Authorities distributed iodine tablets to prevent radiation poisoning, which red wine may do just as well, according to a recent study. Image: SC Fiasco/Flickr

A nuclear reactor damaged in the Japan earthquake has drawn attention to the dangers of radiation poisoning. News that nuclear fuel rods were partially exposed at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant raised fears of a meltdown, which experts said could send radiation drifting across the Pacific Ocean. To protect the population near the reactor, Japanese authorities have issued iodine tablets, while a recent study suggests drinking red wine may help the body neutralize radiation exposure.

Japanese hospitalized for radiation exposure

Public alarm over radiation poisoning spread around the world after three damaged nuclear reactors were at risk of radioactive core meltdowns in the aftermath of the Japan earthquake. Extremely radioactive cesium-137 and iodine-131 have been detected outside the Fukushima plant, indicating that nuclear fuel has melted and radioactive cores are damaged. Nearly 200 Japanese were hospitalized for radiation exposure and everyone living within a 12 mile radius of the Fukushima nuclear plant was evacuated from the area. In the event of a nuclear reactor meltdown, molten nuclear fuel could break through containment barriers and spew radioactivity into the air. American nuclear expert Joseph Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund told Fox News that radiation could rise far into the atmosphere where the jet stream could carry it to the U.S.

Radiation poisoning symptoms

Radiation exposure can lead to a condition called acute radiation syndrome, otherwise known as radiation poisoning. Radiation poisoning symptoms can include nausea, vomiting and diahrrea within minutes of radiation exposure. Initial radiation poisoning symptoms can last for a few minutes or days and then subside. However radiation poisoning symptoms can resume later and include loss of appetite, fatigue, fever, seizures, skin damage, coma and ultimately, death. According to the the American Thyroid Association, when thyroid cells are exposed to high levels of radioactive iodine-131, either through the air or through contaminated food, the risk for thyroid cancer dramatically increases. The meltdown that occurred during the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 is attributed to an epidemic of thyroid cancer and a dramatic increase in leukemia in the area decades later.

Wash the iodine tablets down with red wine

Fear of exposure to radioactive iodine-131 from the Fukushima meltdown compelled Japanese authorities to issue 230,000 units of iodine tablets to nearby evacuation centers. Iodine is distributed during nuclear disasters because the thyroid gland absorbs stable iodine to make hormones. Because the body will absorb radioactive iodine-131 as readily as stable iodine, iodine tablets can protect the thyroid gland by filling it up so no room is left to absorb more. A more palatable preventive to radiation poisoning may be red wine, which 2008 study suggests may offer protection from radiation exposure. The study by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine concluded that Resveratrol, the natural antioxidant found in red wine, protected cells from radiation in mice.



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