Search This Blog

Monday, March 14, 2011

Seaweed, Iodine and Nuclear Fallout

In 2004, my mind and focus was in a much different place than it is today. I had just finished the textbook, "Criminal and Terrorist Emergencies: A Handbook for Emergency Medical Responders". This was the follow-up book to "Bioterrorism and Biological Emergencies" that Prentice-Hall also published in 2003. They are still available, and if you want to keep yourself awake at night with scenarios of destruction, and the emergency managment thereof, I highly recommend them!

I did pull one out the other night as I watched events unfolding in Japan with the nuclear power plants.

There is a balance to be attained between doom, gloom, panic and fear, and awareness and preparedness I think. In other words; I don't think it's helpful to focus on the media coverage of potential nuclear destruction and build yourself a fall out shelter. But I also don't think it's very helpful to ignore the issues completely and assume it can't happen. In fact, it is happening, and depending on where you are lucky enough to be in the world you may be much less affected.

So, I decided to reacquaint myself with the subject of nuclear contamination, and consider the event from the perspective of what I know and believe now. There isn't much good news about a nuclear blast. My book and the research documents that I used to compile it, are full of negativity on that. There is lots of information on Flash, Blast, Fireball and Firestorm, as well as secondary effects, perimeter distances, and the injuries within. The good news about a nuclear blast would be that I don't think most people would have any idea what hit them. Enough said- not something you can prepare for, as an "average human being". And, that isn't what is the most likely occurance for happening in Japan right now. We are not talking about the intentional use of a nuclear bomb. Japan, if anything, could be facing some delayed radiation fallout as they struggle to prevent anything worse. Radioactive particles contained in the steam releases (or in the fireball of an actual blast) rise in the air, are carried by winds and currents, and then fall slowly over an extended area contaminating that area with radioactive particles.

You can't see, taste, or feel these lower level radioactive particles and that's probably where the fear and panic intrudes. You really don't know if you are in a contaminated area and you have to place some faith and trust in a system that you may feel has already, to some degree, failed you, relying on government experts that can measure the radioactive particles and tell you whether or not it's safe.

The danger of being exposed to low levels of radiation particles, unlike radiation sickness from high levels, are the development of signs and symptoms long after the initial crisis is over. These delayed affects may include such things as various types of cancers, cataract formation, decreased fertility and genetic mutations. These were all affects observed from low level radiation exposure during previous nuclear events such as Chernobyl. These are also all conditions that readily exist in today's society and all have been the focus of much medical advancement and treatment options. We have increased ability to treat these conditions in a number of ways- more good news.

From a preventative perspective, there is something that can be done to prevent the effects of low level radiation. One option is to get out of the area if you have foreshadowing of an event. That is happening in Japan with over 170,000 people evacuated from the promixity to the plant. Another option is the relatively simple distribution of iodine tablets. This is recommended to be given as potassium iodide tablets in 100 milligram doses. Some media reports indicate these are being handed out to people in the nuclear plant vicinity- particularly children and pregnant woman, as these groups are more vulnerable.

The reason iodine is helpful is because of it's effects on the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland in healthy environments, absorbs iodine from food and converts it to the hormone thyroxine which helps convert calories to food energy- it's the "metabolism factor" we struggle with. It is the thyroid gland that will absorb those radioactive particles in a contaminated atmosphere. If you can saturate the gland with "healthy iodine" it may bypass the radioactive particles and they can be excreted, rather than, absorbed. If not, the thyroid will absorb the radioactive particles and they may cause thyroid or other cancers as the radioactive particles hang around for a lifetime in your body. Saturating the thyroid with iodine before exposure or within about 8 hours post exposure, may help considerably in the body's uptake of harmful products.

Here's where I come full circle on this. There are natural ways to take in Iodine. The salt shaker is the first, but not the best source, as most salt is now "iodized". Salt can have other more harmful effects so it's not usually the most recommended. Other natural sources of iodine include most sea fish, sea salt, and fish oils. I remember the horror of having to take a cod liver oil pill every day as a kid. (That might be one of those East Coast rituals, that others don't do, but it was common around here). That's one way. However, some people have concerns about what might be in sea food or just don't want to try and swallow those pills. Another great alternative to increase your iodine content is by taking kelp which is the fancy name for prepared seaweed. Dulse will provide iodine. It is pretty common around the East Coast and exported all over the world. Personally, I find it pretty hard to ingest and I can't even get my horses to eat the stuff, but some people love it. You can buy kelp in powder forms and pills that make it a bit easier to ingest.

A good news piece, is that the Japanese are one of the highest consumers of iodine food sources through fish and seaweed sources in their diet. You do have to be careful that the supply isn't contaminated with radiation particles itself.

I'm not suggesting you stock up on iodine or change your diet dramatically. Unless you are close to the nuclear plants your chance of contamination is no greater than normal. Theoretically, if a blast occurs, the possibility of contaminants being carried across the world on wind currents is possible, but unlikely, and predictable depending on weather patterns. And once again, this is not likely to be a blast situation in Japan, this is a slower release.

So why am I writing this? Well... it's hard to say why any of the subjects make it onto my blog- they just happen. Perhaps it's because the situation in Japan dug up some past memories for me that I wanted to sort out. Maybe it's because I truly believe that dissecting information to understand what it really means helps alleviate fear and allows you to prepare in rational ways. Maybe it's just Karma for me to write calming advice because those earlier books were so darn scary!!!


  1. How about the iodine levels in dried seaweed laver (nori, gim)? Is daily intake of dried seawed a good alternative way to ward off harm to the thyroid by radiation carried by dust particles (from a distance)?

  2. Not all seaweed is the same so you really have to look at labels. Information I've found suggests there is about 415mcg of iodine in 20 grams of kelp. That would mean you should be ingesting 50 to 60 grams of kelp per day as an average weight adult- half that for children as a precautionary dose.

    Check out the following website for some really good detailed information on protocols