Sources of Exposure & Measurements
First of all, radiation exposure can come from various sources from nuclear plants to medical technology to airport technology to natural & cosmic sources (atmosphere & soil). Generally, the amount of radiation we are exposed to on a daily basis is minimal unless you are in an industry that necessitates repeated exposure.
Radiation is generally measured in Grays or Sieverts (It used to be measured in rads & rems). According to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), most medical, commercial, and industrial radiation exposure average about 6.2 milliSieverts (1mSiever = 1 thousandth of a Sievert) per year. The NRC mandates that it’s licensees limit public exposure of radiation to no more than 1mSiev/year and for 50mSiev/year for those whose occupation requires a certain level of exposure.
Effects on the Body
There are two types of exposure to radiation: acute & high dose exposure and long term low dose exposure. Acute high dose exposure has immediate effects on the organ systems with symptoms ranging from nausea, vomiting, fatigue, & diarrhea to internal bleeding and death at it’s extremes. While acute radiation poisoning is important to recognize and resolve, for the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on the long term low dose exposure. The main concerns with low level radiation exposure are cancer and DNA mutations. The body has many internal balances and repair systems within its cell structure to protect us from normal day to day exposures of chemicals, carcinogens, and natural radiation sources. At certain levels, radiation can potentially disrupt these repair mechanism causing uncontrolled replication of cells (cancer) or causing permanent DNA alteration (mutation) which can then passed down to offspring in some cases.
With exposure to radiation one of four things is expected to happen in response at the level of the cell:Cells will be not be damaged & continue to operate normally Cells will be damaged, repair themselves and operate normally Cells will be damaged, repair damage & operate abnormally Cells will be damaged and die from the damage
What happens is often depends on the level of exposure and the condition of the cells to begin with (whether they are healthy or unhealthy based on the lifestyle of the person). Research has showed that certain cancers (breast, thyroid, leukemia, bladder, colon, liver, lung, ovarian, stomach, esophagus, and multiple myeloma) increase with radiation levels higher than 500 mSieverts exposure. The time between exposure and the effects can be years even decades. While there is no “unequivocal data” that links exposures of less than 100mSieverts to biological effects, according to the EPA, long term exposure at this level has the potential to contribute to health effects at both the cellular & DNA level.
With the concern of radiation exposure from nuclear sources from Japan, knowing what things you can do to protect yourself is important. First and foremost you must look at your current lifestyle and health habits. The current condition of your body (to the cellular level) will affect it’s susceptibility to the effects of exposure and its ability to properly repair any potential cellular damage. So, that means that habits such as smoking, substance abuse, poor diet, & excessive exposure to stress (or inability to manage stress) are risk factors. In addition, if you have uncontrolled medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, or high cholesterol then you may be putting yourself at risk. The risk of cancer from all of these things is actually greater than from radiation alone, so I can’t emphasize enough to check your lifestyle first before you start freaking out about radiation poisoning.
Foods & SupplementsFirst, a good potent Multi-Vitamin & Multi-Mineral supplement is important to facilitate the normal cellular processes of the body. I recommend a liquid vitamin-mineral complex as it is better and more quickly absorbed into the body.
- Vitamin C: Mega dosing w/Vitamin C daily will also protect the body’s cellular mechanism and facilitate damage repair. The dose can be as high as 10grams a day. The main potential side effect from taking this high dose is gastrointestinal disturbance such as diarrhea and irritation of the bladder for women with interstitial cystitis (because of acidifying the urine).
- Kelp & other Sea Vegetables – Kelp & other sea vegetables provide a good organic source of iodine which protects from effects of radiation (particularly the thyroid). The dose is unclear, but be cautious if you already have an overactive thyroid or are allergic to shellfish as these could exacerbate both conditions.
- Melatonin: Often known for it’s sleep effects, Melatonin has also been shown to protect and reduce oxidative damage from radiation in bladder and genitals of rats.
- Beta 1,3 Glucan: is a powerful immune enhancer and anti-oxidant. It activates macrophages in the body which clean away damaged cells. Military studies have shown to protect against very high doses of radiation.
- Inositol: Otherwise known as IP-6 and often combined with Lecithin, both of these supplements are protective against radiation effects. IP-6 activate Natural Killer cells in the body to enhance the immune system and Lecithin is crucial to the integrity of the cell membranes structure.
- Diindolylmethane: converted by the body from indole 3 carbinol which is found in cruciferous vegetables, this compound is known to protect against and even destroy cancer cells. Take home message? Eat your broccoli!
- Ginger: Has been shown to protect against the effects of radiation in rats. You can drink ginger tea, take ginger as a supplement, or just add it to your diet (the pickled ginger eaten with sushi is a great option).
- Garlic & Onions: The Cysteine in onions helps to deactivate radioactive isotopes and remove toxic heavy metals.
- Chlorophyll: Found in many vegetables but also in the cereal grasses such as wheat grass, barley grass, and alfalfa grass. The US Army found that green cabbage, alfalfa grass, and broccoli increase resistance to radiation by 50% in guinea pigs. Be careful if you have lupus however, because alfalfa grasses can potentiate a flare. As well if you are taking the blood thinner Coumadin (also known as Warfarin) be careful as this can affect your INR numbers (this goes with all supplements where Coumadin is concerned).
- Beets: Not only are beets great to build the blood for people who are anemic, but also they help to prevent cesium – 137 absorption in rats.
- Other helpful supplements include: Bee pollen, Nutritional Yeast, Pantothenic acid, Vitamin D, Calcium, & Magnesium, Green & Black Tea, chapparal, Brewer’s yeast, DMSO, N-Acetyl Cystein, Papain, Pectin (from apples), Aloe, & Glutathione.
There are many foods, vitamins and minerals that are found to be radiation protective, and that will help build the body after exposure. Obviously, you don’t have to go out and buy every last one of them. Start with your lifestyle, then you may graduate to some of the essential supplements I list in my book Eat Your Disease Away. Many of the ones I list are on this list. If you feel from there you need to add more supplements, consult a knowledgeable integrative medical professional prior to adding them, especially if you are already on other medication or have co-morbid medical conditions.
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