The biggest radiation risks may be medical tests 

Q: I found the radiation leaks from Japan’s tsunami-damaged nuclear plants truly frightening. Someone at my health-food store said everyone should start eating more seaweed. How would that help? — Deirdre, San Diego

A: We love seaweed as a low-calorie, high-nutrient addition to soups, salads and sandwiches. And many types of seaweed contain alginate, which prevents about 78 percent of radioactive products from being absorbed by your bones and teeth. Seaweed also contains iodine, which takes up residence in your thyroid and keeps any radioactive iodine that’s around from being able to settle there, where it can cause cancer.

But like the potassium iodide tablets that flew off the shelves after Japan’s disaster, seaweed won’t protect you from radiation burns, sickness or cancer elsewhere in your body. Plus, eating large amounts of iodine-laden seaweed every day when you’re in no radiation danger has a downside: It actually can slow or halt healthy thyroid activity.

If you do buy seaweed, check the label carefully for its origin. Don’t buy seaweed from waters near Japan; it could be contaminated with radioactive iodine.

Otherwise, your biggest radiation risk is likely from unnecessary medical tests. About half your personal radiation exposure probably is from X-rays and CT scans. The other half arrives naturally from the cosmos, smoking and radon (have you checked your home?). If you’re afraid of becoming your own nightlight, always ask if each and every X-ray or scan is necessary. And for heaven’s sake, don’t smoke.

Q: I’m allergic to aspirin. What can I take instead to lower my heart attack risk? — Victor, via email

A: You’re not alone. Roughly 10 percent of people are allergic to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, which is nothing to sneeze at: This allergy can trigger breathing trouble and even anaphylaxis, a severe reaction that can be fatal. Prescription blood thinners can do some of aspirin’s heart-protecting job, but they aren’t worry-free. Some require frequent medical checks to be sure you don’t develop internal bleeding. Other substances that decrease inflammation include the DHA form of omega-3s, lycopene, lutein, vitamin D-3, coffee, small amounts of alcohol, physical activity and brightly colored fruits and veggies.

If your doctor thinks you’d get substantial benefit from aspirin, ask about aspirin desensitization, a procedure that gradually exposes you to increasing levels of aspirin over a period of days. Do not try this on your own. Medical supervision is a must.

Q: I’m worried about gaining weight when I go through menopause. Am I doomed to having an expanding waistline? — Jennifer, Wyncote, Pa.

A: Trust us docs — the only thing certain in life is death. Unlike Ben Franklin, we don’t even include taxes anymore because some famous folks (not us!) have found ways to avoid them entirely. Happily, you can do the same with menopausal weight gain.

  • Drop a few pounds before menopause. You’ll avoid the dreaded belly fat that appears with age.
  • Steer clear of simple carbs. For the first year of menopause, eat lots of veggies, fruits and only whole grains, with few saturated or trans fats.
  • Take calcium and vitamin D-3. Your body seems to prefer getting its calcium from a mix of food and pills, not just one or the other.
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