The news out of Japan gets bleaker and bleaker as far as the scope of the nuclear disaster goes. While we continue to hear about how our exposure is no more than an x-ray here and an x-ray there, the long-term issue of living with significant amounts of radioactivity looms large on the horizon.
A new analysis has been prepared for Greenpeace Germany by Dr. Helmut Hirsch. His assessment is based on data published by the French government’s radiation protection agency (IRSN) and the Austrian governments Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics (ZAMG). This data shows that the total amount of radionuclides iodine-131 and caesium-137 released since the start of the accident until March 23rd, as reported by the two institutes, require the Fukushima accident to be reclassified to the same level as the Chernobyl nuclear disaster 25 years ago in April 1986. In fact the releases are so high that they are amount to three INES 7 accidents.
Fukushima already is the equivalent of “several” Chernobyls. This will affect our food for a long time to come. Studies done in the last decade, some twenty years after Chernobyl, show that reindeer in parts of Norway still carry some 5-10,000 becquerels/kg of radioactivity. Our government typically limits becquerels in meat to around 1,000/kg. The Baltic sea (which lies between Finland and Sweden) is a body of water now heavily contaminated with radioactive cesium. In Finland, 20% of the fresh water fish and 50% of the mushrooms sampled in 2005 had above allowable limits of cesium. The fish were high in mercury as well.
So, although the radioactivity will be diluted as the air streams and ocean currents move toward us from Japan, it is very reasonable to conclude that we will be exposed to yet more radiation soon. And that is not a good thing. The amount may be significant, so the real conundrum is what to do in what appears a persistent environmental disaster that we cannot avoid experiencing to some degree or another.
In times like these, it is important to remember that the human body is near miraculous. It does have its limits, but many people living around Three Mile Island, Sellafield in Great Britain, Chernobyl in Russia, or exposed to A-bomb fallout were exposed to large amounts of radiation. Some got cancer and many did die from their exposure. But many did not even though often, as in Fukushima or Hiroshima, they were severely stressed both physically and mentally. They pulled through relatively unscathed even though, in many, many cases, they had little good food and little in the way of shelter.
This means that we can cope – at least up to a point – with the tragic environmental messes we have created on earth. Especially if we take seriously the need to help our body cope with the challenges that lie ahead.
Radiation generates free radicals, reactive atoms that damage the body in a process called oxidative stress. We can prevent oxidative stress damage with antioxidants. Plants make an abundance of antioxidants and they give plants their glorious colors. Each plant has a unique profile of antioxidants and each antioxidant plays a unique role in our body. Logic suggests that when our radiation exposure increases, we should increase our antioxidants to match. While it may be tempting to run out and buy antioxidant supplements or some high antioxidant containing tropical juice, studies show that to prevent oxidative stress damage we need a variety of antioxidants that only can be obtained by eating a variety of plant foods. While increasing our antioxidant intake, we should reduce our exposure to other events that also generate oxidative stress as much as possible.
Step number one: Reduce other sources of oxidative stress. That means cutting out empty calories, bad fats, alcohol, and chemicals. Simply put, Fukushima means that it is time to quit being silly about diet. So while I enjoy anti-inflammatory meals at Express Cuisine (a restaurant on Vashon) I find myself quite motivated to pass on their luscious chocolate cake. Now is simply not the time for sugary treats. It is not the time to be self-indulgent about what you are putting in your body.
Step number two: Eat lower on the food chain, more plants and fewer animal foods. The higher on the food chain a food is, the more toxins, heavy metals, and radioactive material there will be in the meal. That is why drinking milk caused so many cases of thyroid cancer in children around Chernobyl: cows are high on the food chain so dairy and beef products are rich sources of oxidative stress.
Step number three: Eat lots of vegetables especially those leafy green and cruciferous vegetables. These vegetables are especially adept at concentrating minerals we need and they provide extraordinarily useful antioxidants as well as good fats. It is tragic that they concentrate the wrong minerals (radioactive iodine and cesium) if grown around nuclear power plants: The people around Fukushima must now avoid the plants that otherwise would be most useful to them.
I am also including a lot of seaweed and fish (rich in iodine) in my diet right. Their iodine will provide some protection from any radioactive iodine floating around. I am also increasing the amount of mushrooms and miso in my diet. Seaweed, mushrooms, and miso all help us maintain a healthy intestinal flora and those good microbes significantly enhance our innate ability to prevent cancers from forming.
Finally, remind yourself when you think you are not in the mood for these foods: Soon many of them will not be as available in the relatively clean condition you can find them in today. The seaweed farms in Japan are under immediate threat and the fisheries of Alaska and seaweed growing along cleaner parts of the Pacific coastline may be directly in the path of ocean currents bringing unpredictable amounts of radioactivity just as was seen in the Baltic.
So, perk up and enjoy the abundance of healthy food available to us. Be good to your body and cut out the bad foods for the foreseeable future, and then trust that your body will try to repay you with health even in the bleakest and most difficult of times. If nothing else, you will end up looking and feeling better no matter what.
(c) Kathy Abascal 2011