If you suspect you have been exposed to a significant amount of radiation, please contact a healthcare professional. This post focuses on potential low dose nuclear radiation exposure. Many people have concerns about the Fukushima reactors and the nuclear emergency in Washington state. There are also threats of dirty bombs or other terrorist activities. We address the risks of radiation in homes, food and homesteads. We'll discuss the most common radiation concerns, and steps you can take to deal with them.
What can I do about radiation exposure?
Potassium Iodide pills are only one of dozens of ways to help your body cope with radiation exposure. Please be aware that potassium iodide does have side effects, and can interact with other medications. There are other methods for treating radiation exposure which may work just as well or better, especially if you have livestock to consider.
The majority of Americans are iodine deficient, so we should be taking steps to add iodine rich food sources to our diets regardless of potential radiation exposure. I remember reading years ago about how miso and sea vegetables were used in the aftermath of the bombing of Nagasaki to treat radiation sickness.
In his book Macrobiotic Diet, Michio Kushi states: ‘At the time of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945, Tatsuichiro Akizuki, M.D., was director of the Department of Internal Medicine at St. Francis Hospital in Nagasaki. Most patients in the hospital, located one mile from the center of the blast, survived the initial effects of the bomb, but soon after came down with symptoms of radiation sickness from the radioactivity that had been released. Dr. Akizuki fed his staff and patients a strict macrobiotic diet of brown rice, miso* and tamari soy sauce soup, wakame and other sea vegetables , Hokkaido pumpkin, and sea salt and prohibited the consumption of sugar and sweets. As a result, he saved everyone in his hospital, while many other survivors in the city perished from radiation sickness.’”
From “Natural Ways to Combat Radiation Poisoning: “Miso broth is the classic food for prevention of radiation damage. There’s twice the protection if a quarter-ounce/5 grams of dried kelp seaweed is added to the soup. In scientific studies, seaweed was able to neutralize radioactive isotopes in the human body. Researchers at McGill University say radioactive strontium binds to the algin in brown seaweeds to create sodium alginate, a compound easily and harmlessly excreted.”
Iodine rich foods such as sea vegetables
“Sea vegetables” is another name for seaweeds, such as wakame, dulsi, kelp, kombu, hijiki, etc.
WedMD notes that chlorella is taken orally to reduce radiation side effects.
These are cabbage family plants such as broccoli, cabbage and mustard greens. The sulfur compounds in these vegetables trigger increase expression of your glutathione system, helping to detoxify heavy metals and bind free radicals.
Whole grains bind minerals (including radioactive ones) and transport them out of the body.
Other Spices and Herbs
Tulsi (holy basil), cilantro, turmeric, ginkgo biloba, and aloe vera have also been used to treat radiation exposure
There is much anecdotal evidence that suggests kombucha aids healing from many toxins, as well as some scientific studies.
In the article “Could Consuming This Mushroom Protect Against Radiation?”, Alexandra Preston notes fungi thriving in heavily irradiated areas. (This hasn't gone unnoticed by others. Mycoremediation uses mushrooms to clean up toxic waste and radiation.) She sites studies that indicate that indicate high melanin varieties of mushrooms may provide radiation protection. (Yes, this is the same melanin that gives your skin color.) Some mushroom varieties are also high in selenium, which is also protective.
Selenium protects DNA from radiation damage and helps prevent damage to the skin surface, too. Get plenty of selenium by eating a daily dose of 2 cups/500 ml of nettle infusion, one-half ounce/15 g kelp, 2 ounces/60 g cooked burdock root, or 1 cup/250 ml organic yogurt daily. Shellfish, green and black teas, and garlic contain significant amounts of selenium, as do many mushrooms. The best sources however are nettles (2200 mcg per 100 grams), kelp (1700 mcg/100 g), burdock (1400 mcg/100 g), catnip (Nepeta cataria), ginseng, Siberian ginseng, and astragalus.
Topical Treatment for Radiation Exposure
Simple home remedies for external use can help to pull toxins from the body. Baking soda baths and Epsom salt baths will help draw toxins out of your skin. Chlorella can be applied topically to treat rashes caused by radiation treatment. The burn aspect of radiation may be treated similarly to sunburn, with the application of aloe or other soothing creams. See Home Remedies for Sunburn for more suggestions.
Again – Please see a trained healthcare professional in the case of significant radiation exposure. This post is for informational purposes only an is not meant to replace the care of a trained healthcare provider.
What about radiation in the water supply?
Water storage is critical. In the event of an emergency, it is common for water supplies to be disrupted. At a minimum, you should store one gallon per person per day. Plan for at least 3-7 days. More is better. See “Emergency Water Storage and Filtration – What You Need to Know” for more information on water storage.
To get radiation out of your water, look for a high quality filter such as reverse osmosis (RO) system or Berkey Filter. RO systems are commonly built into home water supplies. If the tap works, the filter works. Berkey filters are gravity driven – fill the reservoir and wait for it filter. Berkey did radiation filtering testing on their black Berkey filters. They found that they reduced both alpha and beta radiation contaminants and uranium by over 95%, meeting all EPA requirements for drinking water. See radiation filtering test results.
What if there is Radiation in the Food?
The Centre for Food Safety of Hong Kong discusses Food Safety and Radiation Exposure:
Possible residual surface radioactive contamination on food may be reduced by suitable food preparation such as washing, brushing, scrubbing, or peeling. It is also possible to store contaminated food for prolonged times to allow radioactive decay of short-lived radionuclides. On the contrary, cooking in general cannot reduce the level of radioactive contamination in food.
You can wash off surface contamination, but there's no practical way to remove contamination from deep in the tissues. Avoid consuming contaminated food if possible.
I have livestock or crops that have been exposed to radiation. What can I do to protect them, and is the food from them safe to eat?
For food crops: If crops are exposed to only small amounts of radiation, chances are that they are safe to eat. Wash, scrub, peel or shell produce to remove surface radiation. Soak the produce in some water with baking soda and sea salt mixed for additional protection. (If it works for detoxing people, why not produce?) If it is weeks or months until harvest, much of the radiation will break down naturally. Many common radioactive particles have short half lives. (This advice is for low levels of exposure that do not visibly damage crops.)
For livestock: Keep animals under cover if possible during times of radiation exposure. Keep their food covered as well. If food piles are stored outside and exposed to radioactive fallout, remove the surface layer of foodstuffs and feed material from underneath. If possible, supplement the animals with some of the same food materials recommended for human detoxification, such as sea vegetables.
For more detailed recommendations on dealing with radiation exposure to food crops, please see:
- RADIOLOGICAL EMERGENCY INFORMATION FOR FARMERS, FOOD PROCESSORS AND DISTRIBUTORS from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health
- Radiological Emergency Information for Food Producers, Processors, and Distributors from the Ohio Department of Agriculture
How do I know if I've been exposed to radiation? Can radiation get into my house?
Radiation is detected using a radiation detector or dosimeter. You can purchase them online through a number of vendors. For older radiation detectors (like mine), there are companies that offer calibration services.
What is Radiation?
Here's a brief explanation of radiation from the Health Physics Society:
Radiation is energy that comes from a source and travels through space and may be able to penetrate various materials. Light, radio, and microwaves are types of radiation that are called nonionizing. The kind of radiation discussed in this document is called ionizing radiation because it can produce charged particles (ions) in matter.
Ionizing radiation is produced by unstable atoms. Unstable atoms differ from stable atoms because unstable atoms have an excess of energy or mass or both. Radiation can also be produced by high-voltage devices (e.g., x-ray machines).
Unstable atoms are said to be radioactive. In order to reach stability, these atoms give off, or emit, the excess energy or mass. These emissions are called radiation. The kinds of radiation are electromagnetic (like light) and particulate (i.e., mass given off with the energy of motion). Gamma radiation and x rays are examples of electromagnetic radiation. Gamma radiation originates in the nucleus while x rays come from the electronic part of the atom. Beta and alpha radiation are examples of particulate radiation.
Interestingly, there is a “background” of natural radiation everywhere in our environment. It comes from spaaace (i.e., cosmic rays) and from naturally occurring radioactive materials contained in the earth and in living things.
The document from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health states: “Alpha particles can be stopped by a sheet of paper. Beta particles can be stopped by a thin sheet of metal. Gamma rays are the most penetrating and can be stopped by concrete or lead.” This is yet another reason I'm thankful to live in a house built with Insulated Concrete Forms.
Warnings About Nuclear Radiation Exposure
In the event of a nuclear radiation emergency, most areas have some method of warning the effected populations. These include automated calling systems, warning sirens or announcements on TV or radio. Include an emergency radio in your emergency preparedness kit so you receive announcements even during power outages.
We were gifted one of these Eton American Red Cross units for Christmas by my in-laws. It includes a hand crank and solar panel for charging, along with an LED flashlight in addition to the radio.
What about the risk of terrorist attack using nuclear weapons or dirty bombs?
It's an unfortunate fact that there are people out there who want to purposely hurt others. Risk of terrorist attacks are greatest in larger cities and coastal areas, due to the impact of devastating large numbers of people at one time and the accessibility of ports. A weapon could be detonated off the coast without reaching land and still wipe out a significant portion of the coastline.
These two articles, one from the east coast and one from the west coast, discuss the risks of radiation based terrorist attacks, and what can be done about them.
- A Risk and Economic Analysis of Dirty Bomb Attacks on the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach
- Southern West Virginia Radiation Threat Preparedness
It is my hope that by understanding what can go wrong, we can all be prepared instead of panicked should a radiation emergency take place.
You may also find useful:
- Preparedness Basics – 5 Simple Steps to Start Today
- Top 10 Real Foods to Store Without Electricity
- When the Power Grid Fails – 10 Things You Need to Prepare
Originally published in 2011, updated in 2017.