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You Are What You Eat: Gamma, Gamma, Hey!

Iodine

We live in a radioactive world. Radiation is produced by natural sources, such as the sun and radioactive elements in the earth. Recently, a damaged nuclear power plant in Japan released radioactive particles into the air, which were detected on our West Coast and as far east as Colorado. More common is the low-level radiation we are exposed to from medical X-rays, airport body scanners, TVs, and during air travel. High doses of radiation can be lethal, but if spread out over a period of time may be less damaging.

Radioactive iodine is one of the principal forms of radiation given off in nuclear accidents. Since iodine is essential for thyroid function, radioactive iodine will be absorbed by this gland, posing a high risk for thyroid cancer. However, if normal iodine saturates the thyroid there is no room for radioactive iodine. This is why it is important to make sure you are not deficient in this critical mineral.

The Daily Value (DV) for iodine is 150 micrograms, which is provided by most multivitamin/mineral supplements. In addition to a multi, I recommend daily consumption of sea vegetables (seaweed), such as nori, kombu, wakame, and hiziki. If you have ever eaten sushi, you’ve probably eaten seaweed. Seaweed is also available from your local health food store — dried and in snacks. Simply soak a few pieces of dried seaweed in water to rehydrate, and then add to soups or other dishes. Sea vegetables are far richer in iodine and other essential minerals than terrestrial vegetables. Of course, there’s iodized salt, but many of us are trying to cut back on sodium because of its association with high blood pressure.

Much larger doses of iodine (potassium iodide) are prescribed preventively to protect the thyroid when in the immediate vicinity of a nuclear accident. These pharmacological doses are only taken until the contamination threat has passed. Be advised that iodine is not a cure-all for radiation-related illnesses, and only protects from thyroid cancer. Other radioactive isotopes are emitted by damaged nuclear reactors.

There is no “safe” level of radiation. The effect is cumulative and contributes to perhaps 3 percent of all cancers. These risks can be modified by consuming antioxidants such as vitamin C and high-antioxidant foods like green tea.

Ken Babal is a licensed clinical nutritionist with more than 25 years experience.

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