A recent article in the Guardian exposes the pseudoscientific claims of Dr Christopher Busby, who has been promoting his ‘anti-radiation tablets’1. These are calcium and magnesium tablets which he has been targeting to the vulnerable and desperate Japanese people, at exorbitant prices in the wake of the recent nuclear disaster. His claims are not only untrue but highly misleading, as well as including unfounded statements that the Japanese government is trying to cover up the disaster and deliberately hurt its people.
Firstly, to make one thing very clear, there is no such thing as an ‘anti-radiation tablet’, or any other kind of medical prevention (except if you wish to wear a lead suit of armor everyday). Nuclear disasters are highly rare occurrences, and so even if medical prevention did exist, it would be a waste of time for the vast majority of individuals. Of the many by-products produced in the fusion from a nuclear disaster, one of which is radioactive iodide, the negative effect of this can by reduced by taking potassium iodide, as this will out compete the radioactive iodide for the natural affinity for the thyroid, where it would become concentrated and lead to thyroid cancer, however this only protects against thyroid cancer specifically, and has no protective effects on all the other types of cancer which are likely to occur depending on the levels and duration of ionizing radiation exposure. The WHO recommends 130mg of potassium iodide (which is 700 times the daily required dose) would be protective against thyroid cancer, small doses can be obtained through iodized salt, however 1kg of salt would be required to get sufficient protective levels, and this would be a lethal quantity of salt. But luckily potassium iodide is widely available in tablet form, even though its protective effects are limited. However, even this is highly unnecessary, but that hasn’t stopped thousands of people ordering these tablets, with production companies being swamped with orders2.
Other treatments for radiation effects include the use of antibiotics, because of the radiations negative effects on the rapidly self replenishing intestine, and so vomiting and nausea are common side effects, which are eased by reducing the levels of bacteria in the gastro-intestinal tract.
However, Dr Busby's tablets only contain calcium and magnesium, which he states provide protection from radiation, but lacks any scienitific studies or research to support these claims. It is hard to imagine why Dr Christopher Busby, a visiting professor at the University of Ulster would be supporting these mineral supplements, but it soon becomes clear when you find out that he actually runs the lab where the tests would be carried out and sells the tablets through the website www.4u-detox.com, and so would stand to gain financially from promoting them. He has a PhD in Chemical Physics, which goes to show that scientists can also be mislead and fooled by flim-flam. However, his anti-nuclear stance and subsequent promotion of pseudoscientific treatments for scared and desperate individuals living in the areas surrounding the disaster, is not only unethical but promotes the belief in miracle cures rather than trust in the local government and healthcare providers to address the risks and provide appropriate treatments.
Japan has fair more stringent regulations than even Europe on the acceptable levels of radiation, not only from direct human exposure, but in food and water as well1, making the need for personal testing of urine or water outside of the evacuation zone not only pointless but a waste of money. It is understandable that when people are scared they act irrationally and don’t always check all the facts when they hear about a new treatment or prevention, but it is the scientific community and the medias responsibility to put the spotlight on these charlatans and expose the fraud and fake claims, in order to promote critical thinking and protect the most vulnerable people within our communities.
E Markham (2011). Ridiculous Radiation Blogspot