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Dealing With Air Travel Radiation Exposure

Doctors appear to be causing tens of thousands of cancers with CT scans and dentists may be causing a few brain tumors with dental X-rays (see my last two videos Cancer Risk from CT Scan Radiation and Do Dental X-Rays Cause Brain Tumors?), but what about these new-fangled airport full-body scanners that use so-called backscatter technology to reduce X-ray exposure? A thousand times less radiation exposure than a chest X-ray, though they’re still being phased out. In fact, flight passengers may get 100 times more radiation during the flight every hour, because they’re so high up in the atmosphere and exposed to more cosmic rays. Does that mean a round-trip cross-country flight is almost like getting a chest X-ray? Yes. Anyone who’s seen my speaking schedule knows I’m totally screwed. But what can you do? As is the answer to so many health questions, you can eat healthily.

High dietary antioxidant intakes are associated with decreased DNA damage in airline pilots. Note the word “dietary.” Antioxidant supplements didn’t work. No benefit was found for those taking multivitamins, vitamin C pills, or vitamin E pills. But those getting the most vitamin C from food, B carotene from food, cryptoxanthin from food, and lutein/zeaxanthin from food, saw a significant decrease in DNA damage.

The USDA keeps a nice list of phytonutrient resources. Cryptoxanthin sources listed here (Healthy Pumpkin Pie anyone?). Lutein and zeaxanthin can help us Prevent Glaucoma and See 27 Miles Farther. Are these eyesight-saving phytonutrients also found in eggs? You might be surprised. See Egg Industry Blind Spot.

For more on why produce is generally preferable to pills, check out:

These are all phytonutrients, of course—so when they say food, they really mean plants.  And because antioxidants can have synergistic effects, the greatest protection was found when they were eating a combination of phytonutrients, so the greatest protection was found in those eating the citrus and broccoli, AND nuts and seeds, AND pumpkins and peppers, AND dark green leafy vegetables. Though if one had to pick, greens may be the best. All this time I’d been packing kale chips on planes as a snack just because they’re so lightweight, but now I know their dual purpose. The researchers conclude that a diet consisting of a variety of fruits and vegetables provides a natural source of these antioxidants as well as other potential protective factors, which may offer the best protection against cumulative DNA damage associated with ionizing radiation exposure. The results are especially relevant to flight crews, astronauts, and frequent flyers.

The same thing was  found following Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb survivors for decades. Models based on the available data suggest that the cancer risk in exposed persons may have been knocked down by daily green and yellow vegetable consumption from about 50% increased cancer risk to only about 30% increased risk. Similar results were found for fruit consumption. So fruit and vegetable consumption can diminish, but not eliminate the risks of radiation.

Same thing was found following children after Chernobyl. Consumption of fresh vegetables and fruits afforded protection to the immune systems of exposed children, whereas egg and fish consumption was associated with significantly increased risk of chromosome damage within their bodies. Researchers were unsure whether the damage attributed to fish and eggs was because the eggs and fish carried radioactivity, or whether it was just from the animal fat intake alone.

Why might eggs be harmful even if not radioactive? See Egg Cholesterol in the Diet or my other 57 videos on eggs. I cover natural and artificial radioactivity in fish in Fukushima and Radioactivity in Seafood and explore concerns about other pollutants in my 89 fish videos.

For interventional studies where plant foods are actually put to the test, see Reducing Radiation Damage With Ginger And Lemon Balm.

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death and More Than an Apple a Day.

Eating Green to Prevent Cancer
How Do Plant-Based Diets Fight Cancer?
Which Common Fruit Fights Cancer Better?

Read more: Health, Cancer, Diet & Nutrition, Eating for Health, General Health, Videos, , , ,

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Dr. Michael Greger

A founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognized speaker on nutrition, food safety, and public health issues. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at The Humane Society of the United States. Hundreds of his nutrition videos are freely available at


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6:30PM PDT on Oct 4, 2013

Thanks for that info...

3:51PM PDT on Sep 29, 2013

Thank you Doctor for your article and thanks to the 49 care 2 members that commented on this subject. I enjoyed reading all of them. Thanks for all the information, We can only make good decisions when we have good information.....period.

8:02PM PDT on Sep 17, 2013

Interesting info. Thank you.

11:34PM PDT on Sep 16, 2013


4:25AM PDT on Sep 16, 2013

Makes me wonder about all that radioactivity in Japan and how radioactive all their plants fruits and vegetation, is. Surely 'organic' is out of the question in parts of the world contaminated by such things?

3:25AM PDT on Sep 16, 2013

Thank you for the interesting article.

2:30AM PDT on Sep 16, 2013

Thanks for sharing.

1:25AM PDT on Sep 16, 2013

Thanks for this information.

6:52AM PDT on Sep 15, 2013

What I feel is missing from this article is sea vegetables....because when I think of radiation I am thinking of all the damage it is doing to that sensitive of all organs, our thyroid.

We have a lot of issues with thyroid disorder folks. When going for or assisting with someone who is going to get an X-ray it would behoove you to request a thyroid cuff along with the vest despite the rolled eyes you will get from the technician. We notoriously as Americans do not get in enough sea veggies or the more bio-available forms of iodine and there are so many substances that compete with iodine in the body.

I would also supplement with chlorella to aid in detoxification

and never underestimate the simplicity and great health benefits of a Epsom salt and baking soda bath....

2:52AM PDT on Sep 15, 2013

Thanks for the article.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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