Mint candies, radiation, and illness: countries around the world are looking to use small amounts of radiation to prevent disease. The book Underexposed: What If Radiation Is Actually Good for You? explains why.
Let's suppose that the federal government analyzed a substance (in this case, mint candies) and issued safety guidelines about those candies. The guidelines emphatically state that any eating of mint candies increases the risk of premature death; therefore, all mint candies should be avoided--except when given to you by a medical professional. No problem, we'll just skip eating mints.
But let's say that you learn from reading studies done on thousands of people that each year 10,000 cases of breast cancer could be prevented with over 99 percent certainty out of a population of one million women--without harmful side effects--simply by having the women eat one small piece of candy every two to three months. Would you buy mint candies for the women you love?
Suppose, also, that you learn that the federal government based its recommendation on the fact that morbidly obese people are statistically far more apt to die in any given year than fit people. (Essentially, the government recommendation assumed that the risk of eating candy was the same for fit people and obese people no matter how much they eat.) Now, would you give your loved ones occasional pieces of mint candy?
In a nutshell, that is what the book Underexposed: What If Radiation Is Actually Good for You ? asks you to consider--only the substance that protects women's health is radiation, not mint candies.
Change of Perspective
I have to admit that before I read this book, I had what I considered to be a good healthy fear of radiation--whether it came in large or small amounts. I was uncomfortable getting my teeth X-rayed at the dentist and was largely a believer that radiation causes awful physical mutations like those that create villains and heroes alike in comic books. I still have a good healthy fear of large doses of radiation, but now I wish that my house had been found to have "dangerous levels" of Radon gas (which the government says is bad for you because it is radioactive). Sounds crazy, doesn't it? But to put my new viewpoint into perspective, think back a few years; you will remember a similar situation in which everyone "knew" something was true that wasn't really true.
This "something" was the all-encompassing evil of alcohol. When I was in my late teen years, alcohol--beer, wine, spirits--was the country's primary evil. It, according to popular theory, had no redeeming value. But then we began to hear rumors of studies done in other countries that indicated alcohol was actually good for you--in small amounts. We snickered, "There must be a lot of drunks in those countries for studies like that to get published." Then U.S. studies backed up the studies done in those other countries, and we became believers that alcohol could be medicinal in low doses.
Now it's radiation's turn to lose its status as an absolute villain. Ed Hiserodt, the author, first explains how radiation came to be vilified. This was done via the government's use of something called Linear No-threshold Theory (LNT), a flawed method of determining whether something is dangerous. He explains that LNT works something like this: suppose we learned from studies that when 100 people jump off a 100-foot tower, all 100 people die. We also learn that when 100 people jump off a 50-foot tower, about 50 of them die or are critically injured. From these studies, we presume that we can generate a ratio to determine height fallen to death/injury rate. For instance, if 100 people jump from 25 feet, our ratio would indicate that 25 people would be either killed or critically injured, and for every 100 people to jump from a height of one foot, one person would die or be critically injured. Whoops? We don't normally see people keeling over after they slam-dunk a basketball, do we?
Though logic would tell you that the reasoning behind the ratio is sound, the ratio isn't verified by real-world experience. The same holds true for radiation sickness and deaths--for the most part. I say "for the most part" because the preponderance of all studies ever done on radiation, according to Hiserodt, show not only that small amounts of radiation are not harmful to your health, they actually are beneficial to your health. Repeat: though radiation can poison you and cause you to die, in small amounts it is beneficial to you. This beneficial effect is called hormesis.
Hormesis can be best explained in reference to vitamins. Take Vitamin A, for instance. Though we usually get enough Vitamin A from the food we eat to avoid getting night blindness, one of the main side effects of a deficiency of Vitamin A, we can often gain health benefits by using vitamin supplements to increase our ingestion of Vitamin A. This extra amount of Vitamin A makes us healthier overall and helps us fight off infections. But if we decide to ingest handfuls of Vitamin A, we would get very sick and likely die. Vitamin A in large amounts is a deadly poison.
Not Just Anecdotes
The book makes clear that the evidence behind the hormesis effect of small amounts of radiation is overwhelming. The studies covering various aspects of radiation hormesis included hundreds of millions of people. One of the more compelling studies of the effects of radiation took place in Japan. Japanese citizens near Nagasaki, where an atomic bomb was dropped during WWII, were required by their government to keep a log of their health for many years afterward. Not only did the people who were exposed to radioactive fallout not get sick and die as predicted, they were healthier than those who were not exposed to the fallout. Forty years following WWII, bomb survivors who had received less-than-lethal doses of radiation had less of all cancers than their unexposed peers, including leukemia (which had been thought to be caused by low-level exposure to radiation), and they lived longer.
Hiserodt's book goes on to explain how Americans are negatively affected by the government's reliance on Linear Nothreshold Theory: avoiding nuclear power (a power source arguably much safer and more plentiful than fossil fuels); forfeiting medical advances (higher live birth rates and fewer birth defects); adding unnecessary angst into our lives (he explains that radioactive "dirty bombs" aren't as dangerous as the public has been led to believe); and wasting money (our government is digging up "radioactive hot spots" for "safe" containment at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars, yet the sites emit less radioactivity than one would find in normal background radiation of large parts of the world). He also explains why, though governments around the world have acknowledged both the drawbacks of LNT and the benefits of radiation hormesis and are aiming to use that knowledge to improve health, the United States continues to adhere to antiquated and obviously untrue beliefs. (It comes down to scientists whose incomes depend upon LNT theory being true.)
The book, though heavy on science and studies, is a lively and even fun read. Hiserodt has an irreverent sense of humor that is on display throughout the book. For example, when he is explaining the almost hysteric
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|Publication:||The New American|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Oct 16, 2006|
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