Iodine, Tocotrienols, Berries, and Lipoic Acid to Protect Against Radiation Exposure
Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
The unfolding events relating to Japan’s damaged nuclear reactors is raising the concern in the U.S. of a worst-case scenario of a meltdown with a consequent cloud of radioactive particles following the jet stream over to the U.S. The prevailing jet stream winds would impact Los Angeles to Alaska, and would include Hawaii. Radioactive pollution would reach the U.S. within 36 hours. It would then travel the typical jet stream across the U.S that you see on your daily weather programs. While we all hope this does not happen, and various experts may debate the severity of public health issues involved if it should, it never hurts to have a better understanding of the subject. What would you do if such a cloud was headed your way?
Japanese health authorities are passing out iodine tablets to those in the vicinity of these reactors, as it is common knowledge that the thyroid gland is a weak spot when it comes to radiation exposure. By flooding the body with iodine, the iodine is taken up by the thyroid which then blocks radiation uptake into the thyroid. This reduces the risk for future thyroid cancer (which is already an epidemic cancer in the U.S. in part likely due to excess CT scans).
Such iodine saturation should occur 24 hours prior to exposure and be maintained during the duration of excess exposure. This solution is not without risks, especially when potassium iodide is used. That is because excess iodine can clog thyroid function, inducing either hypo or hyper thyroid. However, that risk is trivial compared to acute radiation exposure – thus iodine makes sense. I like water-soluble iodine that in my experience is much less problematic when higher doses are used. Liquids can be applied directly over the neck region or taken orally, and reapplied as desired based on concerns.
Protecting the thyroid with iodine seems to be about all that public health officials are willing to recommend to the public. However, there are other important steps every person should consider. Radiation interaction within your body generates massive amounts of damaging free radicals, in turn potentially inducing DNA damage that may lead to future cancer – often manifesting a decade or two later. This means it is a good idea to maximize your overall antioxidant defenses. Ideally, this system would be bolstered in advance to provide maximum defense. Unfortunately, the antioxidant defense systems of a majority of Americans are in shoddy condition.
Many nutrients contain antioxidants and many of these behave in your vital antioxidant network to protect your DNA from damage. In your diet, these nutrients come from fruits, vegetables, whey protein, and whole grains. Additionally, almost any nutrient supplement with antioxidant properties, such as vitamin C, will help bolster your antioxidant team. I would suggest to everyone a broad-base of antioxidant support as the minimum. Indeed, a cocktail of antioxidants1 (selenium, vitamin C, N-acetyl cysteine, alpha lipoic acid, alpha-tocopherol succinate, and co-enzyme Q10) started 24 hours after a lethal level of radiation exposure has been show to be highly protective.
I would like to highlight three specific nutrients that have science showing they can protect your body against radiation damage: tocotrienols, berries, and lipoic acid.
Tocotrienols are a unique form of vitamin E that offers protection that regular vitamin E does not. In a recent animal experiment carried out by the U.S. Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute it was shown that gamma tocotrienol32 can protect against whole body radiation exposure.
Excessive radiation exposure damages DNA, especially DNA relating to the system in our bone marrow that produces all the red and white blood cells that are vital for survival. Therefore, radiation exposure has adverse consequences on circulatory health and immune system competence, disturbing energy balance and increasing the risk for cancer. Of particular importance are the haematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) that constantly rejuvenate blood and can become any of the white or red blood cells, as well as the haematopoietic progenator cells (HPCs) that transform into specific blood cells. Both HSCs and HPCs are the life force of blood cell rejuvenation and essential to your good health.
In this armed forces experiment, mice were exposed to non-lethal amounts of whole body radiation; there was a control group and a group fed gamma tocotrienol. Stem cell colonies (HSCs) were 80 - 86% maintained in the gamma tocotrienol treated mice, while they were 50% reduced in controls. Similarly, progenator cells (HPCs) had recovered completely within 7 days in the gamma tocotrienol treated mice, while they remained at 30% for weeks in the controls. A detailed analysis of the bone marrow showed that gamma tocotrienol maintained the regenerative integrity of bone marrow cells. The authors concluded that gamma tocotrienol “protected hematopoietic tissue by preserving the HSCs and HPCs and by preventing persistent DNA damage.”
Another recent animal study shows that gamma tocotrienol32 can offset the adverse effects of radiation exposure, including the reduction of peroxynitrite, the most damaging free radical. This is important because as free radicals begin forming, their reactions can cascade into producing large amounts of the most damaging of all free radicals, peroxynitrite. Short-circuiting peroxynitrite formation in response to radiation exposure is of immense importance to protecting DNA.
Lipoic acid is a very small and versatile fat- and water-soluble antioxidant. Animal studies show that it helps maintain the antioxidant defense system4 in multiple body tissues upon radiation exposure, especially protecting the brain, liver, spleen, kidney, and testes.
The health status of some 6,000 workers from Latvia5 who went to clean-up the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant has been followed for several decades. These workers suffered higher-than-normal rates of problems in their nervous, digestive, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine (especially thyroid) and immunological systems.
A study conducted on some of these workers 10 years after the fact showed that 600 mg of lipoic acid6 for two months was able to normalize many, but not all, of their lab abnormalities. Too bad they didn’t have protection prior to and during exposure. Pretreatment with lipoic acid7 has been shown to significantly reduce radiation exposure damage to the brain.
Recent animal research conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture showed that blueberry and strawberry extracts8 helped prevent brain damage from radiation exposure. Interestingly, the polyphenols of each fruit protected different areas of the brain – supporting a variety of dietary berry intake and/or supplements with multiple berries.
Having an adequate antioxidant defense system for more optimal health is common sense. During times of increased stress your needs for antioxidants rise – and this relates to any type of stress. Radiation exposure is simply one more type of stress – a rather nasty type. The demands in your life or existing health concerns may already be testing your antioxidant reserves. Bolstering your antioxidant defense system to compensate for a potential challenge is also common sense.
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