Radiation and Your Health: To Iodine or Not to Iodine?

The very term RADIATION conjures nightmarish images of mushroom clouds, apocalyptic scenery and people dying slow, agonizing deaths. Then again, one doesn’t need an imagination to turn on the news and see the mounting horrors and suffering of Fukushima or the gaseous plumes erupting from the enormous, multi-reactor nuclear facility there.

In some respects the press is having a field day with this simply because it is BIG news…and in other ways many of us suspect we aren’t being told the whole truth and paranoia is reigning supreme. What and who can we believe? We know the Japanese are in deep trouble and we fear for them but we also wonder (and reasonably so) how much we here in the Unites States and elsewhere in the world have to fear from not one, not two, but THREE nuclear reactors in a now-undeniable state of melt-down . We know the radiation has already been making its way over the Pacific and that radioactive elements from this disaster have already begun showing up in places like California, Oregon Washington and across the entire United States, including the Midwest clear over to the East Coast. Radiation from this event is primarily circulating the northern hemisphere now but will ultimately show up everywhere…and it will continue to circulate our planet essentially forever. It is a part of our lives, believe it or not and like it or not.

So what can we do? How do we protect ourselves and to what extent?

The popular trend right now is to start guzzling potassium iodide as though it were some sort of magical all-protective potion that can save us from the horrors of radiation-induced illness. Emergency preparedness outlets and online supplement retailers are making a killing and are getting wiped out of their iodine inventory.

Slow down and get a grip, folks! Please take a moment here to think about what you’re doing!

I value iodine as much as the next guy, but its supplementation is not for everyone and it’s certainly not a magical potion. –Not only that, you could actually be taking some risks and worsening your own health in the process. For starters, keep in mind that radioactive iodine 131 is primarily a danger to an iodine-deficient thyroid…but also radioactive iodine 131 (half-life 8 days) is only one threat among many that one may face with radiation particulate exposure. There is also radioactive Cesium 134 (half-life 2 years) and 137 (half life 30 years), radioactive strontium-90 (half-life 28-29 years) and (with this particular disaster) plutonium (half-life 27,000 years), as well as the intense oxidative free-radical activity and DNA mutagenic properties of ionizing radiation and its particulate elements that may enter our food chain, our lungs through the air we breathe and our water supplies. Iodine is no panacea for this. Not even close.

There is a fine line we must tread between denial and fear mongering. Falling to one side or the other of this line does not serve us. We need to face this rationally if we are to have the best chance of getting through this stressful, vulnerable time intact. Reality for better or worse is grounding and sobering…and we all need to become as grounded and sober as possible to navigate clearly in these uncertain times. Both paranoia and denial get us into trouble.

Paranoia leads us to rash, desperate and impulsive behavior….and conversely, if your head is in the proverbial sand in a state of denial then, well, let’s just say your butt is in the air.

I have been getting inundated with e-mails from friends, clients and fans concerning the question of whether to take iodine at this time and what to do. Keep in mind that I am fully able to sell supplements to my clients and could be making a real killing right now in potassium iodide sales, if I so chose to. As such, I am neither advertising nor recommending it, and (in case you’re curious) I am not personally taking it. There is a very real concern that can come with haphazard iodine supplementation, despite the fact that in my book I share information concerning the need for iodine and the common deficiencies leading to numerous health problems. –All true, but it’s simply not for everybody. I am personally able to take iodine supplements if I so choose without much risk, but am relying mostly right now on iodine-rich foods and focusing more on other aspects of my own health and immune function.

Basically, I see four potential problems with haphazard iodine supplementation:

  1. The potential for iodine sensitivity or “allergic” reactions in certain sensitive people
  2. The potential to either trigger or significantly exacerbate autoimmune thyroid issues
  3. Detox reactions resulting from overly rapid displacement of toxic halogens
  4. Finally, there is the risk of what is referred to as “iodism” (basically iodine poisoning).

To further clarify each point:

#1:  Iodine allergies (which many people would probably know they had….but there are always a few that may not) can include symptoms such as itching, throat swelling, rash, fever, joint pains, hives and other typical and more severe allergy symptoms including the potential for anaphylactic shock and death.

#2:  The body uses iodine to manufacture the enzyme called “Thyroid Peroxidase”, also known as TPO.   The very thing autoimmune thyroid (Hashimoto’s) individuals are producing are TPO Antibodies, resulting in cytokine (inflammatory) “storms” and destruction of the thyroid.  Not pretty.  IF you have consistently tested negative for TPO antibodies (I say “consistently” because even those with full-blown Hashimoto’s will have periods of time where TPO antibodies may register as “negative” during quieter phases of the illness), and if taking iodine has not led to any symptoms of discomfort for you, then supplementing with iodine might be an OK or even beneficial thing.  It is an essential element, after all.

Note, however, that overdoing iodine or “loading” iodine too quickly can also stimulate over-activation of the thyroid in certain individuals in general, leading to possible heart palpitations, nervousness, trouble sleeping and anxiety-related issues.  I would be inclined to test for TPO antibodies in such individuals just to be sure it wasn’t an autoimmune activation.

#3:  Finally, iodine is a member of the “halogen” family in the periodic table of elements.  In this same family are chloride (chlorine), fluoride (fluorine) and bromide (bromine).  Bromides are by far the most common halogen toxicity and some degree of “bromidism” is present in most of us. –Sign o’ the times. Pronounced symptoms can include feelings of apathy, difficulty concentrating, headaches and a general mental dullness (don’t get me started on my conspiracy theories about this).  Bromides are in everything from people’s hot tub spas, flame retardant in everything from carpeting and clothing to electronics, it’s used as an anti-caking agent in baked goods and processed flour, it is an additive in certain pharmaceuticals…it’s everywhere.  Most people walking loose are chock full of these toxic halogens, which (among other nefarious things) can have the effect of displacing our friend iodine from its natural receptor sites.  Taking larger doses of iodine can theoretically be used to displace these halogens and reclaim its proper place in your tissues…but these toxic halogens can reap havoc in a body unprepared for handling a detox or utilizing iodine properly.   Detox reactions can include flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, nausea and diarrhea, emotional crises (odd, but I’ve seen it), headaches, skin eruptions (i.e., rashes, acne and unpleasant secretions), sleep disruption, appetite disturbance, brain fog and extreme fatigue.  –Not my idea of a good time.

#4: The medical dictionary defines iodism as “an acute or chronic intoxication caused by the ingestion or absorption of iodides. Manifestations of acute poisoning include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, hyper-salivation, conjunctivitis, and collapse. Chronic manifestations include hyper-salivation, fever, acute rhinitis, swelling and tenderness of the salivary glands, and dermatitis and stomatitis in hypersensitive individuals. Iodism is a toxic condition that sometimes follows the use of preparations containing iodine.”

In certain individuals clearly deficient in iodine who are interested in improving this, it makes sense to prepare the body for what is termed “iodine loading” by first and foremost testing one’s thyroid to be sure autoimmune issues are not present (PLEASE). Some of the symptoms of iodine deficiency may certainly include hypothyroidism, symptoms of which are extreme fatigue, goiter, mental slowing, depression, weight gain, and low basal body temperatures. Make certain it isn’t autoimmune in nature (do NOT just assume it isn’t just because your doctor never mentioned it).

Breast cancer has also been associated with iodine deficiency (as well as low thyroid and autoimmune thyroid tendencies…so TEST!). Fibrocystic breast disease. cervical dysplasia, and certain oral and salivary related diseases/problems have additionally been associated with iodine deficiency.

Certain things can predispose one to having an iodine deficiency or an extra iodine need:

  • Living in the “goiter belt” of the US (see below: states in red are where iodine is known to be deficient in the soils—not to be confused with “red political states”)   😉
  • Tobacco use
  • Excess alcohol use
  • Over consumption of goitrogens (i.e., soy, flax seed, raw cruciferous vegetables, peanuts and other legumes)
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Pregnancy (infants and young children are the most vulnerable to effects of iodine deficiency and radiation exposure, with the developing fetus and newborns the most extremely vulnerable, BUT ALSO these are the most vulnerable to potentially ill effects of excess potassium iodide). Pregnant women should only take iodine under the supervision of a knowledgeable and qualified health care provider.
  • Thiocyanates (herbicides and insecticides) exposure
  • Perchlorates (from rocket fuel and found significantly contaminating many areas—particularly those with little or no rainfall) – turning up in tap water, vegetables and milk almost everywhere nowadays
  • Selenium deficiency
  • And…(tah-dah!) –Exposure to radiation

Once you have determined you really do need iodine (and real radioactive danger is not imminent), then it may be advisable to spend about a month supplying ones-self with increased magnesium, selenium, vitamin C, extra B-complex and good old fashioned full-spectrum sea salt (Celtic sea salt or Himalayan sea salt are best).  It also makes sense to be sure all one’s “avenues of elimination” are open (a healthy, well functioning colon, liver, kidneys and being well hydrated) and that the liver is well supported for both phase-one and phase-two detoxification.  Once the ground work has been laid for iodine’s best utilization then caution should be taken to start with a preferably lower dose of iodine and gradually work up (this is NOT a race) to the full “loading” dose over time (with no bad symptoms), then work back down to a maintenance dose.  It is absolutely best to do this under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider. Also, be careful to use a complete source of iodine and not just potassium iodide. As long as you’re not living next to the melting-down nuclear reactor you have time to do this right.

The thing is, if people really want to effectively protect their thyroids from radioactive iodine 131 (only one small component of radioactive danger)—and they’re not living next door to the nuclear reactor—they really do need to build their iodine dosing slowly and very cautiously as I’ve described in order for it to work the way it’s supposed to and be free of potential unpleasant or even dangerous side effects.  I believe it is best to first supply full spectrum iodine, then—if needed or if the radiation concern becomes more realistically serious then add extra potassium iodide to help thwart its radioactive cousin from setting up shop in the body where it doesn’t belong once the plume sets in overhead.  Note that potassium iodide supplementation is really only meant for high dosing short-term, and not long-term use. In the long run we are better off restoring healthy iodine levels slowly and safely than mega-dosing on potassium iodide for any length of time (unless one is at risk for mega-radiation exposure). Given the deteriorating nuclear events in Japan, with confirmed meltdowns occurring in an unbridled fashion as we speak this concern could in time become more pronounced for us.  It’s hard to say. The long term tragedy, of course, is that we ALL will be faced with this potential threat circulating the globe for decades and even centuries to come.  As physicist Michio Kaku succinctly puts it, “nuclear meltdowns are forever”.

Word on the street is that folks are rushing online and into preparedness centers looking for Geiger counters (not cheap) to monitor the dangers. The particulate forms of radioactive material actually carried on the wind and likeliest to reach us here in the US (radioactive iodine-131, cesium-134 and 137 and strontium-90) probably wouldn’t budge a Geiger counter but could very potentially damage your DNA and enhance your risk of any number of cancers markedly if you happened to come into contact with the through your food, skin or lungs. The unfortunate reality is that we all will come into contact with these elements sooner or later to at least some extent as this nuclear meltdown nightmare will not be going away in any of our lifetimes. It is part of our day-to-day reality now and in our future (and children’s future). Detectable levels of radioactive fallout in the US have been already found as far east as Florida and the Carolinas. Right now the northern hemisphere is circulating most of it in its jet-stream but eventually the southern hemisphere will be involved, as well. There is no escape from all of it.

So what can we do?

First and foremost, do not panic!

I believe where radiation exposure is concerned with where we are here in the States our primary concern should be mainly taking the best possible care of our overall health that we can as a foundational defense, which can actually go a long way toward enhancing our resilience. There really isn’t anything one can do to avert all the potential problems with radiation, other than avoiding exposure as much as possible.  In my book (which I wrote long before this nuclear disaster—more true than ever now) I make the case for the fact that we are living in a time where we really have no room for error anymore and simply do not have the luxury of enjoying empty indulgences.  We can’t approach our food any more as a nutrient-devoid source of entertainment.  We have to really nourish ourselves as our ancestors once did (with real, nutrient dense naturally produced and unprocessed food), avoid overly provoking insulin and free radical activity and take care to include lots of antioxidant-rich vegetables and greens.  Balanced natural fat strengthens the brain, immune and nervous system and sugar and starch destabilize and suppress the same, making us vulnerable to environmental and free radical onslaught, as well as inflammation.  –Avoid it.  Get adequate sleep/rest.  Manage stress in any and all ways possible (that’s the REAL killer).  Drink plenty of purified water.  If you can, do far infra-red saunas for general detox.  Cells in the bone marrow and GI tract are particularly susceptible to radiation exposure. Your blood health and digestion are areas potentially requiring extra care. The most important key is in our dietary and lifestyle foundations…not the supplements we take.


It may well turn out that the principles outlined in my book, Primal Body, Primal Mind are the best possible guidelines for supporting a cancer-free life (cancer being the most frightening consequence of radiation element exposure) in existence. There are four primary things to consider where any risk of cancer is concerned: The #1 most necessary substance in order for cancer to take a foot-hold in anyone is sugar (in any form or guise). Sugar is cancer’s primary and nearly sole source of fuel. The more carb-free you are the less welcome cancer will ever be in your body. The next key to a cancer-free existence is low insulin levels. Stimulating insulin through excess (particularly) carbohydrate intake also stimulates cellular proliferation. If you happen to have DNA damage or mutation happening then cellular proliferation is decidedly NOT a good thing. That’s what cancer growth is all about.

You may also recall the part in my book about mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin). Eating but not exceeding sufficient protein intake per day (0.8 grams of protein per kg of ideal body weight and no more than 25 grams of actual protein in a meal) helps not only keep mTOR and cellular proliferation from activating but by keeping mTOR suppressed this has the effect of enhancing DNA repair! –The best of both worlds. Also, keep in mind that a significant percentage of protein consumed that is in excess of what you actually need for your daily maintenance and repair will convert to sugar and get used exactly the same way. This is why the modified caloric restriction I talk about in my book has such longevity enhancing effects and why cancer is so non-existent in these subjects.

Making natural fats and anti-inflammatory EFA’s the primary source of fuel in the diet and establishing a dependence on ketones (instead of glucose) as a primary source of fuel provides steady energy for virtually every single cell in our body and brain—and furthermore, cancer cells cannot make use of ketones for fuel. A ketogenic diet is literally a cancer-starving diet. In addition, natural fats feed the lymphatic system and strengthen the immune system. Fat is where it’s at!

Finally, by enhancing our intake of fibrous vegetables and greens (and by maybe adding a few green drinks) we substantially improve our cancer-thwarting phytonutrient and antioxidant intake. Consuming enough fat to keep your appetite satisfied puts the proverbial (low carb) cherry on the sundae and helps fuel us in a very stable way for longer periods of time on less. We all need to learn to do with less and indulge less in these economic and environmentally dubious times. It simple makes sense.

EXTRAS (just as an FYI or if desired or needed):

If your inner “foundations” are in order and you want to do something extra, you can add the following:

  • Modifilan seaweed: a highly concentrated form of seaweed containing lots of natural iodine and other natural components.  Modifilan was formulated to help the detoxification and recovery of the victims of Chernobyl.  It’s WAY better in my mind than taking a bunch of potassium iodide. There are numerous online sources.
  • Eat iodine-rich seafood and seaweeds/sea vegetables.  Kelp noodles, by the way, are lovely.  You will never miss pasta.
  • Calcium (ionic or another bioavailable form—avoid calcium carbonate) can help block the uptake of radioactive Strontium (and you thought radioactive iodine was your only problem).  Be sure to also get sufficient magnesium (ionic form or trans-dermal magnesium “oil”)
  • Potassium rich foods and supplements (but don’t go too crazy with the supplementation) can help thwart radioactive Cesium uptake.
  • Siberian ginseng has supposedly been shown to help reduce damage caused by radiation (and is excellent adrenal support, to-boot)
  • Chlorella (broken cell-wall) has been used as far back as WWII to help flush radiation from the body
  • Turmeric is powerfully helpful for reducing free radical activity and inflammation
  • Astaxanthin – potent singlet oxygen free radical scavenger
  • Glutathione or GSH (avoid glutathione pills, as glutathione cannot be directly absorbed through the GI tract). Transdermal glutathione preparations (such as Oxi-Cell and Super Oxi-Cell made by Apex Energetics) and the use of glutathione precursors are best. Precursors include NAC (N-acetylcysteine), alpha lipoic acid, vitamin D, sulfur-rich foods, SAMe (s-adenosylmethionine). Radiation literally decimates the body’s supply of glutathione. Diminished glutathione levels greatly elevate cellular vulnerability to oxidative stress. Critical antioxidant enzyme glutathione peroxidase is dependent on selenium/vitamin E (only mixed tocopherols rich in gamma tocopherol in a glycerine base—NOT soybean or canola oil!).
  • If you feel you’ve been exposed to radiation a combination of baking soda and sea salt in a bath soak is a low-cost combo purported to help. Sodium bicarbonate is known to safely bind with uranium. The kidneys are, in fact, particularly vulnerable to uranium exposure. Research recommending sodium bicarbonate originally came from the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1950’s. It can supposedly be used both internally and externally following exposure. The recipes are as follows: Add 1 cup each of sea salt and baking soda into a tub of hot water and soak in it for at least 20 minutes. This should theoretically be done daily for as long as there is a threat of exposure. For use internally, add 1 teaspoon each of sea salt and baking soda into a quart of pure water and drink an 8 ounce glass four times a day. Remember, this is only if exposed to radiation, not for prevention. For protecting lungs baking soda (bicarbonate) together with glutathione (if available) can be nebulized to support and protect radiation-exposed lung tissue.
  • Magnesium baths using Epsom salt can also help support vital hepatic detoxification pathways
  • “Ancient Minerals” (a great company) makes a “magnetic mineral” clay bath specifically designed to absorb radioactive elements from the body following exposure
  • Calcium bentonite clay (use for bathing following exposure)

For additional protection, another thing to consider is possibly avoiding certain foods known to concentrate radioactive elements more. One food that has the unfortunate potential to concentrate radioactive fallout (radioactive iodine and strontium) is milk.  If the radiation issue gets much worse you might want to limit or avoid most milk products, which may not be the worst idea, anyway (many people are more casein sensitive than they realize).  The Wall Street Journal recently reported that the US government has admitted to radioactive iodine-131 showing up in milk from Washington State.

Here’s the link to that story: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703806304576233221749626458.html

BTW—radioactive iodine levels are 10 times higher in goat and sheep milk products than in cow’s milk. Iodine in milk is additionally seasonally influenced and is also likely to concentrate more in winter than in summer months. Technically, if a farmer were to supplement the diets of their grass-fed milking animals with healthy iodine the radioactive iodine contamination could potentially be avoided. Eggs are another potential concern unless the feed were similarly supplemented with healthy sources of stable iodine. The bottom line with both these foods is get to know your local farmer. Buying your food locally from well-known sources has never been more important than it is now. Other foods that were shown to concentrate radioactive fallout following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Europe also included spinach, lettuce, leeks, berries and mushrooms. The reality is this, folks…sooner or later radiation will turn up in everything we eat, the water we drink and the air we are breathing. It is with us here-on-out no matter what we do (or what the media says or does not say). With all the supplements or clay baths you could take or all the time you could spend hiding indoors, nothing will ever protect you more from the EFFECTS of this exposure than your foundational diet. –And no diet will be more foundationally sound than the one I’ve outlined in Primal Body, Primal Mind.

You can bet on it.

–That’s my personal take on this.

~ Nora

Additional resources:

Here’s some additional information on potassium iodine:


Environmental radiation levels in the United States updated in real time:  http://www.radiationnetwork.com/

USA EPA’s RadNet Monitoring: continuously monitors the nation’s air regularly monitors drinking water, milk and precipitation for environmental radiation: http://www.epa.gov/japan2011/rert/radnet-data-map.html


Info on calcium bentonite clay: http://www.aboutclay.com/clay_info.htm


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  1. says

    Nora, Thank you for taking the time to publish this extensive article! I am feeling confident that I am doing the best for myself and family and you just verified that. As I’ve told you numerous times, Primal-Body, Primal-Mind has changed my life and these unfortunate situations continue to motivate along with the reinforcement of feeling GREAT everyday. Thanks again!


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