As we have watched Japan surmount the insurmountable in these past few weeks, we have been in genuine awe of the courage, organization and strength of the people as they struggle to cope and get back on track. There are many ways to help. I made my donation to the Red Cross and have recently been inspired by other efforts being made by charities such as Charity Buzz and EMI’s Ebay auction to raise money for Japan. Itunes, meanwhile, has released a "Songs for Japan Album".

    As there is still so much uncertainty as to what will ultimately transpire at the Fukushima plant, and what the human and environmental impact will be, we asked some of the doctors we work with if there is really anything that can be done to protect ourselves against varying degrees of exposure to radiation.


    From Dr. Katja van Herle:

    "In light of all events happening in Japan especially given the trouble at the nuclear power plant, there is a real concern for radiation leakage and what the health issues are revolving around potential exposure. In basic terms, "nuclear waste" involves the emission of radioactive particles that pollute soil, air and water sources. This nuclear waste can also enter plant, animal and human life cycles and herein lies the ultimate danger."

    "Some of the most common radioactive particles emitted include: Strontium, Caesium (Cesium), and Iodine not in their most common forms, but in the form of 'isotopes.' Isotopes are molecules that are similar to the 'parent' compound but have a different number of neutrons in the nucleus. Why does this matter? The number of neutrons can give a molecule a completely different set of nuclear properties, and often ones that become dangerous."

    "In the case of Strontium, the common radioactive isotope is Strontium-90 and this has been known to contaminate food and water sources, as was evident in the 1986 Chernobyl accident. Strontium-90 finds its way into bone and bone marrow and the resulting diseases caused can include low red blood cell counts, anemia, as well as potential cancers. The concern for Strontium-90 is the incredibly long biologic half-life that it has, almost 30 years. This means that it takes roughly 30 years after exposure, for the body to eliminate half of the radionuclide, or radiation particles. Thus, the time for Strontium-90 to decay is incredibly long, and therefore the exposure time and potential damage caused in the body is significant."

    "Similar to Strontium-90, Caesium, alternately spelled Cesium, is also a radioactive isotope generated from nuclear waste, and its biologic half life is also approximately 30 years. Caesium also can get into soil and water, it is a metal and the concerns are especially in regards to cancers like thyroid cancer in young children who are exposed. Such tragic cases were reported in Chernobyl."

    "Finally, radioactive iodine, or Iodine-131, is another major player on the nuclear waste scene. Iodine-131 has been very useful in small doses in the treatment of thyroid cancer, however, in larger doses it may lead to cancer. Young children seem to be at the highest risk after exposure. The good news here is that we know that Iodine-131 has a short biologic half life, in fact it is only 8 days. This means our body can clear and excrete it rapidly, in contrast to Strontium and Caesium."

    "Given what we know of the dangers of nuclear waste and harmful environmental exposures to nuclear radioactive waste particles, what can we do to protect ourselves? There is much known about protection with potassium iodide supplements, and even the oral intake of natural iodine forms such as iodized salt, and seaweed. The theory being that by taking daily supplements of iodine, there is a blocking of the uptake of the radioactive iodine, thus stopping the harmful effects. This reduction in uptake of Iodine-131 may provide some benefit towards a reduction in thyroid cancer risks and also, there may be a potential reduction of the uptake of a few other dangerous isotopes, though the uptake pathways aren't yet fully known."

    "What would be a downside to taking iodine? As endocrinologists, we know that natural iodine is a key building block to our bodies in producing thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland in our neck uses iodine to build our main thyroid hormones, T4 and T3, which set our metabolic tone, energy level and overall metabolism. There are theories that if we 'dump' large amounts of iodine on the thyroid gland, it can either become overwhelmed, and stop producing thyroid hormone, making us tired and start gaining weight. Or, the thyroid can become over stimulated and make too much thyroid hormone, making us speedy and nervous. Neither scenario is good."

    "The best approach is likely to take the iodine if there is a known, local risk of radioactive waste exposure. The key elements are of course to limit exposure, move from the exposed area, have other sources of food and water, protective clothing and shelter. Radioactive waste exposure is a primary public health concern in catastrophic events, such as has occurred in Japan, however knowing the facts and being prepared to take steps in prevention and protection can make a significant difference."

    Katja Van Herle is an Internist Endocrinologist with an appointment as clinical faculty at the David Geffen University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine. Dr. Van Herle also serves as Co-Founder and President of the All Greater Good Foundation in San Diego, California, an organization formed in 2007 for “education and outreach programs that focus on public health issues and epidemics, as well as helping to fund basic science research pertinent to these issues.

    From Dr. Chris Renna:

    "Worried about nuclear radiation from the Fukushima reactor meltdowns? Worrying does you no good. It impairs your immune system, tips your brain out of balance and distracts you from dealing with real life. Worrying is living ‘what if’; life is what is. Thus far we’re fine. Mirror cells in our brain help us relate to others, but in dramatic situations trigger neural networks that generate fear, stress and alarm. Relax, convert your fear to action by making reasonable preparations and spend the rest of your mental and emotional energy on projecting compassion. Reasonable preparations for the potential spread of nuclear radiation include having a supply of potassium iodide tablets (130 mgs) for adults, and additional tablets or Lugol’s solution for kids. Taking iodine in this form floods our thyroid gland with iodine, blocking the absorption of the radioactive form created in these meltdowns. Avoiding the uptake of the radioactive form of the mineral helps protect us from the risk of developing thyroid cancer later on."

    Are there risks to taking potassium iodide?

    "Yes, but if the radiation rose to the point it was indicated the benefit would outweigh the risks. The best way to minimize your risk is to not take it unless it is absolutely necessary."

    "Moreover, seaweed contains a lot of iodine and other valuable nutrients, but it concentrates heavy metals and other environmental pollutants. It is a great food eaten occasionally. Eating the amount you’d need to block radioactive iodine might expose you to equal or worse toxins."

    How will we know when it becomes absolutely necessary?

    "We’ll know. The media covering this tragedy will not miss the chance to break that news to us. Bad news travels at the speed of light these days."

    "The likelihood of toxic radiation reaching us is very small. The leak will have to be much greater and rise much higher to get picked up by the jet stream. I’m encouraging my clients to tune in, turn on but not drop out. Get the potassium iodide, listen to official announcements and pay attention to their life in the moment. If you do that and the situation worsens, you’ll be ready. If it doesn’t you won’t have suffered needlessly. Be compassionate and engaged, and whenever possible, help others."

    For more facts about potassium iodide (KI) Dr. Renna referred us to the CDC pamphlet available at He recommended each of us confer with our doctor before taking KI, as there are some conditions and medications that contraindicate its use. If you can’t find KI right now don’t panic. Check internet and retail sites every couple of days. Manufacturers are rushing to replenish their stores to meet our demand. Were the unlikely event to occur and you needed KI right away, health officials say they will supply it through public hospitals and clinics.

    Originally from New York, Dr. Renna graduated cum laude from the University of Texas, earned his medical degree in Osteopathic medicine cum laude from the University of North Texas Health Science Center and completed a residency in family medicine. Since founding LifeSpan medicine in 1992, Dr. Renna has maintained a small practice focused on comprehensive, executive, optimal health. Over the years his passion and dedication to his clients as well as his unique approach has earned him an exceptional reputation as the nation’s premiere preventive medicine provider. He is a popular speaker on the subjects of Preventive Medicine, Peak Performance and Health. Dr Renna is also a published author and lecturer to audiences across the United States and abroad.

    From Dr. Frank Lipman:

    "You need to distinguish between a large dose of radiation exposure due to leakage when you are near a nuclear plant and the slow chronic exposure that many people fear because winds could blow some radiation into the West Coast of North America. This will be dispersed and diluted and therefore the doses and exposures are much smaller."

    "The fear is that, after a nuclear event, radioactive iodine may be released into the air and then breathed into the lungs. When radioactive materials get into the body through breathing, eating, or drinking, we can become 'contaminated.' If we become 'contaminated,' the glandular system (breasts, ovaries, prostate and in particular, the thyroid gland) quickly absorb this radioactive iodine and it then damages the thyroid in particular. The important thing is to get inorganic, non-radioactive iodine into your body in a safe supplement form because if there is enough inorganic, non-radioactive iodine, the radioactive iodine has nowhere to bind in our bodies. That is, the more iodine we have in our body, the less chance there is of the thyroid taking up the radioactive iodine and it passes through us without causing much harm. It is essential to ensure that we have adequate iodine levels."

    "So here are some tips:

    1. Start incorporating seaweed, such as hijiki or kelp, into your diet as these are great sources of iodine.
    2. Drink miso soup. A study after World War II was done and found to protect against radiation.
    3. Incorporate red fruits and vegetables in your diet as these contain lycopenes which have been shown to have anti-radiation properties and are good anti-oxidants.
    4. Supplement with Chlorella, a great superfood which protects against radiation.
    5. Take a good anti-oxidant formula.
    6. Iodine deficiency appears to be quite common, so supplementation is usually indicated. But it is essential that this be done under the care of a knowledgeable practitioner. To find a Practitioner, try"

    Frank Lipman MD, is the founder and director of the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in NYC, where he combines the best of Western medicine with age-old healing techniques from the East. He is the author of the recent REVIVE: Stop Feeling Spent and Start Living Again (2009) (previously called SPENT) and TOTAL RENEWAL: 7 key steps to Resilience, Vitality and Long-Term Health (2003).

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