Imagine a drug that protects your body from radiation damage. That would be a true wonder drug! It would completely revolutionize the use of radiation therapy for cancer.
But since we’re just imagining, let’s go all the way. Let’s say the drug is inexpensive and easy to take (you don’t have to inject it, or anything like that). And best of all, there are no adverse side effects. None.
In fact, when you take this drug, it actually provides additional health benefits.
Ridiculous, isn’t it? It’s inconceivable.
But that’s exactly what University of Pennsylvania researchers have come up with. Only it’s not a drug. It’s a food.
Before I tell you about the U. Penn research, let me tell you why it matters so much.
And I’ll start by asking you to imagine one more thing: A savings account from hell.
Here’s what makes it hellish: You can only make deposits, no withdrawals, and you DON’T want your balance to go up.
I’m not talking about banking, of course. This “savings” is radiation, not money.
Most of us experience mild radiation exposures throughout our lives. You get occasional dental x-rays. Maybe a chest x-ray here and there. Certain types of security scanners use x-rays. You even pick up a little radiation when you fly by jet.
Each of those exposures poses little risk individually.
But several years ago, scientists reported that the effect of repeated exposure is cumulative. So years of mild exposures can add up to considerable risk – especially for those who receive much more dangerous exposures through radiation therapy or, as we’ve seen recently in Japan, nuclear power accidents.
That’s the bad news.
The good news: U. Penn researchers now believe there’s a way you can actually make withdrawals from your radiation savings account.
Before and After
Most of us have heard of flaxseed — and a lot of us have tried it. But now we’re learning that its most dramatic benefit might be something we never even thought about.
When the U. Penn team gave flaxseed to mice (some got it before radiation exposure and some after exposure), twice as many of the mice survived compared to healthy mice that didn’t get flaxseed.
But the results went way beyond mere survival.
Flaxseed-fed mice had higher body weight, reduced lung inflammation (common in lung cancer patients treated with radiation), and lung fibrosis was significantly limited. (In lung fibrosis, lung tissue becomes stiff from collagen deposits — an irreversible condition.)
Most importantly, all these benefits occurred even in mice that were given flaxseed AFTER radiation exposure.
Researchers typically caution that results of an animal study are too preliminary to begin using a promising alternative treatment. But in this case the authors say that they’ve actually incorporated flaxseed into their own diets. And why not? Flaxseed has no adverse side effects, but it’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidant- rich lignans.
The U. Penn team has already started a flaxseed trial on cancer patients treated with radiation therapy. Needless to say, I’m going to follow that one closely. I don’t think we can overstate the positive effects it might have on cancer patients’ quality of life.
Jenny Thompson is the Director of the Health Sciences Institute and editor of the HSI e-Alert. Through HSI, she and her team uncover important health information and expose ridiculous health misinformation, most notably through the HSI e-Alert.
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