Monday, April 4, 2011

Nuclear Primordial Soup

Having knowledge is a good thing. Having a little bit of knowledge and applying it liberally to everything around you is, at a minimum, annoying, but could actually be harmful. Take the issue of protecting yourself from radiation. With the damage from the Japanese nuclear power facilities seemingly worse every day, people are really gearing up their fears. Certainly the situation in Japan is sad and concerning, but that does not mean that we should react as though Fukushima were down the street from our house.

As a health physicist for over 18 years, the one thing I strove to do was to education people about radioactivity. Every day it is used beneficially in medicine, research, manufacturing and therapy. But, it also has a “bad side” if unchecked and used inhumanely, as the Japanese can sadly attest. That said, radioactivity is not new on Planet Earth. In fact, Earth was radioactive from the start, and has been gradually “decaying” over four and a half billion years. Everything on earth has evolved from a radioactive atmosphere, although today’s level of radiation is greatly reduced from the days of the original Primordial Soup.

In the April 3, 2011, Los Angeles Times, Chris Woolston wrote an article on the fear of radiation here in the United States and that people are grasping anxiously for anything to protect them from the clouds of radiation undoubtedly wafting over the Pacific. The fact is that if all of the Japanese fuel rods burned up and became airborne, that the amount of radiation received on our coast would still be extraordinarily small and probably add little change to our chance of illness or disease in our lifetimes.

However, people are afraid of things they don’t understand, so they grab onto things which are easy and obtainable. According to Woolston, people believe that taking supplements, especially iodine, and changing to macrobiotic diets [miso soup, brown rice and seaweed] will protect them from radiation. Actually, for healthy individuals, these foods are low fat and could be very good for you. The problem is that many people are sensitive or allergic to iodine. If you are allergic to shellfish, it is probably the iodine that gets you. Additionally, iodine varies in the type of seaweed, some varying by as much as 1000 fold!

There is strong evidence that antioxidants (such as that in soybeans) can help protect DNA from damage, but our DNA has been the subject of damage from those Primordial Soup days and will continue to do so. While some DNA damage is harmful, it is also how we got to where we are today. DNA change is the basis for evolution and all living things on earth are subject to it.

When someone tells me that I need to “eat only,” or “eliminate” a certain thing from my diet, I like to remember what Julia Child once said, which I am sure I am paraphrasing – “Eat a little bit of everything.” Small amounts of most anything are good, but large doses – like iodine supplements or certain seaweed -- could be quite harmful.

So, when protecting yourself, you can do so with what you eat. Just make sure it is full of a variety of nutritional elements and omit the dash of fear. Now that’s a healthy bowl of soup.

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