2011 Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: Cesium 137 and Cardiovascular Damage
When it comes to the harmful effects of radiation exposure, “increased risk of cancer throughout life” takes the spotlight. Not without a reason, of course. However, the health woes go beyond the cancer risk. We know from the Chernobyl research data that radiations can cause a whole range of serious non-cancer diseases such as thyroid damage, birth defects, hereditary diseases and neurological disorders. One of the conditions it seems to cause is cardiovascular disease .
In his 2011 report, Chris Busby, specialist on the health effects of ionizing radiation, discussed the impact of nuclear radiation on the hearts of Chernobyl children. He draws on the research work conducted by Professor Yuri Bandazhevsky, a renowned scientist who studied the effects of Cesium 137 exposure on people living in the territories contaminated by the catastrophic Chernobyl nuclear disaster. The research linked whole body radiation levels of 10-30 Becquerels/Kg of body weight with arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythms and levels of 50 Becquerels/Kg of body weight with irreversible damage to the heart as well as other vital organs.
Cesium 137: Most prevalent and a long lived radionuclide
Cesium-137 is one of the most widespread radioactive contaminants released in any nuclear disaster, and the Fukushima fallout was no exception. With a half-life of 30 years, Cesium-137 is a long-lasting radionuclide AND can remain radioactive for up to 300 years. Once released into the environment, Cesium-137 rapidly penetrates the ecosystem – contaminating water, soil, plants, animals and human beings. In fact, it bio-accumulates, bio-concentrates and bio-magnifies, meaning it gets dangerously pronounced moving up the food chain. High concentrations of Cesium-137 are commonly found in meat, dairy, mushrooms, berries and wild game.
Studies show that regular consumption of food contaminated with Cesium-137 radionuclides results in its accumulation in endocrine tissues, thyroid, heart, kidneys, stomach, small intestines, pancreas, liver, spleen, brain, lung and skeletal muscles . This process happens much faster in children than in adults. Clearly, children are many times more predisposed than adults to the damaging effects of the ionizing radiations.
Once Cesium-137 enters the human body, it mimics potassium and about 75 percent lodges in muscle tissue, including the heart . What compounds this problem is that radioactive Cesium is a fast acting poison and goes about causing damage to the heart muscle with an alarmingly rapid speed . Professor Yuri Bandazhevsky discovered that 50Bq/kg of Cesium -137 contamination caused irreversible heart damage in a child . (One becquerel is defined as the activity of a quantity of radioactive material in which one nucleus decays per second. 50Bq/kg of Cesium -137 means 50 atomic disintegrations per second (becquerels) per kilogram of body weight.)
Cesium 137 and Heart damage
The heart is especially susceptible to damage caused by radioactive Cesium because it mimics potassium, a mineral crucial to heart function. Potassium plays an important role in the sodium-potassium pump – energy requiring process involved in transporting sodium and potassium ions across the cell membrane. The main action of this pump is to move two potassium ions into the cell while simultaneously pumping three sodium ions out of the cell and into the extracellular fluid – building an electrochemical gradient, called the membrane potential, across the cell membrane. This electric gradient is used to transmit electric signals along nerves in the muscles and brain – important, among its many functions, for a well-functioning nervous system and normal contraction of skeletal and cardiac muscle fibres.
Since radioactive Cesium is similar to potassium, it easily finds its way into the heart tissue through the sodium/potassium pump, which means it readily gets absorbed into the heart muscles without any resistance.
- The cellular membranes that are selectively permeable and specialize in keeping harmful, toxic elements out are tricked into accepting Cesium-137 as potassium.
- Once inside, the radioactive Cesium actively interacts with the cell membranes of myocardial cells and interferes with crucial enzymatic processes by supressing critically essential enzyme creatine phosphokinase (CPK). This enzyme is responsible for cell energy metabolism and also creates the structure of the mitochondrial membrane as it holds together its external and internal surfaces.
- This interference by Cesium-137 clearly brings serious structural and functional failings in the mitochondrial membranes – disrupting the fragile energy supplying process within cell membranes, affecting the ability of the heart muscle to perform its function effectively.
- In addition to the direct impact of radioCesium, the subsequent radioactive emission during its decaying adds to the insult inflicted on the cellular structure. What follows is excessive production of hydroxyl radicals and phospholipids peroxidation – causing the change in the membrane’s ability to transport various ions, especially influencing the calcium ion transport system.
- This leads to excessive accumulation of calcium ions in the cardiomyocytes (heart muscle cells), which disturbs the relaxation process of the heart muscle fibres and can cause significant damage to heart muscle cells, including death.
A similar kind of damage occurs in other organs, particularly the liver and kidneys. As summarized by Professor Yuri Bandashevsky, “When myocardial cells are penetrated by the radionuclide Cesium-137, structural and metabolic changes follow, leading to the energy deficits and disruption of their main functions, and in some cases death. A series of changes occur, indicating direct damage of the cardiac muscles as well as damage to many organs and systems regulating cardiac activity.” 
Professor Yuri Bandashevsky carried out tremendous research on the impact of the radioactive Cesium on the children living in the regions of Belarus contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear fallout. “He established that children with mean body burdens of upwards of 40Bq/kg of Cesium -137 suffered life-threatening cardiac problems including arrhythmias, cardiac insufficiency (angina) and heart attacks (infarctions) which could result in death.” 
In his report, Chris Busby notes that 50 becquerels per kilogram of Cesium 137, which actually is quite a low level, can destroy almost 25% of all the muscle cells in the heart. Why is this data so alarming?
A human heart is an extraordinary machine, continuously pumping throughout the lifespan of a person, without tiring and stopping. Unlike cells of the other tissues and organs, muscle cells of the heart (cardiac myocytes) can’t regenerate themselves or be replaced rapidly. You can actually say that this is a gross understatement as muscle cells of the heart are only replaced at a rate of about 1% per year, which is as a good as nothing, implying that damaged heart cells cannot be repaired. That is why any damage to the cardiac myocytes, for example in heart attacks, is considered very serious.
When Cesium-137 destroys the heart muscle cells, the heart loses its ability to function efficiently and this impaired functionality can lead to cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heating of the heart) and heart attacks. Chronic exposure to Cesium-137 particularly damages the developing hearts of children – affecting the strength and integrity of myocardial muscles. This is the reason why children contaminated in the Fukushima disaster were reported to develop cardiac problems at their age.
Cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disorders) induced by Cesium-137 can either directly cause death or damage the cardiovascular system in many other ways. For example, it can result in elevated blood pressure. It is believed to be caused by the effects of radioactive Cesium on the muscle components of the blood vessels .
The effect of Cesium radionuclides on heart health should be taken into consideration while devising treatment programs and prevention measures for people living in and around contaminated areas.
Mitigating The Effects of Cesium-137
Of course, radioCesium doesn’t come alone. It is accompanied by hundreds of other heavy metal radioactive toxins. When your body is continuously loaded with toxins, it eventually wears down and runs out of ways to deal with them on its own. The idea is to adopt a multi-pronged approach to be proactive, mitigate the effects and repair the damage already caused.
Chelation therapy is one of the best ways to treat internal radio-isotope contamination. Radioactive isotopes mimic natural minerals. For example, radioactive Cesium mimics potassium (which is therefore majorly accumulated in muscles, including the heart); radioactive strontium mimics calcium (finding its way into bones and teeth); radioactive uranium mimics magnesium, radioactive iodine mimics natural iodine (thus absorbed by the thyroid gland), radioactive plutonium mimics iron (thus found accumulated in bones, liver and blood cells). Natural minerals when taken before the exposure helps the body to block the absorption of their radioactive counterparts. Natural minerals can also help in chelating out these toxic elements.
There are many natural ways that are quite effective in binding to the Cesium 137 and other toxic radioisotopes and get them out of the body. These natural methods also support the body’s inherent ability to fight the free radicals, boost the immune functions, repair and renew cellular damage and detox the body of toxic substances taking off immense load from liver and kidneys.
- Apple pectin 
- Seaweed, chlorella, spirulina
- Anti-oxidants such as Vitamins C, Vitamin E, Vitamin B, Vitamin D, selenium, N-acetylcysteine, Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA), glutathione
- Minerals like calcium, magnesium, zinc, iron and potassium
- Herbs like milk thistle, curcumin
- Healthy nutrient-rich diet comprising of whole, fresh foods
- Water purification
- Exercise and meditation
Vitamin C and Heart Health
We discussed the role of Vitamin C as a protector against radiation exposure in our last post here. Vitamin C scavenges free radicals triggered by ionizing radiations and boosts immunity, making it an indispensable tool to minimize the toxic effects of ionic radiations emitted during nuclear fallouts such as Chernobyl and Fukushima.
In addition to this, Vitamin C plays an incredible role in supporting heart functions and contributes to minimize the risk factors for cardiovascular disease. A study published in the American Heart Journal showed the risk of heart failure decreased with increasing plasma Vitamin C and “Every 20 ?mol/L increase in plasma Vitamin C concentration (1 SD) was associated with a 9% relative reduction in risk of heart failure.”
Strengthens the blood vessel walls
Vitamin C is an important precursor to collagen synthesis and repair. Collagen is an insoluble fibrous protein present in our connective tissues including the endothelium (inner lining of the blood vessels). It imparts strength and flexibility to the arterial walls, improves their functions and prevents the formation of atherosclerotic plaque, a root cause of many serious heart conditions such as heart attack, peripheral artery disease and stroke.
Dilates blood vessels
Vitamin C increases the availability of nitric oxide , a natural vasodilator that helps blood vessels to relax and dilate. NO plays an amazing role in maintaining endothelial functions.
A 2012 study reports, “This protective molecule (Vitamin C) has a wide range of biological properties that maintain vascular homeostasis, including modulation of vascular dilator tone, regulation of local cell growth, and protection of the vessel from injurious consequences of platelets and cells circulating in blood, playing in this way a crucial role in the normal endothelial function.”  This property is of tremendous support to people with co-related conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, angina pectoris and atherosclerosis.
Linus Pauling Institute says, “The ability of blood vessels to relax or dilate (vasodilation) is compromised in individuals with atherosclerosis. Damage to the heart muscle caused by a heart attack and damage to the brain caused by a stroke are related, in part, to the inability of blood vessels to dilate enough to allow blood flow to the affected areas.
The pain of angina pectoris is also related to insufficient dilation of the coronary arteries. Impaired vasodilation has been identified as an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Many randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies have shown that treatment with Vitamin C consistently results in improved vasodilation in individuals with coronary heart disease, as well as those with angina pectoris, congestive heart failure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Improved vasodilation has been demonstrated at an oral dose of 500 mg of Vitamin C daily.”
A 2015 study proves that supplementing with 500 mg Vitamin C daily reduces blood vessel constriction as effectively as exercise .
Lowers blood pressure: Scientists from Johns Hopkins University conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of clinical trials that examined the effects of Vitamin C supplementation on blood pressure. The research found that Vitamin C reduced both systolic and diastolic blood pressure .
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- Yuri I. Bandazhevsky “Human Health and Incorporated Radionuclides.”
- When radioactive Cesium enters body, 75% lodges in muscle tissue including heart. ENE News. 2012
- Cesium-137 immediately damages the heart muscle — Not slow-acting. ENE News. 2012
- Senior Scientist: Irreversible heart damage for children with 50 Bq/kg of Cs-137. ENE News. 2012
- Yury Bandazhevsky. Radioactive Cesium and Heart Chapter 4: Pathophysiological Characteristics of Effects of Radioactive Cesium on Heart. 2013.
- Chris Busby. Radiation exposure and heart attacks in children of Fukushima. 2011.
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- Nesterenko VB, Nesterenko AV, Babenko VI, Yerkovich TV, Babenko IV. Reducing the 137Cs-load in the organism of “Chernobyl” children with apple-pectin. Swiss Medical weekly. 2004.
- LV d’Uscio et. Al. Long-Term Vitamin C Treatment Increases Vascular Tetrahydrobiopterin Levels and Nitric Oxide Synthase Activity. Circulation Research. 2003
- Tousoulis D et.al. The role of nitric oxide on endothelial function. Current Vascular Pharmacology. 2012 Jan;10(1):4-18.
- Vitamin C: The Exercise Replacement? American Physiological Society. September 4, 2015.
- Juraschek SP, Guallar E, Appel LJ, Miller ER, 3rd. Effects of Vitamin C supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2012;95(5):1079-1088.