Monday, March 21, 2011

Radiation Exposure

Given the reactor problems in Japan and the concurrent release of radiation that has wafted across the Pacific, I've been asked by a number of people whether this is something to be concerned about and what is to be done to protect against it.  My short answer is: say a prayer.

Radiation is THE Problem with nuclear power, nuclear war, nuclear medicine, and industrial nuclear applications.  Other than avoidance altogether there is not a lot of health protective guarantees at all from radiation.  The problem is this: amounts of 0-100 mSv are considered low-level, yet can fracture biomolecules including DNA.  (On Tuesday March 15th Reactor #3 in Japan released 400 mSv into the air.)  Damaged DNA will frequently lead to cancer at some point.  A chest x-ray has
about 0.1 mSv.  Damage can be cumulative, which is why I am opposed to screening mammograms and squeamish about CT scans and unnecessary x-rays.  There is a natural background radiation that we are exposed to that is on average about 3 mSv.  This comes from X-rays and gamma rays from space, the presence of naturally occurring radioactive elements in the soil, and sadly, the radioactive wastes that planet Earth continues to accumulate predominantly from the fields of medicine and energy.  (Heart of America is an environmental watchdog group monitoring radiation issues at the Hanford Nuclear Site in Washington State.  If you would like a copy of their 5-page paper about health and radiation issues, e-mail me and I'd be happy to forward it to you.)

We already have a cancer epidemic occurring.  I would argue some of this can be blamed on present radiation levels.  The main protection from the destructive influences on health from ionizing radiation is what I've already written of before several times in preventing cancer.  The healthier you are - the more attentive you are to diet, exercise, keeping inflammation low, using anti-oxidants, sleep, reducing stress, and improving nutritional status -- the better you can weather health-assaulting factors, like radiation.  Some individuals are more prone to health assaults than others, we don't fully understand the reasons.  So, say your prayers, eat, run, relax, be good, and do your best - that's all any of us can do.

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