Monday, March 21, 2011

Living in a radioactive world (reducing radiation effects)

A Greenmom worries about her husband's loving but funky heart...

As the terrible events unfolding in Japan suddenly and daily remind us of the danger simply being a human being alive on this planet, as we watch the people of that devastated island desperately trying to get their nuclear plants under control and prevent any additional radiation from being released into the atmosphere, I feel a little ridiculous worrying about the minute amount of radioactivity my husband will take in during his heart stress test on Wednesday.

But I'm worrying anyway.

In theory, this is not a big deal. He has been diagnosed with “Left Bundle Branch Block,” a place on the left side of his heart where things are a little hinky. And he’s got a funky rhythm going in there, with extra beats and a little unexpected twitchiness. (I blame it on the Bossa Nova.) At the same time, all the standard tests are coming up saying that he has a good strong heart that’s absolutely doing its job. But there’s a spot they just can’t see with the standard tests, and the only way they can tell the difference between a guy with a strong heart and a funky rhythm and a guy with a potential blockage and a heart attack waiting to happen is by injecting him with this tiny amount of a radioactive isotope with something like a 4 hour half life, and then taking pictures of how well everything in there lights up.

I’m a little freaked by this.

So I’m doing research. One of the side effects of what’s happening in Japan is that suddenly information about how to protect oneself from the effects of radiation is all over the internet right about now, although I suspect it’s been there for a long time and people just haven’t been looking. Sites for cancer patients. Sites for women whose history demands frequent mammograms. Sites for people like me who are freaked out by walking into the dentist’s office and having 18 x-rays pointed at my head over the space of 5 minutes. (18. Do they really need to do 18?)

So here’s what I’m learning: the biggest issue seems to be radioactive iodine, which gets absorbed by the thyroid gland. The best way to avoid this seems to be to make sure your thyroid gets enough ordinary non-radioactive iodine on its own that it won’t be thirsty for the nasty glowy stuff. And the best way to get this to happen is, duh, to eat foods rich in natural iodine. (Apparently supplements are great if you know exactly when and how your exposure to radiation occurs, but over time they themselves can screw up the thyroid, so it’s not a good ongoing therapy.)

Top of this list: seaweed. Kelp, spirulina, and so forth. And miso, apparently, though I can’t find seaweed as part of its ingredients. Second on the list: chlorophyll, i.e., Green Stuff. This site also suggests melatonin, the stuff some of us take to avoid the ravages of jet lag while traveling. Another cites a study where ginkgo supplements helped prevent cell damage from radiation. (I also found one fairly ridiculous claim, on a Mythbusters forum, about vodka as a radiation preventative, based on the asker’s experience a video game. Sounds like a prime candidate for the Darwin awards, if you ask me…) (Okay, withdrawn, that’s not charitable.)

Probably the most informative site, and the one I trust most, is the post on the Wise Woman Weblog by Susun Weed. It’s comprehensive, well-studied, and its recommendations are less about supplements than about whole foods and plants and how we can work them into our diets and systems. And I don’t discount her positive imagery suggestions either. It’s also calming to remember that our sun gives off radiation, and we are designed to be able to withstand mild doses. It’s just when they get higher than we have evolved to deal with that we run into problems…

So we are ready, as ready as we can be. He’s taking spirulina in tablet form (technically a supplement, but the supplement is basically dried ground spirulina pressed into a tablet, thus minimally processed), we’re eating lots of green leafies, there will be a buttload of spinach in his miso soup tonight and tomorrow, and we’ll just pray and hope that whatever’s going on in his heart is just a question of funky rhythm.

Anyone have any other thoughts? What do you do when x-rays or other radiation exposures are on your horizon? Are there any readers, especially on the West Coast of the U.S. who are worrying about the radiation from Japan and taking any precautions?

--Jenn the Greenmom


Anonymous said...

Here is a site that puts radiation exposure in perspective. Hope this helps.


Michelle said...

I also am weary of the radiation we are exposed to in things like this. The one I am exposed to the most is the dentist and I can't stand it- they cover my chest and leave my brain exposed. Just doesn't make sense to me. I try to avoid it whenever possible. But sometimes, like yours, there's a situation where you really don't have any choice. It's great you are taking precautions. Best of luck, I hope everything goes well!

Jenn the Greenmom said...

THANK YOU for that site--that's invaluable, and it really does help put things into perspective.

I deeply appreciate things like Actual Information, rather than bright reassurances like, "Oh, it's totally safe, don't even worry."

Because I worry, it's in my nature.
Here's that link again, a little shorter:

Dea-chan said...

Check out this chart that Randall Monroe (of XKCD fame) put together:

I found it fairly comforting and mildly disturbing at the same time. What do you mean that I'm getting radiation by living in a brick building?!

Heather said...

@Dea-Chan the natually occuring clays from which bricks are made often contain small amounts or radium, thorium and potassium, all of which emit radition. The radioactivity of potassium also explain why both bananas and people are radioactive (in the diagram, there is a radiation level for sleeping next to someone).


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