Your Radiation Questions and Top Health News

The Japanese reactor situation has resurfaced big time so I thought I’d share some answers I gave yesterday to questions on youdocs@gmail.com.

Posted on | Mike Roizen, MD | Comments ()

The Japanese reactor situation has resurfaced big time so I thought I’d share some answers I gave yesterday to questions on youdocs@gmail.com.

Are the levels of radiation we’re seeing in rain likely to be harmful for fruit, vegetables, milk, and/or drinking water on the East Coast? - Joan in Baltimore


While short-term events such as these do not raise public health concerns, the U.S. EPA has taken steps to increase the level of monitoring of precipitation, drinking water, and other potential exposure routes. Because of the Japanese nuclear power plant problem, some of the radioactive material released into the environment attaches itself to dust particles in the air and is carried long distances in the wind. When these particles are caught in precipitation, e.g., rain or snow, they are deposited directly onto the ground. After landing on the ground, they may potentially contaminate drinking water sources and growing food supplies.

EPA is beginning to report elevated but trace levels of radioactive iodine in precipitation samples on the East Coast as well as on the West Coast as analyzed by State laboratories. These levels are not now harmful, but the results Japan is reporting Monday morning makes me want to get fresh veggies and to choose frozen veggies and stock up on them if my freezer holds them. FDA has set a Derived Intervention Level (DIL) for Iodine-131 of 170 Bq/kg in foods prepared for consumption. This defines a level at which protective measures would be recommended to ensure that no one receives a significant dose. This guideline is based on very conservative assumptions regarding the percentage of the diet assumed to be contaminated as well as the amount of food consumed and the length of time an individual consumes contaminated food.

The levels in North American drinking water and milk are now at levels that if you drank a gallon of milk a day, it would increase your usual level by less than 5% a year.  But we and the FDA and EPA are watching these levels closely.

How often does is milk tested for radiation contamination in the USA? - Don in Syracuse


The US EPA routinely samples cow milk at more than 30 stations just once every 3 months. Due to the incident in Japan, the US EPA has accelerated regularly scheduled milk sampling. A spokesperson for the Department of Health in Washington DC has told me that EPA’s existing milk sampling routine would collect milk samples during the first week in April. Instead, their sampling stations across the nation will collect the samples immediately, and again in April. As of Sunday, March 27, 2011, harmful amounts of radiation in precipitation are not predicted to reach North America; therefore, domestic milk is not predicted to be contaminated by grass or feed contamination.

As to the medical stories of the week, I tweeted (@youngdrmike) these as the most important (and we discussed on YOU: The Owner’s Manual radio show which you can listen to at healthradio.net on Saturdays at 5-7 p.m. EST):

Story #1: Exercise and sex can be heart attack trigger for couch potatoes. In an analysis of 14 studies involving more than 6000 patients (in their 50s to 60s) and only men and women who'd had heart attacks or had died suddenly from a heart problem, sex increased the risk of heart attack by a factor of about three. Exercise increased the risk of sudden cardiac death by nearly 5 times. Implied from this data: people who regularly exercised had no increase in heart attacks after sex. That’s the key point – if you routinely participate in physical activity, sex is without heart-attack risk.

Story #2: Death rate down, life expectancy up in the US. Life expectancy at birth increased to 78.2 years in 2009, up from 78 years in 2008. Death rates for 10 of the 15 leading causes of death decreased significantly between 2008 and 2009. Death rates declined for heart disease (down 3.7%), cancer (1.1%), chronic lower respiratory diseases (4.1%), stroke (4.2%), accidents (4.1%), Alzheimer's disease (4.1%), diabetes (4.1%), influenza and pneumonia (4.7%), septicemia (1.8%) and homicide (6.8%).

Infant mortality in the US hit a record low in 2009 at 6.42 infant deaths for every 1000 live births. This is a 2.6% decline from 6.59 deaths per 1000 births in 2008. But the obesity epidemic threatens to reverse this as well as make illness care and disability care costs ruin American competiveness for jobs. The take home: choose healthy lifestyles and you may live well past age 90 without disability.

Story #3: Hearing loss “incredibly common” as Boomers grow older. About 36 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss: 25% to 40% of people over 65 have some hearing loss; 63% of those over 70 had mild to severe impairment; and only about 20% of those affected seek help. It’s more common in men than in women – so “I [really] didn’t hear you, honey” is correct. The problem is hearing aids can run $1,600 or more; add to that the "stigma" of wearing them. The "cardinal sign" of age-related hearing loss is having trouble hearing a conversation in a restaurant or place where there is a lot of background noise. The take home: if young, turn your TV, radio, phones and MP3 players down, and wear hearing protection at work. If you are over age 60, get tested, and at least every 5 years thereafter; if you have problems hearing a conversation, get help and save up for this necessity.

I’m still doing at least an extra 11 minutes of cardio every day. I’ve tracked them on Sharecare.com. The great news – Dr. Oz’s Move It and Lose It has been extended until August.

Blog written by Mike Roizen, MD
Dr. Roizen is a past chair of a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee and a former editor for 6 medical journals with...