By Dr. Mercola
As understanding of Vitamin D increases, it is becoming apparent that its most active form, Vitamin D3 (calcitriol), may offer protection against a variety of radiation-induced damages. Vitamin D's protective action is carried by a wide variety of mechanisms, including cell cycle regulation and proliferation, cellular differentiation and communication, and programmed cell death (apoptosis).
A paper on the subject argued that vitamin D should be considered among the prime nonpharmacological agents that offer protection against low radiation damage and radiation-induced cancer -- or even the primary agent.
According to the paper in the International Journal of Low Radiation:
"... [O]ur understanding of how vitamin D mediates biological responses has entered a new era ... In view of the evidence that has been presented here, it would appear that vitamin D by its preventive/ameliorating actions should be given serious consideration as a protective agent against sublethal radiation injury, and in particular that induced by low radiation".
Many concerned readers have been asking for strategies to help prevent damage caused by radioactive fallout from the recent nuclear disaster in Japan. In all likelihood, radiation from the Fukushima nuclear plant is NOT a serious threat to your health unless you are in the near vicinity. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has so far uncovered only very low radiation levels and notes that even those are declining.
As of May 3, 2011, they wrote:
"It is important to note that all of the radiation levels detected by RadNet monitors and sampling have been very low, are well below any level of public health concern, and continue to decrease over time."
This information was released before the operator of Fukushima announced at the end of May that additional fuel rods had melted at the facility, although it's unclear whether that will impact U.S. risks since the meltdown reportedly occurred in the hours and days immediately following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
Regardless, considering the United States has many older nuclear plants that are susceptible to disasters like the one that occurred in Japan, this should not be considered the final word on radioactive fallout. Should a disaster occur close to home, or if you are currently in the vicinity of the Fukushima plant, it's important to have non-toxic strategies for protection available, and one of these may be vitamin D.
How Does Vitamin D Protect Against Radiation-Induced Damage?
Scientists have identified a total of nearly 3,000 genes that are upregulated by vitamin D, so it makes sense that it would have "multifaceted protective actions," as researchers noted in the International Journal of Low Radiation.
The report found that the most active molecular form of vitamin D -- D3 (also known as calcitriol) -- may offer protection against a variety of radiation-induced damages, including those caused by background radiation or a low-level nuclear incident, through the following mechanisms:
- Cell cycle regulation and proliferation
- Cellular differentiation and communication
- Programmed Cell Death (PCD)
- Anti-angiogenesis (a process that stops tumors from making new blood vessels, which means they stop growing)
The protective mechanisms are so strong that researchers suggested vitamin D3 should be considered among the prime (if not the primary) non-pharmacological agents to protect against sub-lethal low radiation damage and, particularly, radiation-induced cancer.
It's unclear how much vitamin D is necessary to protect against radiation-induced cancer, but researchers have found that daily intakes of vitamin D by adults in the range of 4,000-8,000 IU are needed to maintain blood levels of vitamin D metabolites in the range needed to reduce the risk of breast and colon cancers by about half.
Earlier studies have shown that optimizing your vitamin D levels could help you to prevent at least 16 different types of cancer including pancreatic, lung, ovarian, prostate, and skin cancers, so it's not a stretch to add radiation-induced cancer to that list.
It has been my experience that many are still nervous about taking doses larger than 1,000 to 2,000 units per day. This is unfortunate as most adults without sun or safe tanning bed exposure will need 6,000-8,000 units of vitamin D per day to attain healthy vitamin D levels.
Three Points to Remember About Vitamin D
When using vitamin D therapeutically, it's important to remember the following:
- Your best source for vitamin D is exposure to the sun, without sunblock on your skin, until your skin turns the lightest shade of pink. While this isn't always possible due to the change of the seasons and your geographic location (and your skin color), this is the ideal to aim for. Vitamin D supplementation or use of a safe tanning bed can fill the gaps during the winter months outside of the tropics, when healthy sun exposure is not an option.
- If you supplement with vitamin D, you'll only want to supplement with natural vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol). Do NOT use the synthetic and highly inferior vitamin D2, which is the one most doctors will give you in a prescription unless you ask specifically for D3.
- Get your vitamin D blood levels checked! The only way to determine the correct dose is to get your blood tested since there are so many variables that influence your vitamin D status. I recommend using Lab Corp in the United States. Getting the correct test is the first step in this process, as there are TWO vitamin D tests currently being offered: 1,25(OH)D and 25(OH)D.
The correct test your doctor needs to order is 25(OH)D, also called 25-hydroxyvitamin D, which is the better marker of overall D status. This is the marker that is most strongly associated with overall health.
What Else Can You do to Protect Against Radiation Risks?
Biologists and drug makers have long been on the hunt for a pill that would protect humans from radiation in the event of a nuclear accident or terrorist attack. Currently, there is no such "magic pill," but there are a few close seconds, aside from vitamin D:
If you're exposed to radioactive iodine, your thyroid, which uptakes iodine from your blood to make thyroid hormones, will actively take in this substance. This is why thyroid cancer is one of the greatest risks following exposure to this type of radiation.
Potassium iodide (a stable form of iodine) works by essentially "flooding" your system with iodine so your thyroid has no need to take in the radioactive form. The American Thyroid Association recommends that anyone living within 50 miles of a nuclear plant have potassium iodide in their household at all times in the event of a radiation emergency, and advises the supplement be made available to those living within 200 miles of a plant.
However, you should only take potassium iodide if you are near active radiation fallout. This is NOT a strategy that should be used as a long-term preventive because it only protects your thyroid for one to three days, no longer, and taking it when not absolutely necessary could result in thyrotoxicosis.
In this regard, vitamin D may be far superior because it can be taken before, during and after a radiation incident with only positive ramifications, assuming you monitor your blood levels to keep them in the optimal range.
Remember, it's only if you are deficient in iodine that if a radioactive cloud passes by, your body will tend to suck that radioactive iodine into your thyroid gland to fill up its iodine stores.
In an ideal situation you will have been taking adequate amounts of iodine from safe sources, which will protect you from radioactive iodine naturally. In reality, however, many are likely iodine deficient.
I recently conducted an interview with Dr. David Brownstein, who has compiled a tremendous amount of clinical data on this topic and can be considered an expert in this area.
Dr. Brownstein has been working with iodine for the last 20 years. He has tested over 5,000 patients in his clinic and found over 95% of them to be iodine deficient. This is an incredible result as it puts iodine deficiency on par with the percentage of people that are deficient in vitamin D.
Spirulina -- a blue-green algae -- might be another useful alternative to protect against the effects of radiation, and there is in fact research backing this up. Spirulina was actually used to treat children exposed to chronic low levels of radiation after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
According to a scientific review of spirulina's benefits:
"Up to very recently, the interest in Spirulina was mainly in its nutritive value. Currently, however, numerous people are looking into the possible therapeutic effects of Spirulina.
Many pre-clinical studies and a few clinical studies suggest several therapeutic effects ranging from reduction of cholesterol and cancer to enhancing the immune system, increasing intestinal lactobacilli, reducing nephrotoxicity by heavy metals and drugs and radiation protection."
But what is it about this blue-green algae that gives it this radiation-protective capacity?
Spirulina has a 16 percent phycocyanin content—a blue pigment that is attached to its photosynthetic membranes. Phycocyanin is also a nitrogen storage molecule. The nitrogen atoms can form a complex with heavy metals such as radioactive cesium and stronium, hence "cleansing" these radioactive metals from your body.
I interviewed Ori Hofmekler for an alternative viewpoint with regard to how you can decrease the risk to your health from radiation. Ori makes some compelling arguments for the use of sweet whey to help protect against absorbing radioactive minerals.
One of the reasons for using sweet whey in a situation like this is because whey protein contains all the precursors that help your body produce glutathione, which is one of the best ways to detoxify these toxins.
The other reason is that sweet whey is whole whey. It's the highest source of all minerals and trace minerals that exist in nature. It has every possible mineral and trace elements -- including organic sodium -- that your body needs in the most bioactive form.
Other Herbs and Supplements
In general, the following foods, herbs and supplements may also help support your overall health in the event of a nuclear accident:
✓ Kelp and other seaweeds (high in natural iodine)
✓ Zeolites (to neutralize radiation) or bentonite clays
✓ Ashwaganda (an adaptogenic herb)
✓ Fulvic Acid
✓ Reishi mushrooms (strong immune support
✓ High-dose vitamin C
✓ Coconut oil, which supports optimal thyroid health
✓ Astaxanthin (has some protective function against ionizing radiation)
✓ Chlorella (contains chlorophyll, which will increase your resistance to radiation)