When you hear the phrase “radiation exposure” what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Fall out from nuclear power plants? Or from nuclear war?
Maybe you think smaller, like medical testing and x-rays.
How long does it take you to get to cell phones and air travel? Or even bananas? Because those things all expose us to radiation every day too.
It turns out, we’re in contact with far more radiation on a regular basis than most folks realize. And it could be affecting your health in ways no one ever anticipated.
How much radiation exposure is safe?
At first glance, the statistics seem straight-forward. We measure in mSv, or millisieverts. And it takes 1,000 mSv to bring on acute radiation sickness, while 3,000 mSv can kill you.
But massive amounts of radiation exposure aren’t the only concern. Because according to the World Nuclear Association, exposure to 100 mSv or more in a single year increases your cancer risk.
Simple right? Not necessarily.
The truth is radiation exposure is cumulative, which means it adds up over time. And we’re being exposed to more of it now than ever before.
Some experts swear that the body can heal from anything less than the annual 100 mSv exposure which everyone agrees can cause problems. They maintain that nothing under .01 mSv should concern us.
But other experts insist there’s no such thing as a safe exposure level.
The truth is, since constant, low-level radiation is a relatively new phenomenon no one is quite sure what the long-term effects will be on your health. What we do know, though, is that radiation can do more damage than researchers originally thought.
And it’s not just about a high, one-time dose. New research indicates radiation exposure may increase your risk not only of several cancers, but of the systemic inflammation that’s behind chronic disease, and several forms of dementia, as well.
5 ways you encounter radiation every day
You don’t have to live near a nuclear plant or work in an x-ray lab to encounter significant amounts of radiation. It’s part of everyday life in the 21st century.
Following are five ways you encounter radiation every day.
1. Natural gas:
From your hot water heater to your stove, natural gas can play an important role in the running of your home. But it’s also giving off .09 mSv per year.
2. Air travel:
Flying from coast to coast could cost you more than the price of a plane ticket. Each trip delivers .04 mSv of radiation.
When possible reduce your radiation exposure by taking the train, driving or telecommuting to your destination instead.
3. X-rays and other medical tests:
While all imaging tests deliver a dose of radiation, the exact amount depends on which test you take. A dental x-ray is .005 mSv , and a chest x-ray will run you .1.
Be wary of CT scans, because they can deliver a full 10-14 mSv per test! Plus, doctors have been ordering CT scans in record numbers. They’ve gone from three million tests nationally in 1980 to 70 million in 2007.
And many of those scans are unnecessary. So don’t be shy about asking your doctor about alternatives. Luckily, as researchers are realizing these diagnostic tools aren’t completely harmless, responsible physicians are using them more sparingly and as a last resort.
4. “Smart” electronics:
Whether or not long term exposure to smart phones, tablets, watches and other smart devices can actually cause cancer isn’t likely to be resolved today. But what is clear is smart technology gives off low-level radiation, and contributes to the cumulative effect on your body and your health.
Look for ways to reduce your radiation exposure such as using a landline when possible, using the speakerphone function on your smartphone and switching to “dumb” accessories and appliances.
For more on this topic be sure to read, “The radiation danger you can’t afford to ignore!”
No, you didn’t imagine it. Yes, we really did mention bananas earlier.
It turns out the potassium your body needs to function properly is naturally radioactive. But don’t worry; this one is more of a curiosity than a problem.
Each banana will run you about .001 mSv of radiation. A minuscule amount. And since you really do need the potassium, keep enjoying your bananas. Just make sure your next x-ray is necessary.
Radiation exposure can cause damage to our cells and DNA. We don’t know yet what the long term effects our increased exposure to low levels of radiation will be, but it makes sense to try to limit our contact whenever possible.