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The Nuclear Fallout from Japan and Your Health

Post Published: 13 March 2011
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Category: Guest Bloggers, Japan Nuclear Fallout and your Health
This post currently has 26 responses. Leave a comment

CLARIFICATION POSTED HERE: 7pm/PST

You know about the nasty earthquake in Japan – but have you heard that Japanese nuclear reactors have spewed massive amounts of radiation that is heading our way here in America? Good news: IODINE. Protect your thyroid with supplemental iodine, my friends. You know I’m not a fear monger, so let’s roll up our sleeves and talk prevention, and the role of this preventive micronutrient.

First, healing, loving, good wishes for the Japanese and their arduous, terrifying few days. May all beings experience peace. As the jet streams send OVER THE NEXT WEEK the radiation to Canada and the Western US, may all do what they can to learn how to manage it as safely as possible.

Second, there is not time for a carefully-crafted, methodically-researched, evidence-based plan (the type of plan I favor). It’s pull yourself up by your bootstraps with what we know, and what we’ve learned from previous accidents.  Wish we had more time to get the full story, but sometimes the precautionary principle trumps waiting for the full story. Let’s turn instead to expert opinion on WTF we’re to do about the sitch.

I’ve read estimates that up to 750 RADS of radiation is to hit us here in the Bay Area. I’m hoping that is wrong and a huge overestimate.

For perspective, one cat scan is 1 RAD. 750 RADS, or even significantly less, is a lot of radiation, the kind that may cause thyroid damage, particularly thyroid cancer when radioactive iodine binds in the thyroid cells, hair loss, and genetic damage. More details on what’s possible right here.

If you are flush with iodine, it is far more difficult for radioactive fallout to bind in our thyroid.

Who are the thought leaders I turn to in times like these?

  1. Dr. David Brownstein
  2. CDC

I don’t totally trust the CDC because they are a government agency and often respond too slow to be helpful. As I write this, I see no reports yet from the CDC on the situation. However, here is the CDC’s recommendations on iodine to prevent damage from radioactive iodine fallout based on previous data such as in Chernobyl.

  • Adults and breastfeeding women should take 130mg of potassium iodide (available at health food stores)
  • kids 3-18 should take 65mg of potassium iodide
  • kids 1 month to 3 years should take 32 mg

Yesterday I was on the phone with my grandfather to wish him a happy 92nd birthday, and he warned me (before it hit the news) in his entirely cogent, commanding, MIT-graduate voice that there was tremendous danger with the Japanese nuclear reactors exploding or otherwise releasing nuclear fallout into the atmosphere. Thanks, Gramps, for the heads up.

Dr. David Brownstein does not recommend starting the iodine now, he suggests we start 1-2 days before the expected fallout. The oral potassium iodide lasts for 24-72 hours, so duration depends on how long we remain exposed. Follow the news, as he suggests, and plan accordingly. Keep checking back here to see what’s next.

Non-radioactive iodine, such as the potassium iodide recommended by the CDC is relatively safe. Waiting until we have definitive evidence may not be safe. Excess doses can cause headache, tremor, palpitations, muscle weakness and disrupted menstrual cycles. Most of us are iodine deficient unless you mindfully take a supplement. You can also call my office at 510-893-3907 and check your urine iodine level if you have the luxury of time before the nuclear fallout arrives, if it arrives. Iodine is found naturally in sea vegetables, but you probably cannot get enough through food sources to prevent damage.

Thanks to Helayne Waldman for connecting me with Dr. David.

Share any concerns or questions you have here, and please spread the word to your loved ones on the West Coast.

Written by: Dr. Sara Gottfried

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26 Responses to “The Nuclear Fallout from Japan and Your Health”

  1. Paula S says:

    Dear Dr. Gottfried:

    What an incredibly informative post, it is extremely appreciated! If I may run a thought that has been in my mind since I have been diagnosed with Grave’s and frequenting Thyroid literature and posts such as these…

    I work at the airport, and exposed to radiation on a daily basis between the planes driving themselves to the gates, and an energy plant adjacent to the terminal. I feel like my condition though hereditary was triggered by the amounts of radiation exposed to when coming to work… My symptoms worsen when I go to work, and are less evident when I am away though it takes days for me to recuperate. I am will be having a thyroidectomy next week – I am beyond tapazole or any kind of help now…

    My question is could I be wrong? And if I am not as I feel very strongly about this considering my symptoms, research etc. why are airport employees not asked to protect themselves with the same treatment proposed to protect these individuals after this horrible tragedy?

    In a lifetime of working at the airport, and sometimes even less why would we not do all we can to protect?

    Paula – NYC

  2. Victoria says:

    This is not beneficial to those of us with hyperthyroid or hashitoxicosis is it? Wouldn’t this cause a thyroid storm? I guess I should ask if it is even an option for those of us that are hyper.

  3. dea says:

    I have lugols solution…can you give me an equivalent in drops that i should take…I already started taking some yesterday, i am hypothyroid…surely it will it the midwest too? Let me know, thanks, dea

  4. Michelle says:

    What about me? I had a total thyroidectomy for papillary thyca last year, but no radio-iodine based on my medical team’s decision to skip it. I’m wondering if aside from the other whole body effects of this scary radiation fallout, if this might actually wipeout the remaining tissue that is still keeping my thyroglobulin from zero-ing out… Trying to make the best of a scary and ridiculous situation…

  5. Thanks for your comments – so delighted to see folks asking the right questions and learning more about this. Since I cannot issue medical advice over the internet, my best advice is to talk to your local physician about the CDC recommendations, and watch for information as the radiation flows away from Japan, possibly toward us (not definitively). Another consideration is to measure your iodine levels regardless of your thyroid status to see what’s needed, particularly in those of you in jobs at significant risk for radiation exposure. Let’s hope the CDC steps up ASAP and that the released radiation is less than the larger expectations.

  6. Mmotherof2 says:

    Great information…I too have had a total thyrodectomy w/o any cancer ….so I am just on NDT. I currently do not take iodine, I also live in the midwest. So I take it that we are to watch where this fallout travels and if I have no thyroid do I need to take iodine at all? thank you!

  7. samantha says:

    I would love to see the sources for your statements about the “massive amounts” of “fallout” headed for the US West Coast – because this just sounds like a lot of fearmongering. And advising a bunch of folks with various thyroid issues to load up on iodine because there is no time for an “evidence-based plan” is irresponsible at best. I am also on Team Hyperthyroid and will need more than your grandfather’s advice before I start taking extra iodine.

  8. Paula S says:

    Thank you Dr. Gottfried for your prompt reply! Your efforts at keeping us informed is greatly appreciated! Keep them coming if you are able to!

  9. dea says:

    Hello Dr.!

    Above you posted “Chernobyl.

    •Adults and breastfeeding women should take 130mg of potassium iodide (available at health food stores)
    •kids 3-18 should take 65mg of potassium iodide
    •kids 1 month to 3 years should take 32 mg

    Can you please tell me (in drops) what a lugols solution of 4% potassium iodide and 2% iodine” would equate to in milligrams as posted above.

    Thank you

  10. Brett says:

    I think preventive medicine is great and all, but this seems more like a treatment for mass hysteria. How much nuclear prophylaxis was used for people living in the Las Vegas area in the active days of the test site? I would suggest doing quite a bit of reading on this before rushing out to buy any sort of iodine, or other, supplements. Definitely consult your physician if you are considering this route. As much radiation as a person is typically exposed to on a yearly basis I am going to go ahead and say the Japanese thing is relatively negligible for most people living in the U.S. For the people living there however I think we should provide for them as much support as we can.

  11. Merrit says:

    Thanks for the post I’m so glad to see that someone is thinking on their feet. I don’t currently take iodine supplemetns and have been told to avoid it with my Hashimoto’s because it could do more damage than good, but in this case I will ask my N.D. what she recommends. I’m in Colorado, so I don’t now what the fallout level would be here.

    • PhillyGurl says:

      @ Merrit, I have Hashi’s too, and I’ve been stable on my thy-meds for 3 years, I don’t want to take something that is going to throw me into a storm. I don’t take any additional iodine, preferring to use kosher salt for cooking and meals. I’d like to know more about the ramifications of taking KI when you are already taking medication. Thanks!

      • Merrit says:

        PhillyGurl, I’m not on medication, but my protocol involves lifestyle changes, including diet and supplementation. I can understand you not wanting to throw your thyroid into a storm. You should definitely talk with your Dr. about the ramifications. I’ve read several resources about the importance of iodine for the health of the thyroid, but what you and I have is an autoimmune disease which has more to do with our immune system than our thyroid and I’ve read that in the case of autoimmune thyroid issues, iodine can actually do more harm than good. I’m not a doctor and not making a recommendation, but do your research with reliable medical resources and talk with your doctor if you are curious.

  12. Please read the post carefully. I’m not suggesting that everyone to take iodine. I’m highly recommending this: watch the news, and read what the CDC has recommended based on previous nuclear acccidents such as Chernobyl. My message is educational. I’m suggesting that you watch the news, be aware that the CDC has an evidence-based post on what can prevent binding of radiactive binding IF THERE IS ANY RADIATION COMING OUR WAY, and you may want to consider discussing that with your doctor. I am not giving you medical advice; I’m posting what the CDC has on their website so that you can be proactive. We lack evidence at this point. Stay tuned. Stay with the voice of reason.

  13. Mary says:

    I live in Wyoming but my sons are in Seattle and they are more at risk being related to me they are 29 and 26 what dose should they take and when. With my thyroid growing back after 35yr and already having too much radiation in my life what can I do? Thank you for your help. Mary

  14. Dear Thyroid says:

    VERY IMPORTANT! This is not a fear article. This is a preventative/something to think about article. We are a global website. The goal was not to instill fear. The goal was to disseminate information about something to seriously consider.

    When I read this article, the first thing that I want to do is research, and then speak with my physician about my findings. The more educated are, the better equipped we are to take care of ourselves.

    This is a very empowering piece, in my opinion. Thank you, Dr. Gottfried.

    PS: Dr. Gottfried is a renowned integrative gynecologist. http://www.gottfriedcenter.com/ In addition, she writes a weekly guest post about thyroid and hormonal health on Dear Thyroid.

    Katie

    • Jim says:

      Katie, I truly understand what you are saying. However, please take a look at the article and tell me what the writer choose to place not only in bold but in italics.

      Here it is:

      As the jet streams send OVER THE NEXT WEEK the radiation to Canada and the Western US, may all do what they can to learn how to manage it as safely as possible.

      That is, without a doubt, nothing other than good old natured fear. That is the problem people are having with this. That is NOT how you write an informative article.

  15. Dear Thyroid says:

    Jim;

    I hear you. I absolutely appreciate where you’re coming from. I do respectfully disagree.

    When I see this: “Second, there is not time for a carefully-crafted, methodically-researched, evidence-based plan (the type of plan I favor). It’s pull yourself up by your bootstraps with what we know, and what we’ve learned from previous accidents.”

    I think to myself: Something to seriously consider (2) discuss with my doctor (3) watch the news (4) educate myself as much as possible.

    I think the entire situation is scary, full stop. What I appreciate is Dr. Gottfried’s willingness to table this, and bring it to our attention.

    In my opinion, she’s saying “We can learn from the past. We have a current crisis. How do we move forward?” — All of which are decisions that each of us will make with our health care providers, et al.

    Thank you, Jim.

    Katie

    • K says:

      Katie, You are missing the point. Jim quoted some information from Dr. Brownstein’s post that are just plain old FACTUALLY INCORRECT. The jet stream is not going to send up to 750 RADS of radiation over the Bay Area in the next couple of days. But Dr. B SAYS that in this posting like it is a FACT. There are ways to get people to think about their health that doesn’t involve tabloid tactics. Your blindness to this, and the many times it has been mentioned both here and one FB makes me wonder how much you stand to benefit from the business Dr. Brownstein is in- selling iodine supplements! Fear does not empower people; it does the opposite.

  16. Akasha says:

    I am happy to see this article for the sake of understanding my options in case something happens. Reading this does not frighten me. It actually increases my vigilance to remain calm and find the best solution when it is that moment-however the moment arrives. We are all responsible people here-and arguing about whether it is correct to discuss solutions to fallout when there is a very viably possible situation brewing not so far away (with possibilities of 7.0 after shock quake in the next few days….and who knows from that!) what should we do? crawl under a rock? We are empowered here to use this information as it makes sense-OR NOT. This is all deeply SHOCKING-and it requires level headed intuitive action.
    If this is not what feels correct for you-there is nothing to MAKE you do anything. Otherwise, the opportunity here is to use this info to empower intelligent CHOICES. Arguing is distracting. thank you dear thryroid…..

  17. Maria says:

    I would just warn everyone because excess iodine does hurts the thyroid and once it is messed up it takes its time to heal; I’ve been paying for that mistake since 2005; so be careful.
    Thank you for this post very important to consider!

  18. Maria says:

    And as a Journalist I know they never overestimate, by the contrary they always give lower numbers to not cause panic. So yes, protect your thyroid, hope we could have more info to know what else to do to protect the skin, eyes, lungs? Thank you!

  19. Dear Thyroid says:

    It has been Dear Thyroid’s position, always, to NEVER do anything without consulting a physician. The same applies here. In addition, our goal has always been to provide resources and information, not to instill fear.

    The more we know, the more empowered we are as patients.

    Thanks,
    Katie

  20. The discussion generated from this article is great. I’ve just posted my own response to the situation. I hope you’ll read it and share your opinion with me. http://dearthyroid.org/a-nuclear-reaction/

  21. Amanda says:

    Dr G,
    Thank you for starting the conversation. I never take any one person/article/news story without doing more research. Until I read this I wasn’t thinking about any possible thyroid related issues due to this event [or any other nuclear type event]. Now I will. The risk from this incident may not be huge for me personally, but I do happen to have an old nuke plant in my state that has had quite a bit of controversy recently. I think this is my wake up call to pay attention to that.

    Thanks again DrG.
    Amanda

  22. Akasha says:

    since posting last night I spent today investigating and was turned onto a very informative e-book which describes with incredible detail what can happen as far as radiation sickness, and natural methods to deal with symptoms. the evidence in the article comes from cases both in nagasaki and chernobyl. i have found it incredibly informative-especially considering the fact that our thymus is not the only part of our bodies suffering if we get sick. blessings, Akasha
    http://www.radiationdetox.com/ebook/0707RadiationDetox1.pdf

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