I find that the worst thing in working with health is not understanding the risk of things we are dealing with because the mystery of it makes it that much more scary.  On a personal note, if you’d like to know what I am doing for my family in preparation for the possibility of events taking a turn for the worse:

  • I took our bottle of Iodoralout of the cabinet and put it on the counter so we’d remember to take a tablet each day (my husband and any friends that happen to be over take 1 tablet and I take 2 since I’m still breastfeeding the toddler formerly known as Mr. Milk).  Even if nothing happens, I think it’s still good for us to get our iodine levels up since I occasionally experience some of the symptoms of low iodine levels such as PMS and my husband works in construction where he’s sometimes exposed to chemicals and heavy metals that can deplete iodine.
  • I’m planning to serve more iodine-rich meals until the Japanese reactor situation is under control.  This includes sushi, miso soup, eggs, fish, using ground seaweed in the form of Gomasio or powdered kelp as a seasoning, and adding a few pieces of dry kelp to soups or stews to release iodine.
  • I’m stocking up on nori sheets (you can buy them here in huge packs at Costco).  If you don’t have access to iodine tablets, seaweed is your next best bet.  The amount of iodine varies, but an average estimate is that 1/4 ounce of dried seaweed can contain up to 4.5 mg of iodine!  Nori sheets are one of my favorite forms of seaweed because they last forever, don’t take up much space, are inexpensive, and the big toddler loves to snack on them while running around the house.  Since the situation is not more dire, I’m not having him take iodine supplements but I am letting him have his fill of nori.  Radiation or not, it’s a great snack for kids and the iodine in it helps them become supremely intelligent so they will be able to figure out 10 times faster how to get around all of your household childproofing efforts.
  • I’m also praying!  A lot.  For the people in Japan that have lost so much, for the brave workers at the nuclear plant who are putting themselves at risk to keep the rest of us safe, for mankind in general.  I’m trusting that it will all work together for good, and I’m not letting myself go down a negative route of worrying…that’s bad for the thyroid!

NOTE: This blog is not intended to replace the advice of a qualified health care practitioner.  If you are under medical care, especially if it is surrounding your thyroid, please work with a practitioner before adding iodine  or any other nutritional supplement to your routine.  Iodine should not be taken in large doses for extended periods of time without consulting a health care practitioner to determine specific needs.

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24 comments

1 Deborah Mickelson { 03.15.11 at 11:50 am }

Awesome Jess! Thanks for your time to educate us on all this stuff! I was totally wondering about it since the media has been talking about it so much. – You Rock!

2 Marty H { 03.15.11 at 11:52 am }

Jess, this is a wonderful write-up! Thanks so much for your straightforward approach and for helping me understand the value of iodine in all this. I’m particularly grateful for your explaining the relative value of specific amounts of iodine as a supplement and the value of sea vegetables in the diet. Good advice anytime, but especially now. Love, blessings, prayers and gratitude from the East Coast.

3 Pam Coffman { 03.15.11 at 12:07 pm }

Awesome information. Thanks for being a calm voice in a crazy time.

4 Torey { 03.15.11 at 12:36 pm }

So interesting. I learned a lot. You guys should get the korean seaweed it’s really good.

5 Chuck Beckman { 03.15.11 at 12:44 pm }

Thank you so much for a very informative, practical and well-stated article. I will be able to put this to good use.

6 Debra West { 03.15.11 at 1:17 pm }

Thank you Jessica for the information and for the expression of faith and prayer.

7 Debra West { 03.15.11 at 1:17 pm }

What is moderation?

8 Bekah Christie { 03.15.11 at 1:43 pm }

What an extremely helpful and positive post! Thank you Jessica! :-)

9 Alice { 03.15.11 at 2:00 pm }

Good info but VERY important not to overdose on Iodine for long periods and careful with children and iodine.

10 Marci Wellens { 03.15.11 at 2:42 pm }

Great article! Objective, informative, and filled with compassion and faith for the unknown variables. Thanks so much.

11 Mickye Molina { 03.15.11 at 3:17 pm }

Thanks so much for the valuable info, even for us on the mainland.

12 Michael { 03.15.11 at 5:55 pm }

Jessica – What have you heard about Rosemary and it’s effects on radiation? I’ve seen some websites that say it was effective, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot on this. Thanks.

13 Linnea Johnson { 03.16.11 at 3:22 am }

Jessica, you convey such important information about a serious issue in a way that is understandable and enjoyable to read. You can just feel the “fear” slip away…what a heart you have!

14 Jessica Forbes { 03.16.11 at 10:57 am }

I am more familiar with rosemary’s ability to support thyroid function, but on doing a brief literature search I found that rosemary has been studied for its ability to work against free radical damage, especially the kind involved in radiation. Interesting stuff! Thanks for sharing.

15 Jessica Forbes { 03.16.11 at 11:02 am }

Yes, absolutely important! Anyone considering taking iodine for longer periods of time should definitely read both of the references I posted (Linus Pauling site and the Iodine book) and should work with a nutrition-minded practitioner.

16 Jessica Forbes { 03.16.11 at 11:04 am }

I’m not sure what this is in reference to but in general, moderation to me (as far as nutrition goes) means using common sense and doing what is reasonable.

17 Jessica Forbes { 03.16.11 at 11:05 am }

That is my son’s favorite kind – it comes in those small sheets and is really tasty!

18 Charlene Gray { 03.16.11 at 7:01 pm }

Thanks so much for your clarity and faithful fun spirit in this time of overwhelm.

19 Chenani Moncayo { 03.17.11 at 9:57 am }

Thank you for this wonderful Blog! I recently started giving my 1 year old nori sheets but had no idea how wonderfully nutritious they were! Glad she loves them! Please keep up the good work! We all need it =)

20 Myra Gruenberg { 03.21.11 at 8:42 am }

Thanks Jess. This was awesome!

21 Myra Gruenberg { 03.21.11 at 8:44 am }

Jessica, do you have a book or books you recommend for someone planning a preganacy – pre-pregnancy preparation information? My Mom read Adela Davis and said she had no symptoms of water retention, etc. while she was pregnant.

22 Damian { 04.17.11 at 7:05 pm }

Jessica have you got any thoughts on the safety of Nori itself? Most radiation at present seems to be being released to the sea. And given that Japan, Korea and China are the largest Nori producers it is likely that most Nori production is from a relatively close proximity to Fukushima. I can’t find any information on this and therefore i’m not eating Nori at present.

23 Jessica Forbes { 06.13.11 at 3:48 pm }

I really like anything by Ina May Gaskin for preparation for childbirth though I don’t agree with all of her nutritional info (she’s a little soy heavy for my taste, but the rest of her books are so amazing that I have read and re-read them and then just ignore the part about eating lots of soy during pregnancy). For nutrition during pregnancy anything from the Weston A Price Foundation or anything by Sally Fallon is wonderful. And for specific pregnancy info I like the book A Natural Guide to Pregnancy and Postpartum Health by Robert Rountree.

24 Jessica Forbes { 06.13.11 at 4:00 pm }

That is a really great question! From what I have read, the concern is more for fresh seaweeds because dried seaweed like nori takes time for processing and over that time the majority of any radioactive iodine that is absorbed would “decay”. I did stock up like a lunatic on nori right when the disaster hit, so I know that what I’ve got overflowing in my cabinets does not contain any radioactive iodine. However, if there is a concern in buying fresh seaweed then it would be better to stick to varieties grown in the Atlantic like wakame or dulse.

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