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Japan and Radiation

With all the public concern of nuclear fallout reaching our West Coast, I’d like to share these 2 very informative articles which came my way via my colleague Amber Novak, LAc. Please read through both articles if you’d like to see why Siberian ginseng, reishi & shitake mushroom, and Cordyceps are better health protection than potassium iodide in the event of significant risk of radiation poisoning from nuclear disaster.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Tamara Cullen ND, the founder of Naturopathic Family Medicine,  has this blog posted on her site that talks about potassium iodide.  I have a professional relationship with Dr Cullen and hold her in very high regards.

To your health.

Radiation Toxicity: What You Need to Know about the use of Potassium Iodide


The following excerpt is from my colleague,  Dr. Suzann Wang, in Monterrey, CA (with a few additions by us).

In the wake of the Japan Earthquake, Tsunami and resulting nuclear reactor explosions many of us on the West Coast are wondering how to protect ourselves from any future radiation exposure. Our exposure can come by way of Japan’s nuclear problem and its fallout brought to us via the jetstream and winds.  The biggest concern that you need to be aware of is the possible risk of cancers, especially thyroid cancer from nuclear fall-out. So far, the risk to Americans and Canadians is very little since the nuclear reactors have mostly been contained by the heroic nuclear experts in Japan.  However, in the interest of emergency preparedness I thought I would address the use of Potassium Iodide tablets and why it would help protect your thyroid from cancer.

Many of us know that iodine is the main mineral that is used by the thyoid to integrate into the formation of thyroid hormone. The lower your iodine levels are in your body, the more likely that your body will absorb and utilize radioactive iodine from nuclear fall-out.  The use of iodized salt has helped minimize the formation of goiters or enlarged thyroid as a result of low iodine levels historically but this alone is not sufficient to protect your body from absorbing radioactive iodine.

Enter potassium iodide or its scientific abbreviation KI.  Potassium iodide has long since been given as a preventative measure for protecting people from thyroid cancer after nuclear accidents. It’s usefulness has been especially noted after the Chernobyl nuclear accident where the risk of thyroid cancer has become an epidemic since the 1986 disaster.  In adjacent Poland where KI emergency therapy was instituted there seems to have been no increase in thyroid cancer incidence.  Potassium Iodide has an immediate protective effect for people who are at risk for inhaling radioactive iodine. Too, it is helpful in the longer term during exposure from foods that have had radioactive iodine and strontium contamination. Dr. David Brenner of the Center for Radiological research at Columbia University believes that had people exposed to Chernobyl’s fall-out been told to stop consuming dairy products, this would have significantly reduced the incidence of thyroid cancers and leukemia caused by radiation exposure they are now experiencing.  Dr. Brenner explains that KI prevents the thyroid from absorbing the toxic radioactive iodine but that in the long run 98% of radiation exposure is from the settling of radioactive particles onto the food our food sources consume. Our exposure to radioactive iodine is mostly indirect primarily due to consumption of dairy products which are derived from radioactively contaminated grass and is concentrated in the milk of cows and other milk producing animals. Also fruits and vegetables sourced near a nuclear accident location is also important to avoid due to radioactive contamination.

The American Thyroid Association recommends taking KI 12-24 hours prior to radioactive exposure at a full dose of 130 mg per adult and 65 mg for children between ages 3 and 18 and 32 mg for children between ages 1 and 3.  This dose should then be repeated every 24 hours as long as radiation is in the environment.  In truth, the FDA has published a statement saying that children as young as 1 month can be given the full adult dose of 130 mg.  Absolute precision in dosing of KI is not necessary except for the very young (under 1 month of age).  Please note that the CDC states that pregnant and breastfeeding women of infants and newborns should not repeat dosing and should instead be evacuated from the area.

Check your news channels for potential radiation exposure for your area and take your iodine tablets if your area is at risk for high radiation levels. Start taking your doses of iodine/iodide about 24-48 hours before fallout arrives to your area, and repeat dosing every 24 hours. Remember, that kids are much more susceptible than adults over 40, when the development of thyroid cancer diminishes.


If you are still with us, here is another article.   This one is from a recommendation from another colleague, Brie Wieselman, LAc.   I do not know this author, but she had some very good  information.

Nucear Fallout from Japan, Radiation, and the West Coast

by Brie Wieselman on Wednesday, March 16, 2011 at 6:13pm

In the past week I have been bombarded by questions from clients and loved ones about how to deal with potential radiation fallout from nuclear disaster in Japan. As of Wednesday, new, worsening problems are being reported in 2 more out of 6 reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, and it is being considered a very serious problem in Japan, due to leaking of radioactive material into the environment.  Attempts to cool the reactors with seawater to prevent them from melting seem to be failing.  Radioactive Iodine and Ceasium have been detected in the region surrounding the plant; iodine accumulates in receptor sites in the thyroid gland, and ceasium affects soft tissues.  Radioactive iodine decays pretty quickly—most of it will be gone within a month.  Radioactive ceasium clears from the body within about a week, but can stay in the environment for 30 years and continue to cause problems. Levels of radiation as high as 400 millisieverts per hour have been recorded at the plant itself, but most reports are showing that on average the level at the plant since the earthquake have been around 10 millisieverts or less.—15 millisieverts is equal to one abdominal CT scan.   Exposure to levels around 400 millisieverts for several hours could cause radiation sickness.

At this point, while there is risk for leaked radiation to cross the pacific and reach us here on the California coast, in order for the levels that reach us to be high enough to warrant alarm, there would have to be catastrophic release of radiation in Japan. Even then, it would take 5-15 days to migrate here, and would still dissipate largely in it’s migration across the water.   That said, Dr. James Thrall, radiologist-in-chief at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and president of the American College of Radiology, said recently that  “anything more than about 50 millisieverts may be cause for alarm, including the use of potassium iodide pills to mitigate exposure.” The radiologist claims that studies conducted after the atomic bombing of Japan during World War II showed those exposed to 50 millisieverts or more of radiation were at increased risk for leukemia and cancer.

As of 3 days ago, health food stores throughout the west coast have completely sold out of Potassium Iodide due to the rush of people wanting to protect themselves.  As a healthcare practitioner, this is concerning to me, because while it is a “natural” substance, available over the counter, it should also not be administered in the doses needed for this kind of radiation protection without the observation of a medical professional.  Here are some of the reasons why:

The doses needed (taken daily for up to 2 weeks) to protect your thyroid from taking up radioactive iodine are as follows:

Birth to 1 year 65mg daily (1/2 IOSAT tablet)

Age 1 to Adult 130mg daily (One IOSAT tablet)

The reason this works is basically that if all the receptor sites in your thyroid gland are saturated with iodine, they can’t take up the radioactive iodine that would compete for the same sites.

(Here is an explanation of why Iodine Tablets are distributed by the government when radiation toxicity is a danger:

However, it is not natural for our thyroid to have every site filled with iodine molecules, and this can rapidly promote overstimulation of the gland and too much thyroid hormone activity in our bodies. “Taking high doses of iodine can itself have adverse effects, including causing abnormalities of thyroid function,” said Dr. Alan Gaby, the author of the textbook, “Nutritional Medicine.” “Personally, I would not take a large dose of iodine without any clear evidence of radiation exposure.

For people with hyperthyroidism, this is a big, big problem.   For most people with low thyroid, which happens from a variety of causes, this can actually be a really destructive thing as well.  For people with thyroid disease in their family, who don’t yet exhibit signs of thyroid disorder, or who haven’t yet been diagnosed, this can trigger the onset of symptoms related to thyroid problems.  In short, there are a huge number of undiagnosed people that these types of problems affect, walking around in the general public, who may chose to preemptively dose themselves with Potassium Iodide without understanding the proper time to use it or proper dosage guidelines, and may inadvertently cause themselves some problems!

The second issue is that the doses mentioned above are about 10-100 times the doses recommended on products available thru your natural food store.  1 Milligram equals 1000 micrograms.   So, in the event that radiation levels rise here on the west coast to the point that we do need to take Potassium iodide as radiation protection, it is important to understand how much to take and for how long.  Food sources, such as iodized salt or sea vegetables, simply don’t contain enough actual iodine molecules to thoroughly and continuously saturate the receptors in your thyroid gland.

The other issue is that while Potassium iodide will protect you from radioactive iodine, in the event of a nuclear disaster, there are many other types of radioactive isotopes that are released into the atmosphere:



Half Life


Accumulates (bHL)

Associated with




8 days

dissolves in water

thyroid (~100 days)

thyroid cancer



30 years

dissolves in water


cancer of liver, kidneys, pancreas



29 years

mimics calcium in body

bones, teeth (30 years)




Up to 83 million years

inhaled; P-241 decays to Am-241

liver (20 yrs) bones (50 yrs)

various cancers



430 years

inhaled or ingested in food, water

liver (20 yrs) bones (50 yrs)

various cancers

Sources: Environmental Protection Agency; Argonne National Laboratory.   Note: bHL stand for biological half-life.

The final issue is side effects!

Here are some of the possible side effects from taking iodine at these doses:

acne, loss of appetite, or upset stomach (especially during the first several days, as the body adjusts to the medication), fever, weakness, unusual tiredness, swelling in the neck or throat, mouth sores, skin rash, nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, irregular heartbeat, numbness or tingling of the hands or feet, or a metallic taste in the mouth.

Everyone is exposed to some amount of radiation, daily.  If you fly on airplanes, use a cell phone,  or lay in the sunshine, you are absorbing radiation.  Short of an emergency with actual reported high levels of measured radiation, I do not advise starting KI at this time.  In the meantime, there are things we can do that in my opinion are more reasonable, to protect ourselves from radiation in general.  Believe it or not, hot, soapy water, rinses radioactivity acquired from the air, off of your skin. One of the first things they do with people near the plants who they measure and find high levels of exposure, is wash them off with soap and hot water, (in a shower, not a bath) so the water rinses off of their body.  Eleuthero, or Siberian Ginseng, lessens the effects of radiation on the body. This is used often with people who are undergoing radiation or chemo to protect their bodies from the toxic side effects, and in fact, was handed out to citizens during the catastrophic nuclear spill at Chernobyl to help protect them.  Reishi mushroom prevents cellular damage. Besides having profound anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, tumor & cancer preventive actions, it also has radio protective properties.  In studies in Japan, mice treated with a compound found in shiitake mushrooms prior to radiation exposure were found to have complete protection from lowered blood cell counts normally caused by radiation exposure.  And Cordyceps has been proven to protect bone marrow and intestinal lining specifically from the effects of radiation exposure.  Supplementing with these botanicals and increasing the amount of seaweeds you eat in the next several weeks will offer you a good deal of protection from low level drift, and in the unlikely event that the west coast ends up in a crisis where Potassium iodide dosing is necessary, these herbs will offer you multifaceted extra defense.

Love and Light,  Brie

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