Because of the events that recently took place in Japan, attention has been drawn to the effects of radiation on the health of living organisms. The two basic types of radiation are ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.  Ionization is the process where an atom loses or gains electrons resulting in creation of an electric charge. Ionizing radiation occurs when sub-atomic particles, referred to as photons, and/or electromagnetic waves, become energetic enough to separate electrons from atoms to create an electric charge.  Such ionization produces free radicals (atoms or molecules containing unpaired electrons) that are very reactive.  Examples of ionizing radiation are ultraviolet rays, X-rays, gamma rays and nuclear fallout.

       Non-ionizing radiation refers to any type of electromagnetic radiation that does not have enough energy to remove electrons from atoms in order to ionize them. Non-ionizing radiation, when passing through a living organism, has sufficient energy only to elevate the movement of electrons to a higher energy state.   The light from the sun is largely composed of non-ionizing radiation, with the notable exception of ultraviolet rays which are largely filtered out by the earth’s atmosphere. Most wireless electronic devices use non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation such as microwaves and radio waves.  The effect on health of non-ionizing radiation continues to be investigated, especially in light of the tremendous increase in cell phone usage and usage of numerous other electronic devices. 


       Effects of ionizing radiation on health are well established.  Exposure to such radiation will create free radicals in living organisms. Free radicals are not a bad thing in and of themselves as they will protect the body by destroying disease causing pathogens.  The body actually creates free radicals for this purpose.  Free radicals become harmful to the body when they are produced in amounts over and above what the body can positively use and instead begin to destroy healthy tissue.  This is what occurs with exposure to ionizing radiation from nuclear fallout.

       While we all are exposed to some ionizing radiation on a daily basis and are subsequently having free radicals formed in our bodies, our bodies are designed to neutralize free radicals through the action of antioxidants.  Antioxidants neutralize free radicals by limiting their ability to create oxidation.  Oxidation occurs when oxygen unites with a substance and when electrons are added to or removed from the atoms making up a substance.  Oxidation, which results in the breakdown of a substance, is the result of free radical activity. 

       Vitamin E is a well known antioxidant that will actually sacrifice itself when confronted with a free radical in order to protect us from further damage.  Beta carotene, vitamin C, CoQ10, and the minerals selenium and zinc all work as antioxidants.  The mineral selenium must be present in order for the body to make the antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase.  Without this mineral present in the diet, this enzyme will not be formed, and we reduce our level of protection from fatty acid oxidation.

        One type of free radical that is created in our bodies in significant amounts is called the superoxide. During normal aerobic (with air) cellular metabolism, oxygen and nutrients from food combine to create the basic energy molecule of life called adenosine triphosphate (A.T.P).  It is during this process that superoxide free radicals are formed. An antioxidant enzyme called superoxide dismutase (SOD) along with another enzyme called catalase, removes the superoxide by converting it to oxygen and water.  This oxygen and water is then recycled by the body and used for other purposes.  The body can produce around five million units of SOD per day.  If your level of nutritional intake is poor, the production of SOD will diminish.  There is also a gradual diminishing of this enzyme as we age.  


       The mineral iodine is needed by the thyroid gland to produce the hormone thyroxine which plays a vital role in cellular metabolism. Iodine has also been seen to remove toxic chemicals from the body, suppress auto-immune activity, strengthen T-cell immune activity and protect against abnormal growth of bacteria in the stomach. It has been shown that a number of body tissues have receptor sites for the iodine molecule which indicates iodine is necessary for a variety of physiological processes in addition to its association with thyroid function.        

       Nuclear fusion creates radioactive iodine 131.  When the body is exposed to iodine 131, it is taken up by iodine receptor sites, especially those present in the thyroid gland.  When this occurs, thyroxine producing thyroid cells are destroyed by the radiation produced by iodine 131 and normal metabolic functions are disrupted. Iodine 131 can also cause cancer.  Interestingly, radioactive iodine is used medically, under controlled conditions, to kill thyroid cells that are producing too much thyroxine resulting in an over active thyroid (hyperthyroidism).   

       A common treatment method for preventing iodine-131 absorption is to saturate the thyroid with non-radioactive iodine-127, as the iodide salt called potassium iodide. This is an ionic compound of the mineral potassium and the mineral iodine. Iodine is a neutral molecule whereas iodide is a negatively charged ion. The thyroid will absorb very little of radioactive iodine-131 after it is saturated with non-radioactive potassium iodide. The radioactive iodine-131 is excreted. The dosage for adults is 130 milligrams (mg) of potassium iodide per day, given in one dose, or divided into portions. This is equivalent to 100 mg of iodine. The protective effect of iodine-127 at this dosage level lasts approximately 24 hours. Therefore, this dosage level should be maintained on a daily basis until exposure to high levels of radioactive iodine is reduced.

        This is a therapeutic dosage of potassium iodide and should only be taken by those in close proximity to nuclear fallout.   This dosage level is not for everyday use.               


       Research has shown iodine to be a dynamic in prevention of breast disease. It is interesting that ductal cells in the breast, the ones most likely to become cancerous, are equipped with an “iodine pump” which is responsible for the uptake of iodine. This pump mechanism is just like the one responsible for the uptake of iodine by the thyroid gland.  The very presence of such a pump in the breasts shows iodine to be a necessary nutrient to the health of this tissue.  In addition to the thyroid and breasts, a number of other tissues possess an iodine pump and include the stomach mucosa, the salivary glands, ovaries, thymus gland, the skin, choroid plexus in the brain, which makes cerebrospinal fluid, and the joints, arteries and bone.

       Iodine is known to induce a process called apoptosis which is programmed cell death. This process facilitates the destruction of cancer cells and cells infected with viruses. It has been shown that when human lung cancer cells are caused to take up and utilize more iodine, they undergo apoptosis and shrink.

       Since there is apparent need for iodine in many ways other than for thyroid function, it may be wise to consider increasing dietary iodine.  The daily requirement for iodine is recommended at 150 micrograms. This amount was established by the government many years ago as the minimum required to prevent thyroid deficiency. Since many additional needs for iodine have been identified, it may be that higher levels of iodine intake are justified.  The Japanese average over 12,000 micrograms of iodine per day obtained from there normal diet which is high in iodine containing sea weeds such as kelp and dulse. 

       At Milk ‘N Honey, we carry a product called Tri-Iodine from the company EuroPharma which provide 12.5 milligrams (12,500 micrograms) of iodine in one daily capsule. We also carry potassium iodide in 225 microgram (mcg) tablets.  For those who may want to keep a high dosage potassium iodide supplement on hand in case of a local nuclear accident, we make available a 30 milligram tablet that could be taken four times in a day which would provide close to the recommended dosage for protection from radioactive iodine.