LOS ANGELES Fears of radiation from Japan have driven some customers at health food stores on the West Coast to stock up on kelp out of a belief its iodine content can protect against thyroid cancer, health food retailers said on Friday.
Health officials have repeatedly said United States residents face no risk from radiation drifting across the Pacific Ocean from Japan's stricken nuclear plants.
But that has not stopped some Americans from buying potassium iodide, considered a defense against radiation poisoning. Authorities have warned against taking potassium iodide unnecessarily because of a potential for side-effects.
Meanwhile, consumers are turning to more health-friendly sources of iodine, with kelp tablets high on the list and suppliers running out, health store owners and managers along the West Coast told Reuters.
Seaweed snacks and blue-green algae liquid are also popular items, and one Washington State homeopath is even recommending miso soup and brown rice, because of an anecdote that it helped a Japanese doctor protect against radiation decades ago.
Jenny Rask, 39, a Los Angeles stay-at-home mother, has been giving her three children seaweed in their lunches.
"Luckily they love it," she told Reuters. "And we are eating sushi tonight. Sounds a little cuckoo. But eating veggies can help, I hope."
Willow Follett, 66, the owner of Willow's Naturally on Bainbridge Island in Washington State, said that she quickly sold out of kelp tablets after the disaster in Japan.
She said that while iodine can saturate the thyroid gland and prevent the absorption of radioactive iodine from a nuclear disaster, it has to be taken in high doses to be effective.
"You get much much less in kelp, but kelp is really good for you anyway," she said. "It's a good thing to take, but I wouldn't take it for this."
Follett said consumers are "just grasping at straws" in an effort to do anything they can to protect themselves, even though they face no risk.
California health officials have spent the last several days trying to tamp down panic over fears of the nuclear disaster in Japan somehow affecting people on the West Coast.
"We do not anticipate any amounts of radiation that could cause health effects," Dr. Howard Backer, head of the California Department of Public Health, said on Thursday.
That did not stop the phone from ringing off the hook at Justin Brotman's Seattle supplements and health food store Heleo, from people worried about nuclear radiation.
Callers asked about potassium iodide, which Brotman said he would not sell them because of its potential side effects. Instead, he sold them the more healthy alternative of blue-green algae, which also has some iodine.
"I even stopped answering the phone to be honest with you", said Brotman, 29.
(Additional reporting by Nichola Groom: Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Greg McCune)