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Calorie Count Blog

About Radiation, Nutrients and Food


By Mary_RD on Mar 16, 2011 10:00 AM in Tips & Updates
Edited By +Rachel Berman

By Mary Hartley, RD, MPH

The nuclear blasts in Japan have everyone concerned about radiation poisoning, although World Health Organization officials say “health risk is small” for those of us not living near the power plants.  Still, we wonder how we may be affected and if there’s something we can to protect ourselves.

In Extreme Contamination

People living within 12 miles of the Fukushima nuclear power plant are at extreme risk of contamination by inhaled or swallowed or radioactive iodine particles.  The Japanese government has evacuated 180,000 people from the area.  Everyone wears a surgical mask and stays in unventilated rooms.  Since radioactive iodine particles are absorbed by the thyroid, thyroid cancer often develops over time.   Potassium iodide pills are given to block radiation uptake by the thyroid gland. Potassium iodide is a pharmacological product.  The potassium and iodine in our food do not have the same effect.

In Mild Contamination

Further away from the source, radiation exposure depends distance from the plant and on weather conditions, especially wind and rain at the time of the explosion.  Bloomberg Businessweek reports, “Radioactive iodine is heavier than air and won’t spread far in mild wind...(but it) has a half-life of eight days, meaning it takes eight days of decay to decrease by half.” 

Indirect exposure is a problem too as Dr. David J. Brenner from the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University told the New York Times in a Time.com article. "The way radioactive iodine gets into human beings is an indirect route," he said. "It falls to the ground, cows eat it and make milk with radioactive iodine, and you get it from drinking the milk." Dr. Brenner then said that the epidemic of thyroid cancer around Chernobyl could have been prevented if the government had immediately stopped people from drinking milk.  Officials in South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Philippines will be checking food imported from Japan.  

The Radiation Spectrum

Radiation is simply described as an outpouring of energy.  High-frequency radiation (“ionizing radiation”) comes from the sun, x-rays, nuclear medicine devices, radon gas, and the rays from old nuclear weapon tests.  High frequency radiation has enough energy to damage DNA in the cells which often leads to thyroid cancer. The extent of damage is directly related to the dose of radiation.

On the other hand, the American Cancer Society notes that low-frequency radiation has not been shown to cause cancer. Low-frequency radiation comes from power lines, radio waves, microwaves, cell phones, TV and computer screens, and other sources.  The topic remains under study.

Antioxidants to the Rescue

To compensate for environmental toxins, including the low levels of radiation we encounter every day, it's vital to eat an abundance of antioxidant nutrients found in plant foods.  Antioxidants protect the cells from damage by keeping toxic byproducts in check. Those byproducts, when not destroyed, lead to aging, cancer and other chronic diseases. 

The vitamins A, C and E are antioxidants, as is the mineral selenium, and the many phytochemicals, such as beta-carotene in dark green and orange plants, lycopene in red plants, lutein in dark green leafy vegetables, resveratrol in grapes, myricetin in walnuts, and too many more to name.  The point is that every vegetable, fruit, legume, kernel, nut, and seed contains antioxidants, and they are helping us in ways we cannot know.


Your thoughts....

Do you load up on antioxidant foods? 



Comments


My heart truly goes out to the people who are suffering and will suffer after what nature has said to us in recent days. I hope there is sufficient strategic protocol to see as many people through this time without harm as possible. 

As far as antioxidants go, I tend to try to maintain at least a 50% raw diet, more on a good day. It's a very versatile way to eat. I use raw extra virgin coconut oil in my food, I eat lots of blueberries and raw veggies through the day, a moderate amount of nuts and seeds (almonds/walnuts/pumpkin seeds) and if I need a sugar/chocolate fix, I eat a few dried apricots with some raw cacao nibs (which are brimming with antioxidants). Delicious and full of goodness!

I'm most definitely an advocate of antioxidant rich food!



thank you. it was helpful. silently wish no one gets exposed to it. 



I hope that california(I live in arizona) takes steps to protect themselves even though the risk to exposure is minimal I'd rather be safe. I heard that a lot of health food stores are stocking potassium iodide and people are buying them like crazy.

 

As far as antioxidants are concerned coffee and teas have those too. I drink plenty of it!

 

 



This article makes me cringe a little inside, mostly because it is instilling fear needlessly.  This article is completely correct about how radioactive iodine spreads, and how it takes 8 days to decrease by 1/2 (hopefully this is long enough for radiation levels to reach below tolerance levels).  But what this article doesn't add is that iodine is soluble in water.  Thus, the iodine is a bit more likely to dissolve in the ocean and stick there until it decays, than hit you by a gust of wind (depending on how bad the release is/was/will be, the radiation levels won't be nearly as dangerous as in Japan by the time it hits north america).  Personally, I believe the governments position on this right now, because I am certain that environmental analysts tested the radiation levels prior to making that stand, and I'd rather see potassium iodide stocked up for the people in japan who will need it most if there is a meltdown.



blipblop:

So what you're saying is that it won't be in our seafood?



It will be in our seafood, but likely in small doses (it depends on how fast the ocean currents move).  The problem is, all of this is speculation right now, and it will take time for any radiation to flow from Japan to North America (and during that time, the amount of radiation is constantly decreasing).  If it shows up in the aquatic environment, its hard to say for sure if enough radiation will be in fish that live on the north american coastline to affect us.  My point is mostly that the radiation levels can (and probably will/are) be monitored to make sure the food you eat is safe.



...just like the air quality at Ground Zero? 

Not for nothing, but even if the government stays on top of the radiation levels, there is no guarantee that they can or will provide complete information to the general public.  The best we can do is treat our bodies ourselves with good nutrition, try to avoid polluting ourselves with unnecessary toxins (like cigarette smoke and ultraviolet rays from the sun) and hang tough througout the next several months.  We are all in this together, and there is not much we can do to prevent radiation contamination, but we can avoid products that have a higher risk of being tainted.



Here is my question and maybe someone out there has had experience with this and can offer their take:

My friend is scheduled to have the radioactive iodine pill to treat her stage 3 thyroid cancer and I am wondering when it is safest to visit her.  They (her medical sources) have been vague about the issue of second-hand exposure saying it could be 3, 5 or 7 days before she is out of isolation (it will depend on the dose that she needs to have), but that humans can be 3 to 6 feet away from her and be safe during that time.  I have tried looking online, only to end up with more questions than answers.  Is potassium iodide something I should take before seeing her once she is out of isolation?  In doing simple math, if the half life is 8 days, what value is second-hand radiation is consider no or low risk?  Is is 18 days or 24 days or more? 



Thank you! It's nice to read a straightforward explanation of these things. Someone mentioned it was unnecessary. I believe it's much easier to be brave when facing such a situation when we know more about it (and that it's a mistake to assume everyone reading this is in america).



Although I agree that people should be informed about radiation and its risks, the timing of this article adds to the panic that a surprisingly large part of the media is trying to instill to the public these days. The staff at the Japanese nuclear plants have done an amazing job averting disaster, at a time when their country is dealing with inconceivable catastrophe in so many levels.

There is plenty of reliable information for the general public on the web, start with the IAEA website, your country's radiological protection service or just plain old wikipedia. Get informed, be thankful that the situation is being dealt with quickly and effectively and focus your thoughts and energy where it's needed: the earthquake and tsunami survivors, who need our help.



Original Post by: allergic2healthy

Here is my question and maybe someone out there has had experience with this and can offer their take:

My friend is scheduled to have the radioactive iodine pill to treat her stage 3 thyroid cancer and I am wondering when it is safest to visit her.  They (her medical sources) have been vague about the issue of second-hand exposure saying it could be 3, 5 or 7 days before she is out of isolation (it will depend on the dose that she needs to have), but that humans can be 3 to 6 feet away from her and be safe during that time.  I have tried looking online, only to end up with more questions than answers.  Is potassium iodide something I should take before seeing her once she is out of isolation?  In doing simple math, if the half life is 8 days, what value is second-hand radiation is consider no or low risk?  Is is 18 days or 24 days or more? 


Unfortunately only her doctor can be of help about this.  The higher the dose your friend takes, the higher concentration of radiation will be in her body.  ****'s comment has some excellent suggestions for reliable information (there is a lot of mis-information on the web right now).  Try looking up how much radiation an x-ray or MRI emits; it could help put things into perspective.  Don't take potassium iodide pills unless your doctor says so; those are for extreme cases and can cause side effects.



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Comment Removed

Original Post by: allergic2healthy

Here is my question and maybe someone out there has had experience with this and can offer their take:

My friend is scheduled to have the radioactive iodine pill to treat her stage 3 thyroid cancer and I am wondering when it is safest to visit her.  They (her medical sources) have been vague about the issue of second-hand exposure saying it could be 3, 5 or 7 days before she is out of isolation (it will depend on the dose that she needs to have), but that humans can be 3 to 6 feet away from her and be safe during that time.  I have tried looking online, only to end up with more questions than answers.  Is potassium iodide something I should take before seeing her once she is out of isolation?  In doing simple math, if the half life is 8 days, what value is second-hand radiation is consider no or low risk?  Is is 18 days or 24 days or more? 


Hopefully your friend is well and the radiotherapy did what it was supposed to do.  I'm sure by now she's no longer radioactive since this thread is several months old but since others might be curious about this I'll give this explanation. 

There are two measurements that you should be concerned with when dealing with radioactive materials, one is intensity and the second is half-life.  The two are related but can be thought of independently.  Intensity has to do with the amount of energy a mass of radioactive material emits at any given moment in time.  You can think of it as brightness of a light bulb in a room. 

The second parameter is half-life or how long it takes for half of the radioactive material to decay to something else.  In the case of Iodine-131 the half-life as stated is 8 days.  If you have 100 grams of I-131 in 8 days you will be left with 50 grams (the other 50 having changed into a different element).  After 16 days you'll have 25 grams, after 24 days there will be 12.5 grams left, etc.  After 10 half-lives there is essentially no  I-131 remaining.  

Intensity decreases as the number of half-lives increases because there is less and less radioactive material present (think of the light bulb shrinking).

So, after a week your friend was only half as radioactive as she was when the pill was administered and after two weeks she was a quarter as radioactive. 

Also something to consider is dose rate vs. time.  If you go out into the sun you're being exposed to UV radiation (similar to gamma radiation but longer wavelength).  If you're out there unprotected for 5 or 10 minutes and then go back inside you are likely not going to be sunburned.  If, on the other hand, you're out there for 5 or 10 hours you'll be roasted.  The concept is the same with other forms of ionizing radiation.  If intensity is held constant (i.e. the sun) exposure time becomes the critical factor when it comes to dose.  If you were to go visit your friend for an hour you'd receive some dose of radiation but it would be far less than if you lived with and slept in the same bed with the person for several days.  



I'm glad to be reading this article again maybe someone might have some answers.

I went to visit family in NY. My mom has a neighbor who escaped Chernobyl years ago. He had lived over 100 miles from the site of the meltdown.

 He's now about 45 years old. Very sweet man, beautiful wife and two beautiful teenage to adult kids. Last year he was diagnosed with cancer spread to his entire body and mainly concentrated to his kidneys. Other than some pain in that area he says he's okay. Doctors tell him they're incapable of helping him since he is too late in the stages. This fantastic man who has gone out of his way to help people, always happy, always a smile on his face is now reduced to a mere of a man. Always pale, scared and wondering how he is going to take care of his family. I  think he might be going for homeopathic medicine but I dont think he knows where to start even with any kind of Alternative medicine. I really feel bad for him. Wished there was something we can do.

 



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