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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Radiation Exposure - What are the Health Risks?

Since the disaster events in Japan causing leakage of radiation from several nuclear power plants, we have had many of our clients contact us with questions about how to protect themselves from radiation poisoning. This is especially true for our friends in Hawaii. But even in California, Ted's wife, Patsy, who has relatives in Southern California, tells me that there are news reports telling folks to stay inside this weekend if there is rain.

The greater the shielding around a radiation source, the smaller the exposure. Shielding simply means having something that will absorb radiation between you and the source of the radiation. The amount of shielding required to protect against different kinds of radiation depends on how much energy they have.

(Alpha)
A thin piece of light material, such as paper, or even the dead cells in the outer layer of human skin provides adequate shielding because alpha particles can't penetrate it. However, the danger lies in inhaled or ingested alpha emitters.

(Beta)
Additional covering, for example heavy clothing, is necessary to protect against beta-emitters. Some beta particles can penetrate and burn the skin.

(Gamma)
Thick, dense shielding, such as lead, is necessary to protect against gamma rays. The higher the energy of the gamma ray, the thicker the lead must be. X-rays pose a similar challenge, so x-ray technicians often give patients receiving medical or dental X-rays a lead apron to cover other parts of their body.

Protection from Radiation Poisoning

When radioactive material gets inside your body, you have to wait until it decays or until your body can eliminate it. Alpha and beta particles are the main concern for internal exposure. Alpha and beta radiation concentrate in the thyroid. The thyroid needs iodine to function normally, and cannot tell the difference between stable and radioactive isotopes. As a result, alpha and beta radiation contributes to thyroid cancer more than other types of cancer. The key is to protect the thyroid. This is done by taking iodine/potassium supplements. If the thyroid is full of stable plant source iodine and potassium, radioactive isotopes cannot enter the thyroid. Kelp is an excellent source of both of these nutrients.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does radiation cause health effects?
Living tissue in the human body can be damaged by radiation in a unique manner. The body attempts to repair the damage, but sometimes the damage is of a nature that cannot be repaired or it is too severe or widespread to be repaired. The natural repair process can lead to cancerous cells.

What health problems does exposure to radiation cause?
Cancer is considered by most people the primary health effect from radiation exposure. Simply put, cancer is the uncontrolled growth of cells. Radiation’s ability to break chemical bonds in atoms and molecules makes it such a potent carcinogen. Other serious health effects may also occur. Radiation can cause changes in DNA, the “blueprints” that bring about cell repair. These changes in DNA are called “mutations”. Sometimes the body fails to repair these mutations or even creates mutations during repair. Mutations may be passed on to offspring.

High-Level Exposure
Unlike cancer, health effects from high-level exposure to radiation usually appear quickly with health effects that include burns and radiation sickness. Radiation sickness is also called ‘radiation poisoning.’ High-level radiation can cause premature aging or even death. If the dose is fatal, death usually occurs within two months. The symptoms of radiation sickness include: nausea, weakness, damage to bone marrow, hair loss, skin burns or diminished organ function.

Is any amount of radiation safe?
There is no real basis for setting a “safe” level of exposure for radiation. In setting limits, the Environmental Protection Agency states that any increase in radiation exposure has a possibility of serious health concerns.

How do we know radiation causes cancer?
Scientists recognized as early at 1910 that radiation caused skin cancer. Scientists began to keep track of the health effects, and soon set up careful scientific studies of groups of people who had been exposed.

Among the best known long-term studies are those of Japanese atomic bomb blast survivors, other populations exposed to nuclear testing fallout (for example, natives of the Marshall Islands), and uranium miners.

Are children more sensitive to radiation than adults?

Yes, because children are growing more rapidly, there are more cells dividing and a greater opportunity for radiation to disrupt the process. Fetuses are also highly sensitive to radiation. The resulting effects depend on which biological systems are developing at the time of exposure.

If exposed to radioactive fallout, what should I do?

* Protecting your thyroid, the most vulnerable organ in your body
* Removing as much of the radiation as possible from your body, as quickly as possible
* Protecting your DNA from genetic mutation

Iodine

Radioactive iodine is released into the upper atmosphere after a nuclear event. This radiation can be carried great distances on high speed winds and then drop down into the lower atmosphere, where it may be breathed into the lungs. Radioactive iodine can also contaminate crops on the ground and get into the body through food and drink. The problem is that your thyroid gland has a tremendous affinity for iodine, radioactive or otherwise. In other words, the thyroid gland quickly absorbs radioactive iodine, where it can injure or even kill the gland.

To protect your thyroid from exposure to radioactive iodine, taking non-radioactive iodine just before, or immediately after, exposure will block radioactive iodine from being taken into the thyroid gland. It will thus protect this gland from injury. Taking non-radioactive iodine will not prevent radioactive iodine, or any other form of radiation, from entering your body. Taking non-radioactive iodine before exposure will merely “prefill” your thyroid with iodine so that there is no room for the radioactive iodine to be taken up by your thyroid; thus the need to take the non-radioactive iodine before or immediately after exposure.

Ideally, the best time to take supplemental iodine is an hour or so before exposure, or immediately upon exposure, for maximum protection. Take it too soon in advance, and it will begin to clear the thyroid before the radioactive iodine enters the body, thus diminishing its effectiveness. Iodine clears the thyroid in about 24 hours. Take it too late, and the radioactive iodine will have already been taken up by the thyroid, in which case there will be little benefit. The important thing is to have a supply of iodine on hand when you need it.

The standard form of iodine used in nuclear power plants to protect workers against radiation exposure in case of a leak is potassium iodide. But potassium iodide is not the only form of stable iodine. In fact, all living sources such as kelp are equally stable and may be used instead.

How much iodine should I take?

According to the United States Food and Drug Administration, the following doses are appropriate to take after internal contamination with, or likely internal contamination with, radioactive iodine:

* Adults up through age 40 should take 130 mg. Women who are breastfeeding should take 130 mg. Pregnant women should take only one dose. Nursing mothers should probably stop breastfeeding if they are exposed and use formula if available.
* Children between the ages of 3 and 18 should take 65 mg. Children who weigh 150 lbs or more should take 130 mg, regardless of their age.
* Infants and toddlers between the ages of 1 month and 3 years, either nursing or non-nursing, should take 32 mg.
* Newborns from birth to 1 month, both nursing and non-nursing, should be given 16 mg. Infants who receive supplemental iodine should have their thyroid hormone levels checked and monitored by a doctor.

A one-time dose at the levels recommended above is usually all that is needed to protect the thyroid gland. In some cases, radioactive iodine might be in the environment for more than 24 hours. If that happens, local emergency management or public health officials may tell you to take one dose of iodine every 24 hours for a few days. You should do this only on the advice of emergency management officials, public health officials, or your doctor.

Taking a higher dose of iodine, or taking iodine more often than recommended, does not offer more protection.

Also do not take iodine:


* If you are already taking medication with high levels of iodine.
* You are allergic to iodine.
* If you have a thyroid disease that is iodine sensitive such as Grave’s disease, do not take supplemental iodine without your doctor’s permission and guidance.

Is there anything else you should do?

Absolutely!

Iodine only protects the thyroid, and only protects against radioactive iodine (iodine-131 and iodine-134). It doesn’t offer any protection against plutonium, cesium-137, and strontium-90, which are also likely to be present. It doesn’t clear radioactive matter from your body. It doesn’t protect against damage to your genetic material. If worst comes to worst:

* Use supplemental iodine from kelp as described above.
* Use a good colon detox formula
* Use a good anti-oxidant formula to protect the body against genetic damage caused by exposure to radioactivity.

Again, remember!

* We do not have an emergency situation yet.
* You don’t want to take iodine prematurely since it clears out of the thyroid in 24 hours.
* Overdosing on iodine is a distinct possibility if you get carried away. Don’t get carried away.

The bottom line is that there is no need for panic. Outside of Japan, nothing has happened yet. Chill out. The odds of anything serious happening outside of Japan are very, very low. Your best bet is to make sure you have some iodine locked away for some future emergency.

Kelp Alfalfa Product Information Page

Resources:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
United States Environment Protection Agency
United States Food and Drug Administration

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