Radiation works slowly and slyly. But its effects, both short-term and long-term, are surely damaging. What is even more troubling is that the source of radiation exposure is not just limited to accidental nuclear meltdowns.
Medical procedures (X rays, CT scans and radiotherapy for cancer), wireless technology, weapons testing and cosmic rays (including the Sun’s UV rays) all contribute to this exposure. The cumulative exposure from all these natural and manmade sources of radiation, pollutants and other environmental toxins like chemicals found in our food, household cleaners, grooming products and even in our medicine, is continuously stressing the body.
The good news is that a healthy, nutritious diet can help you detoxify and limit the damage triggered by all these toxins. Specifically, in terms of radiation, it is important to understand that your body’s capacity to prevent or fight with damage caused by radiation comes down to your nutritional status and also what your body might be lacking.
If your body is deficient in certain nutrients, it will more readily take up the radioactive isotopes that are structurally similar to these nutrients. Radioactive elements mimic nutrients to infiltrate inside the body and do the damage.
For example, Strontium 90 behaves like calcium and can fool the body and get access if you are lacking in calcium. Similarly, Iodine 137 is like iodine that your thyroid gland needs to make thyroid hormones. Your thyroid gland can easily absorb and use this radioactive version if your body is short on iodine. Iodine-137 can damage thyroid tissue, causing cancer and other thyroid gland abnormalities. Experts say that taking potassium iodide well in time (just before and within a few hours after the radiation exposure) saturates the thyroid gland with iodine. This makes your thyroid gland less vulnerable to absorb iodine’s radioactive counterpart.
So, keeping your body nourished with nutrients will make sure the uptake of radioactive isotopes can be prevented, or at least limited. There is also very convincing evidence from the Chernobyl episode that certain foods can significantly reduce the damage caused by radiation exposure during such unfortunate nuclear accidents.
Free radical damage
The main mechanism that ionizing radiation (and also other environmental toxins) employ to cause cellular damage is through the formation of free radicals, the root cause of chronic inflammation, premature ageing and all health problems that usually follow. Free radicals cause structural damage to cells and their internal components such as DNA, proteins and lipids. This impairs the functions of vital tissues and organs – leading to cancer, cataracts, heart disease and other disorders.
Antioxidant defense against radiation exposure
Deinococcus radiodurans, known as the toughest bacterium in the world, can withstand extreme doses of radiation, thousand times greater than what would otherwise kill a human being. It is also known to protect proteins and repair massive DNA damage accurately after extreme exposure to ionizing and UV radiation. What makes the bacterium so resilient to oxidative stress?
It is believed that among other mechanisms, deinococcus radiodurans has a highly evolved anti-oxidant system, leading to decreased ROS production (high levels of catalase and superoxide dismutase activity, increased amount of manganese complexes, and small antioxidant molecules). This helps with decreased ROS production. 
For us, high anti-oxidant content found in whole plant-based food (fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, spices and herbs) can help the body contain this free-radical damage.
On one hand you need antioxidant support to defend the body against radiation damage; and on the other, radiation and pollutants rob your body of vitamins, essential fatty acids, minerals and other antioxidants. Most people believe that radiation, from any source whatsoever, increases your risk of cancer. While this is true, radiation also cause substantial damage to immune cells, heart and other organs. This can be overwhelming for the body as you need a strong immunity in the very first place to deal with the barrage of poisons, including radiation, you encounter on a daily basis.
This ‘catch 22’ situation can be dealt with by providing your body the raw material it needs to fight all this chaos and damage. Plant based foods and certain supplements are an excellent source of a broad range of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, flavonoids, and other phytonutrients that not only have radio-protective and cancer-fighting properties but also other health benefits – such as powering up your immunity in a natural, regulated manner. These ingredients provide radioprotection in a number of ways:
- As anti-oxidants, foods and supplements containing nutrients like vitamins C, D, E and A, magnesium, beta carotene, and resveratrol can all protect against radiation induced free radical damage.
- Some nutrients like calcium, iron, iodine and potassium can reduce the uptake of radioactive substances.
- Sulfur-containing antioxidants like glutathione and N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) have detoxifying and radioprotective properties. In the body, NAC is further metabolized into glutathione. In addition, foods like garlic, onion and cruciferous vegetables are a great source of sulphur as well as phytonutrients and antioxidants.
- Foods that provide lots of fibre also helps. Research has shown that dietary fiber has radioprotective properties.
- Some antioxidant minerals like magnesium can even help repair the DNA damage caused by ionizing radiation.
- Miso soup: The Japanese soup contains fermented soybean, a good source of genistein which protects against radiation injury and also increases the levels of white blood and red blood cells after exposure. In addition, soy is also a source of Bowman-Birk inhibitor, an enzyme that stimulates genes involved in DNA repair. (An important note: Avoid soy altogether if you are at risk of developing auto-immune disorder. Other fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, and raw sauerkraut also help in improving gut health and consequently your immunity.)
- Spirulina: The algae contains phycocyanin, a pigment protein responsible for its color, that binds to and eliminates various heavy metals and radionuclides from the body (cesium-137, strontium-90, and potassium-40). Phycocyanin is also known to increase the expression of antioxidant enzymes manganese superoxide dismutase (MnSOD), catalase and Glutathione-S-transferase (GST) in white blood cells in workers exposed to low dose ionizing radiation.
- Sea vegetables: Like spirulina, sea vegetables also contain substances that help eliminate radionuclides and other toxins from the system. Sea vegetables may contain harmful metals so buy products that have been screened for metal toxicity.
- Chlorella: It contains loads of vitamins, minerals and other antioxidants that help in detoxification, radioprotection and reducing inflammation. It is also known to give your immunity a power lift.
- Curcumin: Main flavonoid present in the Indian spice turmeric, curcumin can protect normal, healthy cells from radiation injury. Curcumin is one of the most potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer plant-based extract and has shown its credibility in protecting healthy organs from radiation and chemotherapy.
- Gingko Biloba: Known as one of the most powerful radioprotector out there, Gingko Biloba, lowers the effects of clastogenic factors, substances present in blood of radiation exposed people. These factors damage DNA and can remain in the bloodstream long after one is exposed.
- Green tea and black tea: Both varieties of tea contain tea catechins and epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), substances that help in protecting cells from the effects of radiation.
- Alpha lipoic acid: This supplement works very well as a chelator of heavy metals and in helping the body to regenerate other anti-oxidant such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and glutathione. In fact, taking glutathione supplements is known to be a very effective strategy to naturally increase the levels of glutathione, the master antioxidant in the body that not only protects DNA from radiation damage but also helps in DNA repair. 
- Pectin: Apple pectin was successfully used to reduce the levels of Cs 137 in children exposed in 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Other fruits rich in pectin are grapefruit, oranges, and lemons.
- Potassium rich foods: Banana, sea vegetables and green leafy vegetables provide potassium that safeguard against radioactive cesium 137.
- Reishi mushroom: The mushroom contains a wide range of healthful substances such as polysaccharides and triterpenes. These phytochemicals work as excellent antioxidants and protect against gamma radiation through multiple mechanisms, such as reducing oxidative stress, increasing levels of glutathione in the liver and brain, and preventing DNA strand breaks. Studies also suggest that Reishi mushroom can also enhance DNA repair mechanism in human cells.  
We have already covered the radioprotective benefits and mechanisms of all these foods and supplements in great details in a four-part ‘Radiation Detox’ series. You can find this information at various blogs here:
This list is by no means exhaustive but offers a good starting point if you want to prep your body to be healthy enough to protect, heal and repair itself to some extent. In a nutshell, we recommend that you consume a broad spectrum of colourful fruits and vegetables (preferably organic and non-GMO) to give your body substantial defense against damage caused by ionizing radiation. Adding certain supplements to this mix can further reinforce the internal defense against all kinds of toxins you may encounter in your daily life – be it radiation, harmful chemicals or processed foods.
- Anita Krisko and Miroslav Radman. Biology of Extreme Radiation Resistance: The Way of Deinococcus radiodurans. Cold Spring Harb Perspect Biol. 2013
- Anupam Chatterjee. Reduced Glutathione: A Radioprotector or a Modulator of DNA-Repair Activity? Nutrients. 2013
- Pillai et al. Enhancement of repair of radiation induced DNA strand breaks in human cells by Ganoderma mushroom polysaccharides. Food Chemistry. 2010.
- Pillai et al. Fungal beta glucan protects radiation induced DNA damage in human lymphocytes. Ann Transl Med. 2014