Radiation in Dietary Supplements

Risk to dietary supplements appears minimal, but vigilance is required

By Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO

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The potential health implications caused by the nuclear disaster in Japan may extend beyond Japanese citizens. The wind and water currents have carried radioactive materials to many parts of the world. Furthermore, concerns are arising regarding consumable goods exported from Japan. Included in this category are dietary supplement ingredients and their finished products. In this issue, you will find several commentaries from manufacturers about some of the proactive steps that they are taking to ensure the continued safety of their products. These manufacturers, along with other dietary supplement manufacturers, are to be lauded for their timely and quick accountability to this situation.

On March 25, 2011, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began detaining all shipments of FDA-regulated products imported from the Japanese prefectures (sub-national jurisdictions) that are in the closest proximity to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, specifically Fukushima, Gunma Ibaraki, and Tochigi. This is a result of the fact that in mid-March, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare confirmed the presence of radioactive iodine contamination in dairy and fresh produce from these regions. The FDA’s Import Alert further explains that radioactive iodine has a short half-life of about 8 days and naturally decays, but does pose risk to human health if contaminated food is absorbed into the body prior to its decay. In addition to produce, other at-risk Japanese exports, such as seafood, are being tested by the FDA prior to release into the US market.

It is not clear at this time what degree of risk is represented by dietary supplements with ingredients sourced from Japan. One would presume that there is risk associated with products containing raw materials sourced from, or processed in, the prefectures with proximity to the nuclear power plant. Michael McGuffin, president of the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), recently released this statement: “AHPA will keep its membership apprised of any additional information of interest that may impact raw materials and ingredients, supply chains, distribution, and members' ability to market products.” This statement summarizes the current state of watchfulness and caution.

Emerson Ecologics* is in the process of soliciting information from each of its suppliers any raw materials that present risk of radioactive contamination and how they are mitigating this risk. Thus far, several companies whose operations are based in Japan have noted that their manufacturing facilities are located in the southern region of Japan, hundreds of miles away from the nuclear reactors, and areas which have not evidenced significant radioactive contamination. These companies continue to monitor the situation. Other companies with raw materials at risk for contamination are subjecting their raw materials to testing. Testing for radioactive iodine and cesium can be done by FDA-certified methodology. This test analyzes Cesium-134/137 and Iodine-131 by means of gamma-spectrometry using a Germanium-detector. Sample quantities of about 1 kg are typically required which effectively restricts the use of this test to raw materials as opposed to finished products. One qualified independent analytical laboratory charges $160 for this test.

At this point in time, the radiation risk to dietary supplements appears to be minimal. That being said, continued vigilance is required on the part of dietary supplement manufacturers to ensure that is parameter of supplement safety remains a non-issue for consumers.

*The author is the V.P. of Quality and Education at Emerson Ecologics

About the Author

Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, is a professor of clinical medicine at the University of Arizona where she is the associate director of the Fellowship in Integrative Medicine at the Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine. Alschuler obtained her naturopathic medical degree from Bastyr University where she completed her residency in general naturopathic medicine. She received her bachelor of science degree from Brown University. She is board-certified in naturopathic oncology. Alschuler is past-president of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and a founding board member, immediate past-president and current board member of the Oncology Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She is coauthor of Definitive Guide to Cancer, now in its 3rd edition, and Definitive Guide to Thriving After Cancer.