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Protecting Your Liver From Nuclear Radiation

As the nuclear reactor crisis in Japan unfolds, some folks on the United State’s West Coast are worrying about radiation exposure. Although those with liver disease may be more prone to illness from a nuclear accident, there are several ways to mitigate the danger.

As Japan works to prevent a major nuclear meltdown following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, America’s concerns about the health effects of radiation are growing. On the eighth day post quake, the threat of Japan’s leaking radiation reaching American soil appeared to be miniscule. U.S. officials claimed that any airborne hazards are not enough to cause health concerns. Despite the government’s reports, some remain doubtful of the air’s safety. In addition, those with a compromised liver could be at greater risk of damage from nuclear radiation than healthy people. Thankfully, there are a handful of approaches that can be taken to prevent becoming sick from radiation.

About Nuclear Radiation
Especially since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb explosions and the Chernobyl catastrophic nuclear accident, radiation exposure’s ability to cause cancer is well documented. According to James Fagin, chief of endocrinology at New York’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the thyroid is the organ most at risk of cancer from a nuclear accident. This is because:

•    The thyroid takes in iodine from the blood in order to make critical hormones.

•    The thyroid can’t tell the difference between radioactive iodine, which can be released in a nuclear meltdown, and the normal kind.

•    Radioactive material entering the thyroid can cause cancer.

However, the thyroid does not pose the only concern for those exposed to nuclear radiation. Several kinds of radioactive elements released by nuclear meltdowns – including cesium-137, strontium-90 and plutonium-241 – can accumulate in the bones. That increases the risk of bone cancer or leukemia, a cancer of blood cells made in the bone marrow. Plutonium-241 also can build up in the liver, causing liver cancer. For those already living with chronic liver disease, the threat of radioactive material building up in the liver requires aggressive, preventative action.

As their vulnerability to a nuclear fallout is slightly more than their healthy counterparts, individuals with chronic liver disease are justified in their concern about radiation that could surface in their area.

Potassium Iodide
Being swooped off store shelves on the U.S.’s West Coast, the most talked about preventative from nuclear radiation is potassium iodide. A stable form of iodine, potassium iodide (KI) may help certain individuals protect against thyroid cancer. By flooding the body with stable iodine, KI is intended to crowd out the radioactive iodine. However, the KI strategy is a bit tricky.

1.    Age – KI is only advised for pregnant women, infants and children, because the cells in their growing bodies turn over more rapidly than in adults. Experts say it is relatively useless in those over age 20.

2.    Side Effects – KI may have side effects, such as inflammation of the salivary gland, gastrointestinal disturbances, allergic reactions and rashes. Those with a thyroid condition, such as a goiter, Graves’ disease or autoimmune thyroid disease, are not supposed to take KI. Therefore, it should only be taken by those exposed to nuclear radiation.

3.    Timing – In order to be effective, the timing of taking KI must be precise. The pills need to be taken before radiation exposure or immediately after. Taking the pills too late – a week after exposure – can actually cause radioactive iodine to get locked in the thyroid.

4.    Other Organs – While careful dosing of KI may protect children who have been exposed to nuclear radiation from developing thyroid cancer, it will not protect any other organ – including the liver.
Luckily, there are other ways to protect against radiation.

Exposure to radiation causes a very reactive type of free radical to form. Referred to as a hydroxyradical, this particle is particularly harmful to cells. Thankfully, the body’s most potent defense against free radicals, glutathione can help neutralize free radicals – including hydroxyradicals.

Studies have shown glutathione’s detoxification abilities play a key role in deactivating hydroxyradicals. As a result, cancer specialists are now focused on raising glutathione levels in patients who undergo radiation therapy as part of their cancer treatment. Low levels of glutathione have been connected with an increased risk of developing cancer from radiation exposure. While those with chronic liver disease are familiar with raising glutathione levels to protect their liver from toxins, this strategy also appears to protect against cellular damage from radioactivity.

Although glutathione is available as an over-the-counter pill, its absorption into cells when taken orally is not very effective. However, it is possible to boost glutathione levels by providing more of its building blocks and reactivating the glutathione that is already there:

1.    NAC – Most experts on boosting glutathione suggest supplementing with its amino acid building blocks. Because it is readily absorbed and rapidly metabolized to glutathione, N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) is the favored glutathione building block.

2.    Alpha Lipoic Acid – A universal antioxidant, there is evidence that alpha lipoic acid helps to recycle glutathione back into its active, fighting form.

There are a wide range of studies that support ingestion of the following foods to protect the body’s cells from radiation exposure:

•    Miso soup
•    Kelp, spirulina, chlorella, seaweed and other algaes
•    Sulfur-rich vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, garlic and onions
•    Selenium-rich foods like oats, brazil nuts, tuna and black beans
•    Foods rich in potassium, calcium and minerals
•    Nucleotide-rich foods, such as yeast, sardines, liver, anchovies and mackerel to assist in cellular repair
•    A good multi-vitamin/multi-mineral supplement

In addition, experts suggest avoiding sugars, sweets and wheat-containing products, because they tend to suppress the immune system.

The March 2011 catastrophic turn of events has the world mourning Japan’s losses and praying for its survivors. In the U.S., we are fortunate that the radioactive plume reaching our shores appears to be safe. However, many with a disadvantaged liver may want to take protective measures, just in case the radioactivity in their area is higher than officials initially estimated.

By keeping glutathione levels high and eating foods from the anti-radiation diet, Americans can protect their liver from nuclear radiation. As we breathe a collective sigh of relief that the radiation impact here is minimal, our thoughts and prayers are directed toward the earthquake and tsunami survivors, their loved ones and people closer than us to this nuclear disaster – and we trust that they will also benefit from these protective measures., Relationship between Radiation Exposure and Risk of Second Primary Cancers among Atomic Bomb Survivors, Christopher I. Li, et al, Retrieved March 19, 2011, Cancer Research, September 15, 2010., Radiation Exposure Poses Similar Risk Of First And Second Cancers In Atomic Bomb Survivors, Retrieved March 19, 2011, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, 2011., Radiation Not a Threat to Western North America, Jake Richardson, Retrieved March 19, 2011,, Inc., 2011., Bulletin for Hep C Patients: Building on Dr. Oz’s Advice, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved March 20, 2011, Natural Wellness, 2011., N-Acetyl Cysteine is a Liver’s Ally, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved March 20, 2011, Natural Wellness, 2011., Protect Yourself from Radiation Poisoning, Retrieved March 19, 2011, Curt Hendrix, MS, CCN, CNS, Akesco Health Services, 2011., Radiation fears drive sales of kelp on West Coast, Alex Dobuzinskis, Retrieved March 19, 2011, Thomson Reuters, 2011., Radiation fears: Who needs 'nuke pills' and who doesn't, Liz Szabo, Retrieved March 19, 2011, USA Today, 2011.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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