By Dr. Jennifer Fisher, ND
I am giving this presentation in light of the recent events at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan. Over the last few days, there have been many health concerns and questions regarding radiation exposure and the use of the emergency potassium iodide tablet to prevent thyroid cancer. This presentation will focus on the thyroid gland, and it will not discuss how radiation affects other parts of the body.

The goal of this presentation is to inform you as to how you can ensure that your thyroid gland is functioning optimally and what you can do to protect your thyroid. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits here at the base of the throat. It produces thyroxine, also called T4, and triiodthyronine, also called T3. These are thyroid hormones that are important for growth, brain development, nutrient metabolism of your carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and they help and regulate your basal metabolic rate.

Your basal metabolic rate affects the rate of which your cells and all your organs function. The thyroid gland is very important in our body because it affects every cell and every organ. Unfortunately, there are many environmental factors that influence the functioning of our thyroid gland. These can include chemicals that we eat in our food, chemicals that we drink in our water, pollutants that we inhale in the air, and even radiation.

So you must be curious about iodide and iodine. These are minerals that you absorb through your diet. Once you absorb them, they go into your bloodstream, which goes to your thyroid gland, which soaks them up like a sponge because it has a special affinity for iodine. If the iodine is radioactive, your thyroid would absorb that as well, and it would cause health issues.

Within the thyroid gland, it converts iodide to iodine, and to make T3, it takes three iodines and puts them on one tyrosine. To make T4, it takes four iodines and put them on a tyrosine. The purpose of the thyroid gland is to regulate metabolism. Metabolism is the rate at which our cells function and how our body functions as a whole.

If a person has a low thyroid function, we call that hypothyroidism. That may present with symptoms such as constipation, fatigue, dry skin, dry hair, brittle nails, and depression.  If somebody has a high thyroid function, we call that hyperthyroidism, and that can present with symptoms such as anxiety, nervousness, trembling hands, and heat intolerance.

In order for the thyroid gland to function optimally, it needs specific nutrients such as iodine, tyrosine, which is an amino acid, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, B vitamins, zinc, copper, and selenium. So you may think that you need to run off to the store and buy a bunch of supplements, but I suggest focusing on your diet.

The first step is to remove processed and packaged foods from your diet. This includes fast food, such as fries, hamburgers, pizza, pasta, anything that comes from the frozen food aisle that you can just pop in the microwave and anything that’s packaged that has synthetic additives and preservatives in it.

Unfortunately, processed foods do not have the nutrients or vitamins that your thyroid needs for optimal functioning. Instead, I recommend eating foods found in the produce aisle, preferably organic, and if you eat meat to eat organic meat. You should eat whole organic foods because they contain the vitamins and nutrients that your thyroid needs, such as flavinoids, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin E, and all the minerals. A good food source of iodine is seaweed, which is commonly eaten in miso soup. It is unique, and it has both iodide and iodine, and they are in an absorbable form, which allows your body to utilize it.

So what about supplements? Over the last few days, we have heard a lot about the emergency potassium iodide. You only want to take this when you are in close proximity to a nuclear incident because it provides such a large dose of iodide that it suppresses the thyroid function and it can cause a lot of harm within the body. So if you want to take an iodine supplement, that’s fine. You could take 150 to 250 micrograms a day, which is a low maintenance dose, to help fill any iodine deficiencies and to help your thyroid function optimally. And the best part is you can find these supplements at your local health food store.

I hope you now understand that you do not need to take the high dose emergency potassium iodide. The best thing that you can do is to remove processed foods from your diet and to eat whole organic foods. If you want to take an iodine supplement, you can get one at your local health food store. If you have any concerns about your thyroid function or concerns about any other health condition, I recommend that you find a naturopathic doctor who can create a customized treatment plan for you.

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By James P. Blumenthal, DC, DACBN, FACFN

Japan Radiation: With the problems that the nuclear reactors in Japan have been experiencing following the earthquake and tsunami last week, a lot of people here are concerned about the possibility of radiation in nuclear fallout affecting us here. Even today, the L.A. Times ran an article that showed that federal officials are considering the possibility of radiation affecting livestock and agriculture. In the next little bit, I’m going to talk about what we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones if radiation does come our way. We have four basic isotopes that we need to be concerned about. One is iodine-131, which has been all over the news. The other three are uranium, cesium, and plutonium. The iodine-131 is fairly short-lived. It has a half-life of about eight days, and it really is something that is far more of an issue, very local to the explosion itself.

Emergency Potassium Iodide: People living within ten, fifteen, maybe twenty miles of the reactors do need to be taking potassium iodide. The CDC talks about dosages of about 130 milligrams, but this isn’t necessary for those of us here. That’s a whole different conversation, and we’ll get into that in a minute.

Radioactive Uranium and Cesium: The uranium and the cesium and the plutonium have half-lives more in the order of about 30 years. And when they get thrown up into the clouds and they get passed around the world in the stratosphere, we do need to be concerned about those. Much of the conversation so far is centered around iodine. So let’s look at iodine for a minute.

Iodine: Iodine is an essential element for the thyroid, and most people in this country–maybe as many as 90 percent–are iodine-deficient. That leaves them very vulnerable to radioactive iodine, which actually jumps into the thyroid and takes up the receptor sites and can destroy the thyroid.

Emergency Potassium Iodine: So if you are very close to a reactor meltdown–if you are within 10 or 20 miles–taking a very large dose–the CDC would recommend 130 milligrams of iodine–would fill up all those receptors. And then kind of like musical chairs, when the music stops, all the chairs would be filled by non-radioactive iodine, and the radioactive iodine wouldn’t have anywhere to go.

Now we’re not that close to the meltdown. We may have some radiation from the meltdown. Depending on what your iodine level is, you might or might not need some extra iodine. If you need extra iodine, we’re talking about something on the order of 120, 150 micrograms of iodine a day. That’s about 1,000th of the level of the iodine that we’re talking about with an emergency–for somebody who’s right at ground zero, right within 10 or 20 miles of the reactor meltdown.

Iodine in Seaweed: So we can normally get our daily amount of iodine from sea vegetables, fish, even iodine supplements. We don’t need, in most cases–in fact, in almost any case relating to this emergency–to go with the emergency doses of 130 milligrams a day. In fact, those dosages are only good for 24 hours, even at the ground zero level, and we’re talking about a radiation background that may be a matter of weeks, months, years. So that’s not a particularly effective strategy.

Add onto that that if you have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is the most common autoimmune challenge in this country, taking that level of iodine could really cause some serious health repercussions. What I am concerned about is the release of uranium, cesium, possibly plutonium and other radioactive isotopes from the reactors, which can have a much longer lifespan.

Cesium and uranium have a half-life of about 30 years, and they contribute to an increase in the already-growing background radiation that we all face, which has broad cancer and leukemia and other aging and free radical problems to a much larger and much younger group of people on this planet than ever before.

Radioactive Contamination Solutions: So let’s look at some of the solutions–some of the things we can do–to protect ourselves from this. Two of the organs that are most susceptible to radiation poisoning are the thyroid and the kidneys. Treating the thyroid is pretty tricky. There are only a few things which will really protect it from radiation. The main one is an antioxidant called glutathione. Actually, glutathione’s the most important antioxidant in the body, followed right up by superoxide dismutase–it’s called SOD–and an enzyme called catalase.

Glutathione: So what we can do is to provide the body–provide the thyroid–with enough reduced glutathione to be able to protect it on an ongoing basis to reduce the amount of free radical damage to it and to give it the ability to keep working. One of the challenges with glutathione is that we can’t really just take it in the body; we can’t just eat it as a whole substance because it’s a really big molecule. It’s made of three amino acids called cystine, glycine, and glutamine.

But we can take those, and there are a number of products on the market that make those very much available so that we can take those, we can make the glutathione on the inside, and we can protect the thyroid. There are also a number of creams out there, which we can apply to the body and which will pass the glutathione across the skin into the bloodstream, or we can apply it directly over the thyroid so it contributes it directly into the thyroid and we can protect ourselves that way.

Selenium Cysteine: The other thing that we might want to look at, particularly with glutathione, is that there are some things that make the glutathione work. One of them is called selenium cysteine, and it’s a very special salt of the mineral selenium. We don’t use very much of it; we use a couple hundred micrograms a day. Remember when we were talking about micrograms with the iodine also? Very small amounts, but very important amounts. Actually using much more than that–using four or five times that–can actually be toxic, so we want to be careful that we use the right amount of anything. We can also use creams that contain not only glutathione, but also catalase and SOD so that we get that maximum antioxidant effect from the cream as well as the protective effect of the glutathione directed to the thyroid.

Kidneys & Radiation: The other area that we have to be concerned about is the kidneys. The kidneys are big filters, which remove all the water soluble toxins and make it possible to pass them into the bladder and then to excrete them. The kidneys are also very sensitive to uranium and cesium, which causes significant damage to them, and if they get damaged enough, they can’t filter properly and we end up in dialysis or dead.

Baking Soda for the Kidneys: One of the best solutions is actually a time-tested old remedy that’s been used by the military for quite a while, and that is baking soda. Good old-fashioned baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate. The way that it works is that it converts the cesium ions or the uranium ions into things that are less toxic and that are safer for us to get rid of. So the way to take baking soda is to take about a half a teaspoon in water twice a day between meals. Be sure to take it between meals because if you take it with meals, it can neutralize stomach acid and really cause havoc with your digestion.

Kelp for Iodine: Great food sources for iodine include kelp and most of the sea vegetables. In fact, there are three types of iodine, and the nice thing about the sea vegetables is they have all three types. Also fish–most seafood, in fact will have various levels of iodine, and most have more than we need on a daily basis so that we can use and/or store and/or release the excess.

Glutathione in Food: Good sources of glutathione include barley and watercress. In fact, glutathione is part of what gives watercress its snap. An old remedy is to take a cup of pure barley, put it in a quart of water, stick in the fridge overnight, and the following day, decant off the liquid and drink the liquid. The liquid’s very high in glutathione, and in fact, has been used over years and years–over centuries, really–to keep people healthy through the winter and prevent colds and flus and that sort of thing.

Super oxide dismutase, or SOD, is another free radical quencher like glutathione. In fact, they work together very well, and it will help as an antioxidant, and it will also help protect the thyroid and the rest of the body. One of the best sources of SOD is horseradish.

In conclusion, I think we can all see why we don’t really need high-dose iodine in the 130 milligram range and why it could be dangerous for some of us. If you do want iodine, you should be able to get everything that you need really from food at this point, especially from sea vegetables and kelp. In terms of glutathione, we can get that from food; we can get it from supplements; we can get it in creams. And superoxide dismutase will work very closely with the glutathione, as will selenium cysteine.

Finally, when we’re looking at protecting the kidneys, a little bit of baking soda goes a long way, even if you’re not trying to protect them from cesium and uranium. And I hope that having this information will help you feel more empowered and less panicked during the crisis in Japan.