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While we have learned to accept X-rays and CT scans as a necessary evil required to get a thorough medical exam, in some cases the risks may outweigh the benefits.
Each year, a whopping 72 million CT scans are performed in the United States and, according to the National Cancer Institute, these CT scans could account for as many as 29,000 cancers. (1) To make matters worse, as many as 44% of them have been determined to be medically unnecessary. (2)
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While many advances have been made to lower the radiation exposure from X-rays (including dental) and CT scans, there is compelling evidence to suggest that the radiation accumulates, and may having lasting, detrimental effects. In 2013, The British Medical Journal published a study that followed 1 million people from birth into young adulthood and found that the group that had CT scans had a 24% increased risk of developing cancer compared to the group that did not get the scans. (3)
Sadly, the more scans one had, the greater the risk and, tragically, the risk persisted for years. Compared to the folks who did not get a CT scan the risks were:
- 35% higher risk in the first 4 years following exposure
- 25% higher risk in the 5-9 years following exposure
- 14% higher in the 10-14 years following exposure
While X-ray imaging techniques can diagnose a host of life-threatening conditions, these new findings should encourage us to consult doctors regarding the risk versus reward. This is particularly important because surveys show that 35% of CT scans are prescribed by doctors are out of fear of a lawsuit (4), and only 9% of Emergency Room doctors were even aware that CT scans increased the risk of cancer. (5)
Are Dental X-Rays Safe?
The radiation from a dental X-ray is considerably lower today compared to older machines, but a new study in the journal Cancer showed that people who were exposed to annual dental X-rays were twice as likely to develop a type of brain tumor called a meningioma – which are usually benign, although they do require brain surgery. (6)
I have never met a dentist who wasn’t totally adamant about getting dental X-rays, and each one was certain that there was no risk – no worse than a plane flight. Maybe printing the following conclusion from the authors of the 2012 Journal of Cancer study may change your dentist’s mind.
… there is little evidence to support the use of dental X-rays in search of occult pathologies in asymptomatic patients or routine dental radiographs at preset intervals for all patients. Although dental X-rays are an important too in well selected patients, efforts to moderate exposure to ionizing radiation to the head is likely to be of benefit to the patients and health care providers alike. (6)
The mechanism for the damage ensued by radiation is related to DNA damage in the nucleus of the cell. When cells are irradiated, a number of DNA-breaking compounds called clastogenic factors are formed. These factors are linked to a type of free radical damage that breaks DNA strands and can lead to cancer. Such factors can linger in the body, causing damage for many years. Thirty years after the atom bomb went off in Japan, clastogenic factors were still detectable.
One strategy to offset this damage is to increase the intake of foods and nutrients that are known to help the body repair it’s DNA. Eating blueberries (7), supplementing with spirulina (8), and drinking lemon balm tea (9) before and after a required X-ray or CT scan can provide protection to the nucleus of the cell.
Turmeric was shown in many studies to support the body’s natural response to low-level radiation exposure. (11) In other studies, constituent factors of turmeric, specifically curcumin, were shown to have radio-protective effects on a cellular level. (12)
Shilajit, which is another Ayurvedic herb known to protect the body’s cells from oxidation damage, was found in one study to support ovarian cell response to radiation-induced apoptosis. (13, 14) According to Ayurveda, shilajit is the most powerful longevity herb, as it protects the cells from damage and premature aging. (13)