Earlier this year, the nuclear crisis in Japan led to a run on potassium iodide (KI) supplements in health food stores and pharmacies across America. This highlights many issues that I have with the American psyche. We're proactive to a point, but often our actions are misguided and based more upon emotion than logic.
There's no question that potassium iodide is indicated when someone is exposed to significant amounts of nuclear radiation. But even then, it's a lot like handing out bulletproof vests during a gunfight. Yes, the vest can protect against a bullet to the chest, but what if the bullet strikes the head? Similarly, potassium iodide prevents radioactive iodine from accumulating in the thyroid gland, but it won't protect against the damaging effects of other radioactive particles.
And let's be frank. Even during the height of the crisis in Japan, significant radiation exposure on the US mainland was never very likely, so the run on KI was completely unnecessary. On the other hand, what is likely-and, in fact, very common-is daily exposure to various forms of low-level radiation. From microwave ovens to airport security scanners, there are radiation sources all around us. And that's why it makes sense to take a proactive, "whole body armor" approach to protect against the cumulative effects of low-to-moderate radiation exposure.
In addition to the basic healthy regimen that most everyone should follow-a high-potency multivitamin/multimineral; a high-quality greens drink; and a pharmaceutical-grade fish oil-I recommend some specific foods and a few supplements to help protect against background radiation. Useful foods include:
- Good sources of water-soluble fiber such as pears, oat bran, apples, and legumes.
- Garlic, onions, eggs, whey protein, and other sulfur-rich foods.
- Flavonoid-packed fruits including blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and raspberries.
- Soy foods and sea vegetables.
- Root vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and yams that are bursting with beta-carotene.
- Cruciferous vegetables, especially broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.
- Artichokes, beets, spinach, dandelion greens, and herbs and spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, and mustard.
Antioxidant Supplements: What to Take As for supplements, I recommend taking a flavonoid-rich extract such as green tea, grape seed, Pycnogenol, or Ginkgo biloba at a dosage of at least 100 mg daily, but ideally 300 mg. Flavonoids appear to reduce the formation of clastogenic factors that appear in the blood of people exposed to radiation and may persist for over 30 years. These factors are associated with an increased risk for radiation-induced cancers. Chernobyl workers given ginkgo extract for 2 months had clastogenic factors disappear from their blood. The workers were followed for one year, and it was found that the anti-clastogenic effect persisted for 7 months in most cases. I believe that other flavonoid-rich extracts may offer the same sort of benefits and I would recommend their continued, indefinite use in anyone exposed to significant levels of radiation.
Lastly, I think it's a good idea to take advantage of the adaptogenic and protective effects offered by such herbal tonics as Siberian ginseng, ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), Panax ginseng, and rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea). Though any one of these adaptogens would be useful on their own, I prefer combination formulas. Here are the levels of these three adaptogens that I prefer:
- Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) extract (root/leaf) 250 mg
- Minimum 8% withanolides 20 mg
- Eleuthero extract (Eleutherococcus senticosus) powdered extract (root) 150 mg
- 0.8% eleutherosides 1.2 mg
- Rhodiola rosea Powdered Extract (root) 75 mg
- 3.5% rosavins 2.6 mg
I generally recommend these formulas to help people experiencing chronic stress or adrenal exhaustion, but it is also a valuable every day tonic to a better life. In particular, I love the research on Sensoril, a patented extract of ashwagandha. Sensoril works with the body's natural biological systems to help restore balance and normalize body functions. Among other things, Sensoril:
* Helps counteract the negative effects of stress. * Increases resistance to fatigue. * Promotes improved sleep quality and higher energy levels. * Helps promote mental clarity and concentration. These are effects most of us could use during these stressful times.
Again, the real key is to be proactive in protecting your health against radiation rather than gulping down potassium iodide during a scare. A more comprehensive, rational approach will provide health benefits that last far longer than today's headlines.
There's no question that potassium iodide (KI) should be used in cases of significant radiation exposure. When used to counteract the effects of large amounts of radiation, the recommended dosage is generally quite high (130 mg), and KI's benefits are very short lived. Such high dosages in the absence of significant radiation exposure, however, can be harmful. Too much iodine (dosages in excess of 1,000 mcg per day) may inhibit thyroid hormone secretion, especially in individuals with hypothyroidism. Increased dietary intake of iodine is also associated with acne-like skin eruptions and other side effects.
So while it makes sense to have potassium iodide on hand in case of a nuclear catastrophe, regularly taking massive dosages is likely to do more harm than good. If you want to take KI preventatively, try a dosage of 150-300 mcg daily. Intake at these levels will likely saturate iodine stores in a much safer manner.
Michael T. Murray, ND, is the author of more than 30 books on natural health, including The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, Third Edition. He is regarded as one of the world's top authorities on natural medicine, and is a sought-after lecturer and educator. Visit him online at doctormurray.com.