Since the dramatic nuclear meltdowns in Japan in March of 2011, much has been said about radiation and radioactive contamination. Our government can’t seem to make up its mind, depending entirely on which agency is doing the talking today. We have the bloated security apparatus issuing dire propaganda about “dirty bombs” made with maybe a pound of radioactive material, which we are supposed to be so terrified of that we will tolerate the blanket abrogation of our rights and liberties. At the very same time we get glib assurances that nuclear power plant meltdowns and explosions involving hundreds or thousands of tons’ worth of highly radioactive material are “nothing to worry about.”
Because both these positions cannot be true at the same time, we get to choose which we will believe. Most of us will choose to err on the side of caution, given the accumulated documentation of serious health effects radiation and radioactive contamination can cause.
In the wake of Fukushima it has become clear that people need good information. A primer on ways to protect your home and family from radioactive contamination in the wake of a nuclear incident can be found at the blog Top Masters in Health Care, 15 Ways to Limit Radiation Exposure. A fun infographic at the Best Health Degrees blog prints out to make a good quick reference info-sheet to keep in the family emergency kit for use whenever you suspect contamination may be headed your way from any source.
Fukushima caused many people to become aware of potassium iodide tablets, available from your local drug store, via outlets online, and sometimes distributed by utilities or local officials to people living near nuclear facilities experiencing problems. This stable form of iodine, which is used by the thyroid gland to produce necessary hormones for metabolism and fetal brain development can protect your thyroid gland from radioactive iodine-131. But it does not protect against any other limiting isotopes likely to be released from a nuclear event.
The most limiting of those are the radioactive cesium isotopes, primarily cesium-134 and 137. Western medicine does have ways of mitigating gross contamination with those isotopes in a substance called Prussian Blue. But this is difficult to come by, must be administered by a physician and be accompanied with a reliable whole body radiation assay demonstrating gross contamination, and is primarily reserved for those most involved in nuclear situations like military personnel and nuclear workers. There is a promising chelation agent being developed by Berkeley National Laboratory that can bind and remove heavy metals and actinides, but that too will likely be reserved to actual nuclear and government workers rather than distributed to the public being endangered by radioactive isotopes in the environment after meltdowns or other radiological emergencies.
This article discusses natural means of radiation mitigation, things we can do for ourselves. These fall into four categories:
A. Substances that “pack” our systems with stable isotopes of commonly uptaken elements so that radioactive isotopes of those or substitutional elements are not incorporated into our tissues.
B. Chelating agents, or substances that bind with certain elements and carry them through the body for elimination so they are not incorporated into our tissues.
C. Detox agents that facilitate and stimulate the natural removal of toxic substances and heavy metals from our systems and tissues.
D. General systemics that strengthen our immune systems, DNA repair mechanisms and other cellular mechanisms that serve to rid the body of damaged cells so they don’t lead to cancers.
If during an event you are using the techniques in the links above to limit indoor exposures, the use of some of the following mitigation methods can help to eliminate isotopes that get through anyway or are absorbed outdoors and away from home. Do keep potassium iodide in your first aid kit just in case, and take them whenever local officials indicate that an event has occurred. That will likely be the ONLY medicinal substance you will ever have access to for the purpose of protecting yourself against just one isotope, so keep the following handy as well.
A. “Packing” with Stable Isotopes
The most limiting radioactive isotopes encountered in fallout from nuclear accidents and explosions are iodine-131, cesium-134, cesium-137 and strontium-90. It takes about ten half-lives for a given amount of any isotope to decay away, so for these isotopes the period will be 80 days for iodine, 20 years for cesium-134, and 300 years for cesium-137 and strontium-90.
Our bodies can’t tell a radioactive isotope of any element (or near-element) from a stable isotope, so the issue here is to ensure our bodies have plenty of the stable variety so radioactive isotopes are not uptaken into tissues or used in biochemical processes.
• Iodine is concentrates in our thyroid glands where it is used to produce a number of very important metabolic hormones. Try to get an ample supply of stable iodine on a regular basis by including seaweeds and sea foods in your normal diet, and ensure your regular multivitamin includes iodine. Sea salt is good for seasoning if you wish to avoid regular iodized salt. You can purchase potassium iodide [KI] tablets to keep in your first aid kit, start taking them as soon as you hear there is a release, even if the authorities dismiss the problem. KI can cause digestive upsets, so don’t take too much. So long as you are getting a good daily supply in your diet most of the radioactive iodine you are exposed to will go on through. The overall benefit of a diet that includes ample supplies of iodine is that you probably won’t develop hypo or hyperthyroidism or suffer from goiter.
• Cesium isotopes are close enough on the elemental scale to be readily uptaken by our bodies and put to use in biochemical processes and tissues (particularly muscle tissues) as if it were potassium. Natural potassium includes the isotope K40, which is radioactive and has a half-life of ~1.25 billion years, but it’s a minor percentage and the ratio remains the same throughout our lives even as our potassium content gets cycled through and replaced. Cesium-134 has a half life of 2 years, 137′s half-life is 30 years. These are far more radioactive, and will do much more damage. The Prussian Blue treatment mentioned in the beginning of this article is specific for removing cesium from those who become very seriously contaminated, but is not something regular people – even the known-to-be exposed public near a meltdown – are ever going to have ready access to. Thus you will want to eat good potassium sources on a regular basis (bananas, potatoes, root vegetables, dark green leafs in the cabbage family are best), and make sure your multivitamin has an ample supply. These days when so much radioactive cesium from bomb testing and power plant accidents is in our environment, a separate daily potassium supplement wouldn’t hurt. Double your intake if you hear of a release nearby.
• Strontium is also readily uptaken by our bodies and put to use as if it were calcium, thus concentrates in bones and teeth and is also used in place of calcium in a large number of biochemical processes. You will want to pay attention to your calcium intake as well, ensuring an ample daily supply. Those same dark green leafies, root vegetables, crustaceans and shellfish are good, and a daily calcium supplement is also recommended. As with potassium, you’ll want to increase your intake whenever there is a radiological incident upwind of you.
NOTE: All of these isotopes are as easily uptaken by plants as by animals, and concentrated in plant tissues. Green leafy vegetables and berries will be among the easiest foods to become contaminated from fallout or contaminated water, so do not use foods grown in contaminated conditions to ‘pack’ your body – you’ll just be packing with the wrong elements.
B. & C. Chelating & Detox Agents
Chelation is a word describing the chemical bonding that works to build biochemical substances or, in this case, bond to pollutant atoms so as to carry them through the body to be eliminated rather than incorporated into tissues and processes where radioactive isotopes can do very considerable damage. Some of the best natural chelating agents are black and green tea catechins, burdock root (Arctium lappa), and brown seaweeds which bind strontium to create sodium alginate which is excreted. Also nettles, red clover, catnip and ginseng. These remedies should be taken daily as infusions, tinctures or vinegars for this purpose. Avoid them as dried herbs in capsules, you need something more active than that.
Another contamination concern from fallout of isotopes released by bomb blasts and/or meltdowns are the heavy metals – uranium and plutonium, along with some others. These can be acutely toxic as well as highly radioactive, and should be eliminated as if they were lead (but worse) via a detoxification regimen. For this purpose some outlets on line sell zeolite capsules that can be taken as supplements. These bind heavy metals, ammonia and some other harmful pollutants, and will provide an alkalizing effect that is desirable during and after periods of high radiation dose (see “General Systemics” below). Radiation Detox offers zeolite a fulvic acid mineral complex, and a long list of other natural supplements and formulations blended specifically for dealing with radiation exposures and environmental toxins, worth looking into.
Activated charcoal is used in nuclear plant filters and municipal water treatment systems to remove radon and iodine gases as well as a range of heavy metals and other pollutants. There are activated charcoal supplements you can purchase and keep handy for this use inside your body in times of high release.
Both Radiation Detox and Susan Weed/Wise Woman have useful information about fighting radiation damage through dietary choices and herbal supports that won’t hurt anybody and just might help save some people’s lives.
D. General Systemics
Being healthy is the best defense against all sorts of environmental toxins and pollutants, and for this there are foods and supplements that are known to protect against cancers from any cause. Data from Hiroshima and Nagasaki following the bombings in 1945 indicate that a ‘base’ diet is helpful in mitigating high acute exposures from gamma radiation – this is pure energy that damages cells and tissues on its way through your body, not physical elemental atoms that stay around for awhile. A base diet means avoiding acidic foods such as fruits and many vegetables, while sticking with beans (including fermented products), whole grains, nuts and such as staples during the emergency period, for the purpose of helping our immune and repair systems to remediate as much cellular/DNA damage as possible.
Miso (a fermented product of rice, barley and/or soybeans) broth, split pea or lentil soup, oatmeal, brown rice, cream of wheat (with germ), potatoes, etc. If you can obtain uncontaminated seaweed like kelp or brown seaweeds, add it to the soup/broths. These are high in natural iodine as well as vitamins. Add uncontaminated ocean fish or shellfish as well. Avoid coffee, black tea and fruit juices during this time, stick with water from a clean supply, green tea. Winter squash, sweet potatoes and pumpkins are fairly neutral and high in beta-carotene, so include some daily. You wouldn’t want to keep this diet long term, but for a week or even a month it can be helpful according to the Japanese research. If relatively high exposures look to be lasting longer than that, relocation is advised. Put some distance between you and the source.
Once the worst of exposure levels are over, do ensure plenty of anti-oxidant vitamins C and E, Omega3 and beta-carotene. Dark green leafies like kale, collards, chard and spinach. Sweet potatoes, cantaloupe, carrots, beets, winter squash. Broccoli, cabbages and root veggies like turnips, beets and radishes are also known to impede cancer development. Both black and green tea exhibit anti-oxidant effects higher than coffee. Add spirulina, a single-celled fresh water algae, and bee pollen to your daily routine too. Dried nutritional yeast is good for the blood, as are beets and beet juice.
The alliums – garlic especially but also onions, ramps, chives, shallots, etc. – are also excellent antioxidant sources which protect red blood cells from radiation damage. Chlorophyll from any of the good green vegetable sources has shown some good effect in absorbing cadmium so it can be eliminated from the body. And good old pectin, that gelling agent in condiments binds to radioactive isotopes like a chelating agent to remove them from the body. Best sources are apples, pears, plums, guavas, gooseberries (including blueberries) and citrus fruits. Or you can purchase dried apple pectin at the grocery store in the canning section.
Anti-oxidants are your best friend during a radiological emergency, as ionizing radiation knocks electrons out of their orbit around nuclei to cause damage to various biological tissues. Be sure you’re getting lots of them in your daily intake. Since we know that antioxidants also protect against cancer and slow the aging process, getting an ample supply in your regular life won’t hurt either. Supplements can help in a high-dose situation, but it’s better to get your nutrients, antioxidants and bioflavonoids through the foods you eat if you possibly can. You will be more resistant to radiation damage if you are normally healthy, and if your intra-cellular and immune systems are in good shape.
Again, if the water supply for your family, your garden and/or your livestock comes from a surface water source (river or reservoir subject to fallout and industrial dumping), do invest in good water filtration units. For drinking and cooking water, and if at all possible also for water for livestock and gardens. These should include ceramic heavy metal filters as well as ample – and replaceable – activated charcoal filters. Read the directions carefully, and replace the charcoal often because when there are pollutants present, it will get saturated and no longer serve the purpose.
Below are some good sources of information so they will be handy for your use. Always remember that the very best protection for your family against radiation damage is distance and shielding. Shelter-in-place done properly provides some shielding. But when levels are dangerously high and responsible officials behave as if they either don’t know what to do or are not being allowed (by some higher-up edict) to do what is necessary, you must do for yourself and your family. Removing yourselves from the area – distance between you and the source – is the best protection possible. Don’t be so overconfident that you neglect that option when it’s available.
Best of luck to all in our increasingly radioactive world.