The run on potassium iodide (KI) supplements in health food stores and pharmacies after the recent Japanese earthquake highlights many issues I have with the American psyche. We are proactive to a point, but often our actions are misguided and based upon emotion much more than logic. While it makes sense for all of us to have potassium iodide on hand in case of exposure to radiation, there is no benefit from anyone actually taking these massive dosages of iodine right now. In fact, it is likely to do more harm than good.
The Benefits and Risk of Potassium Iodide
There is no question that potassium iodide is indicated when someone is exposed to significant amounts of nuclear radiation. But even then, it is a lot like giving someone a bulletproof vest in a gunfight. Yes, the vest can protect against a fatal bullet to the chest, but what if the bullet hits the gunfighter in the head or severs a major artery in a leg? Potassium iodide protects against radioactive iodine being accumulated within the thyroid gland, but it will not protect against the damaging effects of other radioactive particles.
When used in response to radiation exposure, the recommended dosage of 130 mg is generally quite high to saturate iodine stores, and its benefits are very short lived. However, taking this high dosage of KI when there is no radiation exposure is potentially harmful. Taking 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. If you want to take iodine preventively, take 150 to 300 mcg every day. Chronic intake at these levels will likely saturate iodine stores in a safer manner.
So if I am saying that the focus on potassium iodide is misguided, what do I recommend in its place? First, let me clarify my stance on KI. There is no question that it should be used when there is significant radiation exposure. However, it is doubtful that the U.S. mainland will ever see high levels of radiation that would necessitate KI therapy due to the Japanese earthquake. Instead, what makes the most sense is to take a more “whole body armor” approach. What I mean by this term is that there are steps that we can all take to reduce the effects of low-level radiation as well as to offer additional protection in the event that a nuclear catastrophe occurs. Keep in mind that if radiation exposure is severe enough, there is little that can be offered in terms of protection. But protecting against the accumulation of effects of low to moderate levels of radiation is something that we should all be trying to address.
There are three key supplements that are essential in any health promotion plan: a high-potency multiple vitamin and mineral, a high quality “greens” drink and a pharmaceutical-grade fish oil.
A high-potency multiple vitamin and mineral is one that provides optimal levels of all essential vitamins and minerals. “Greens drinks” are commercially available products containing dehydrated barley grass, wheat grass and/or algae sources such as chorella or spirulina. These foods are power-packed full of radiation-fighting phytochemicals. Enriching Greens from Natural Factors is the specific product that I endorse. Take one to two servings daily of the powdered version. For a pharmaceutical-grade fish oil, take two capsules daily of my RxOmega-3 Factors.
During these times of uncertainty regarding background radiation, I recommend some specific foods and a couple of other supplements. The foods that are helpful include:
- Good sources of water-soluble fibers, such as vegetables, pears, oat bran, apples and legumes
- Garlic, legumes, onions, eggs, whey protein and other high-sulfur-content foods
- High-flavonoid-content fruit such as blueberries, blackberries, cherries, raspberries and citrus
- Soy foods and sea vegetables
- High-carotene-content root vegetables: carrots, sweet potatoes and yams
- Cabbage-family vegetables, especially broccoli, Brussels sprout, and cabbage
- Artichokes; beets; spinach; dandelion greens; and herbs and spices such as turmeric, cinnamon and mustard
For additional supplements, I recommend a flavonoid-rich extract like green tea, grapeseed, 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 exist in the blood of patients either accidentally or therapeutically exposed to radiation, and may persist for more than 30 years. They are associated with an increased risk of radiation-induced cancers. Chernobyl workers who were given ginkgo extract for two 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 seven months in most cases. I believe that other flavonoid-rich extracts may offer the same sort of benefits, and I recommend their continued, indefinite use in anyone exposed to significant levels of radiation.
Lastly, I think it is a good idea to take advantage of the adaptogenic and radiation protection offered by such herbal tonics as Siberian ginseng, ashwaganda (Withania somnifera), Panax ginseng and rhodiola. Though any one of these adaptogens would be useful on their own, I prefer combination formulas like my Serenity Formula. Take two capsules daily for maximum benefit. Two capsules provide the following:
Sensoril (Withania somnifera) ashwagandha 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
Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) powdered extract 5:1 (aerial) 150 mg
Rhodiola rosacea powdered extract (root) 75 mg
3.5% Rosavins 2.6 mg
I generally recommend this formula to help people experiencing chronic stress or adrenal exhaustion, but it is also a valuable everyday tonic for a better life. In particular, I love the research on Sensoril, a patented extract of ashwaganda. It is impressive. 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.
You should be proactive in protecting your health against radiation, and don’t be fooled into a false sense of security just because you are taking potassium iodide. In fact, at this time it is likely to do more harm than good. Take a more comprehensive, rational approach.