The recent nuclear crisis in Japan related to the earthquake and tsunami has a lot of people worried about radiation exposure. But what about in every day life? Many people are surprised to learn just how much radiation one encounters in life and simply walking around in the world!
Just What Is Radiation, Anyway?
In order to understand how radiation exposure might affect the human body, you first need a basic primer on radiation, itself. So what is radiation? It is a type of energy wave, and it exists all around us!
Ionizing radiation produces charged particles called ions. When you hear of something being described as “radioactive,” it refers to this type of radiation, which might include x-rays (including airport scanners) and nuclear waste According to the Environmental Protection Association, the energy from ionizing radiation is strong enough to break chemical bonds and alter atomic structure (including cellular structure). When radiation causes damage to cells, the body’s attempt to heal that damage may result in cell overgrowth (cancer).
The health dangers from ionizing radiation come in two forms: long-term, low-level exposure, and short-term, high-level exposure. Health effects from either type of exposure to radiation include:
- DNA mutations
- Fetal abnormalities
- Burns and sickness (to high-level exposure)
- Premature aging
Many of the gadgets you rely on every day emit low frequency radiation. This is called “nonionizing” radiation, and it includes things like the spectrum of light (infrared, ultraviolet, and visible light), microwaves, radiofrequency, and extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetism. Many of the devices in your life emit this type of radiation, such as your television, cell phone, wireless network, electrical circuits, microwave oven, and many others.
Is it safe? While nonionizing radiation is generally considered safe, we are exposed to higher levels of it right now than at any other point in human history. This generates concerns about the long-term effects of exposure. According to the American Cancer Society, potential health effects include:
- Skin cancer (from high levels of UV radiation)
- DNA damage
- Increased risk of leukemia (ELF radiation from power lines)
- Birth defects
While these are potential risks, it should be noted that no conclusive studies have causally linked nonionizing radiation to any of the above health effects (except UV radiation to skin cancer).
Let’s look at a few ways you might come in contact with dangerous radiation exposure.
It turns out there may be a heavy price to pay for improved safety at airports. Many passengers now pass through airport scanners on their way to a plane, unaware of the potential risks they represent. These scanners use very low-dose x-rays (it would take about 2,000 trips through one to equal the radiation from a chest x-ray). Still, the scanners increase your lifetime risk to low-level radiation, which can present risks for damage to DNA and cells, and raise your risks for developing cancer. Since kids are more susceptible to radiation than adults, the scanners may be an especially bad choice for them.
According to the Transportation Safety Administration, around 80 airports in the United States currently have the machines (with more planned), and testing using the “Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT)” is optional.
Why exposure yourself to additional radiation, even at low levels, when you can avoid it? Skip it and opt for a pat-down. I always do, and though it is slightly inconvenient and takes a bit more time, it is worth it to me.
As if you needed another reason to quit smoking or not start, here’s a good one. Tobacco products (including smokeless tobacco) contain a radioactive element called polonium-210. According to the EPA, using tobacco products increases the amount of radiation exposure you receive during your life. Second-hand smoke is also an issue, because it contains the same radioactive compound.
Reducing your risk of this source of radiation is common sense. Don’t smoke or chew tobacco, and avoid smoky environments.
The use of radiation has revolutionized the medical field, allowing doctors to peer inside their patients’ bodies and providing a formidable foe to cancer. Still, science remains divided about whether any level of radiation exposure is safe. That’s why it is so important to work carefully with your health care providers whenever they recommend an x-ray or other radiation-reliant test. Carefully weigh the risks and benefits, and seek alternatives whenever possible.
Radon is a colorless, odorless, toxic radioactive gas present from the natural breakdown of uranium in rock and soil. It is present throughout the United States, and the EPA states it can exist in your home without your knowledge. Radon is responsible for thousands of deaths each year.
The only way to know whether your home has radon is to test for it. The test is inexpensive, and if it is present you can radon-proof your home, and many new homes are now built to be radon resistant. If you live below the third floor, you should test for radon, and your children’s school should be testing, as well. Ask the principal about their radon testing policies. If they don’t have one, get involved in lobbying for safe schools.
Reducing the Risks
You can never be too safe. Because we are so swamped with environmental toxins and radiation, it’s important you do what you can to reduce your risks and exposure. Here are a few tips.
Eat foods that contain chlorophyll.
Foods that contain chlorophyll detoxify the blood, helping to remove all kinds of nasty toxins including radiation. Drinking your Glowing Green Smoothie daily supplies with lots of chlorophyll. Also try my Spirulina Pie (LINK), chlorella and wheat grass.
Ingest sea vegetables.
Kelp, dulse, and agar contain natural iodine, which protects against radioactive iodine found in foods like dairy products. The sea vegetables also block the absorption of another radioactive element: strontium.
Supplement with bee pollen.
A 1973 study published in the Journal of the University Radiological Institute showed that bee pollen protected against x-ray induced radiation sickness.
Limit daily exposure to nonionizing radiation.
It can’t hurt, because no one knows the long-term effects of this type of exposure. Some tips:
- Wear a wired headset for cell phones, or talk on a land line or speaker phone as much as possible in order to keep your cell phone away from your head.
- I do not recommend ever using microwaves. But if still want to use one occasionally for some reason (there’s always an alternative!), check door gaskets regularly for leaks, and replace your oven every few years to minimize leaking.
- Use wired Ethernet instead of Wi Fi.
- Don’t sleep with a clock radio near your head. Instead, get a projecting clock that will show the time on a wall or ceiling where you can see it, and place the radio well away from you in your bed.
- Sit as far as possible from your television screen.
- Use a desktop computer rather than a laptop, and sit back from the monitor. If you have a laptop (as I do), don’t place it directly on your lap.
- Utilize natural lighting as much as possible, and only turn on as many lights as you need.
- Unplug devices you are not using, and only plug them in as you need them.
Radiation is scary stuff in terms of health consequences; however, that doesn’t mean you need to run around in a panic or try to live in a bubble. Take charge of your health by minimizing your exposure to radiation with these tips, and by protecting yourself via your diet, and you’ll be able to worry much less about radiation.