Article first published as Nutritional Protection Against Radiation on Technorati.
High levels of ionizing radiation, such as those released from nuclear reactors in Japan, can lead to cancer and immune suppression. This article will discuss nutritional strategies to prevent or mitigate the DNA damage, cancer development, and decreases in immunity that radiation can cause.
The recent release of radiation from nuclear reactors in Japan has prompted many to purchase iodine supplements to try to prevent thyroid cancer. But that isn’t the only cancer that can be caused by radiation. Iodine supplements, as potassium iodide, can only prevent thyroid cancers, as it blocks specific receptors on this gland. The radioactive iodine isotopes released from the nuclear reactors are thus prevented from binding to the thyroid gland’s iodine receptors because they are filled with iodine obtained from the supplements. You should only use these iodine supplements if medical authorities direct you to do so. To protect the rest of the body, other supplements, nutrients and compounds are required to stop the oxidative damage caused by radiation that leads to DNA damage and eventually to cancer.
Melatonin has recently been described as a strong radioprotective agent by researchers at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio in the journal TAF Preventive Medicine Bulletin. The authors describe this inexpensive neuroendocrine hormone’s protective effects on DNA against ionizing radiation. Melatonin is also more efficient at protecting DNA than amifostine, an anti-radiation drug used in a clinical setting. Long term low-dose supplementation is effective but the authors of the paper also cite research that showed that a one-time dose of 300 mg of melatonin before radiation is effective, although the optimum dosage hasn't been definitely determined. It quickly passes into the blood after ingestion, as well as to other bodily fluids. The supplement is also reported as being safe during pregnancy and also protects against preeclampsia, a condition that is partially cause by reactive oxygen species (ROS). Although it shows beneficial effects on pregnancy, please consult your doctor if you intend to use it when pregnant. Radiation also induces ROS and melatonin is an effective antioxidant against this toxic effect. Melatonin also protects human lymphocytes, important immune system cells, from genetic damage caused by radiation. Don’t use it before tasks requiring concentration, as it’s usually used to induce sleep, and will cause drowsiness.
Research on animals has shown radioprotective effects of various ginseng formulations. A recent study using lymphocytes extracted from humans and treated with North American Ginseng extract 90 minutes after irradiation of the lymphocytes, showed that the extract protected the immune cells from irradiation with Cesium-137. Cesium-137 is the radioactive isotope that’s being spewed out from the Japanese nuclear reactors. The extract used in the above study contained a total ginsenoside (the bioactive component) content of 11.7 percent, with Rb1 as the major ginsenoside. Asian ginseng has also shown protective effects by the same researchers when human lymphocytes were treated with the compound before radiation. Furthermore, ginseng extracts enhance immune function in healthy and immune-compromised humans.
Curcumin has been shown to protect normal tissues from radiation by enhancing antioxidant enzymes and quenching free radicals. Recent research published in Radiation Research also shows that curcumin dose-dependently decreases radiation-induced lung fibrosis, and improves survival after irradiation. Doses from 3.6 grams to 8 grams per day have been used. This spice is hard to absorb, so use some black pepper to enhance absorption or supplements with highly bio-available curcumin. Don’t use this spice if you’re pregnant.
A study published in the International Journal of Radiation Biology shows that Vitamin E, as alpha-tocopherol succinate, has been shown to protect against total-body irradiation. Furthermore, a diet of high combined amounts of specific vitamins from food sources has been shown to protect pilots’ DNA from ionizing radiation. Pilots are exposed to radiation every time they fly. The best combination was vitamin E and C, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, and lutein-zeaxanthin, (good sources are green leafy veggies, carrots, and pumpkins),as reported in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
This year, the British Journal of Nutrition also reported that high niacin intake from food, or lots of whole grains but low levels of red and processed meats, might confer protection from ionizing radiation.
There are several other compounds that can be used to protect against radiation, but the above nutrients are the main ones. Always consult your doctor before you use supplements, especially if you’re pregnant. Although no supplement can completely protect you from radiation, you can mitigate its toxic effects with judicious use of specific nutrients and hormones.