When I was pregnant with my first child, I was still teaching third grade at a Catholic school. I have a number of vivid memories from that time, when my journey to real food and natural living was on its first shaky baby steps (like switching from margarine to butter and letting my husband clean the toilet with the toxic cleaners so I didn’t breathe the fumes).
The first was the only time I got truly sick to my stomach, the day I woke up at 4:30 a.m. to take my husband to the airport and didn’t know enough about eating protein (and eating and eating all the time) but went right to school. Not my best morning!
The next was my consternation over writing a letter to my principal informing him of the pregnancy (and late April due date and all that would entail), only to find out that, as perhaps the most perceptive male ever born, he already knew –just by looking at my eyes, even before we had even told all the new grandparents the happy news.
It was that same sort of “elder matriarch of the tribe” wisdom that was the framework for my third vivid memory. My principal noticed me stationed in front of the microwave in the teachers’ lounge, dutifully watching my leftovers rotate and magically warm, my then-quite-pregnant belly less than a foot from the machine. He scolded me soundly – I don’t remember the exact words, but his message was clear in a tone that only a principal can employ.
At the time, I thought it was a rather overprotective and perhaps foolish gesture, but I had the sense enough to back away.
Now, with a microwave that came with the house and mainly serves as a storage space for my cast iron pan, I think we’d be pretty much on the same page on that hesitancy. (I wrote about what I learned about microwave use back in 2009 as we took tiny baby steps to reducing our usage, which resulted in surprising benefits of a microwave-free life.)
Although we’re really looking at radiation from flying in an airplane today, we must begin and end with everyday life – you’ll see why as we get going (and why you should keep reading even if you’re not flying anytime soon).
Note and update: Many in the comments have disagreed with the premise of the post completely, that there is no need or no way to “detox” from radiation after flying – that radiation isn’t something that can “sit” in your body that you can or need to shed later. However, if radiation is going to harm your body, antioxidants are still a good thing to fight the effects of radiation. So…enjoy the post anyway, but be sure to read the comments as well. Thanks!
Are X-Rays Used in Airport Security?
There are a number of technologies regularly used to detect weapons and other means of destruction in airports: the now-old-fashioned metal detector, backscatter full-body scanners and the newest rendition, millimeter wave scanners.
“Backscatter machines…send low-energy X-rays to bounce off a passenger’s body. Millimeter wave scanners emit energy more akin to microwaves. Both see through clothing to produce a 3-D image of the person standing in the machine.” (source)
As far as how much radiation is honestly affecting an air traveler, “… people absorb less radiation from airport X-ray backscatter scanner than they do while standing in line waiting for the scan itself.” (source)
What’s wrong with waiting in line? Does it have to do with proximity to the machine…or just standing on the surface of the earth?
Why I Laughed at How People Downplayed the Risks of those “New” TSA Scanning Machines
As of June 1, 2013, all the backscatter scanning devices have been removed from U.S. airports for privacy reasons (they were already banned in Europe for health concerns). (source)
These machines used low levels of X-ray technology, bouncing the rays off the person but returning a very detailed, clothing-less image that was often called “virtual strip searching.”
When they were first widely used, officials downplayed any potential radiation risk by saying things like, “Passengers are exposed to just as much radiation from the flight itself as the new scanners…” That never comforted me, because it would be just as easy to say, “New scanners double exposure to radiation!” It’s all about how you spin a statistic, isn’t it?
The TSA firmly maintains that the backscatter machines were perfectly safe and that privacy concerns were the sole reason for their removal. The machines are in storage and may be back in use if software can remedy the “too much information” problems with the body images.
Most backscatter machines have been replaced with the new millimeter wave scanners. 700 are in use in the U.S.; most other countries do not use full body scanners of any kind. Millimeter wave scanners emit radio waves similar to cell phones and microwaves and have raised practically no health concerns…at least in mainstream circles. (source)
Nonetheless, there are many people who are wary of or completely opposed to the waves emitted from cell phones, wireless Internet, and microwaves. A quick search for “EMF risks” brings up a number of questionable studies on our wireless world and the electric and magnetic waves with which we are all constantly bombarded.
Ionizing radiation, the kind used in radiation therapy for cancer, impacts DNA and has been shown to increase cancer risk. Non-ionizing radiation, what you encounter from cell phones, microwaves, and airport scanners, cannot change one’s DNA. It is thought to be a non-factor in cancers, but recent research has shown that cell phone use does change some physiological factors in the brain, so we know that the waves do affect humans, we just don’t understand how yet. (source)
Exposure to high levels of magnetic fields may increase risk of childhood leukemia, but it seems to me that an airport security check would not significantly increase even a child’s exposure to EMFs beyond normal daily life.
So if you’re flying on a plane, you can worry less about the health risks of the security checks and more about whether you’ll be able to gather up all your things at the end and make your flight on time.
The Real Source of Radiation When you Fly on a Plane
I won’t make you wait for the answer: it’s exploding stars and the sun itself.
Flying so high in Earth’s atmosphere exposes airline travelers to cosmic and solar radiation, simply from being that much closer to stars exploding (which are still outside the solar system) and sun flares. A 14-hour flight has a bonus dose of radiation slightly less than a quarter of that needed for a mammogram. (source)
Although that statistic is meant again to downplay the risks, mammograms aren’t exactly something people are supposed to have very often. For frequent flyers, that can really add up.
So although your heart rate has no reason to go up while you go through the security check, you might start to worry once take-off has been successfully completed and you are fired toward the sun at breakneck speed…want to know how to get the “radiation insurance policy” and “radiation cleanup crew” for before and after your flight?
How to Prepare and Protect Yourself from Radiation During an Airplane Flight
There are practical measures you can take to resist the harmful effects of radiation from any potential scanner hazards as well as the dose you’ll get while up in the air.
1. Fly at Night
You reduce your risk of radiation by 99% just by flying at night – with the sun on the other side of the world, its flares are much less of a concern to your body.
If you can’t fly at night, shoot for the ends of the day rather than high noon whenever possible. (source)
EDIT 3/29/14: One knowledgeable commenter said that cosmic radiation isn’t going to change in relation to the earth’s position toward or away from the sun, so night flying may not help. Further sourcing needed!
2. Consume Antioxidants
If cancer is the risk when encountering radiation, antioxidants are the antidote, literally. Your body will have more soldiers in its battle against cell mutation if you’re packed full of antioxidants, which are found naturally in many foods, particularly:
- Kidney and pinto beans
- Artichokes (cooked)
- Apples (especially Red Delicious, Granny Smith, and Gala)
- Russet potatoes
(source: Web MD)
Dr. Mercola recommends taking 2-8 mg of astaxanthin every day, a potent antioxidant carotenoid found in marine foods. One should start at least 3 weeks before flying on a plane (frequent flyers can use daily/consistently). It can even potentially help protect your skin from sunburn/damage. (source)
EDIT 3/29/14: Again, a reader with a background in X-ray technology says that there’s no way to obtain protection from any potential cell damage before exposure, but antioxidants might help afterward.
3. Opt out of full body scanners
If backscatter machines come back or if the new machines still make you nervous, you can opt out of them and ask for a pat down search instead (although make sure someone you trust is nearby as some people have had experiences much worse than low radiation exposure because of sinful TSA employees who took advantage of the manual procedures).
How to Detox your Body from Radiation – and Who Should Bother
The news that backscatter machines are no more and that the new machines are as safe as microwaves is all very encouraging, and although the fact that so much radiation exposure happens just while sitting on a plane is a bit frightening, what worries me the most about the research presented in this post gets right back to everyday life.
Just by living on the earth, by being exposed without consent to countless wireless Internet signals, cell phone calls and magnetic fields from power lines and radio waves, our bodies are absorbing various forms of radiation and other invisible waves every second of the day.
While most research shows that all that has little impact on cancer, if I’ve learned one thing on this natural health journey, it’s that we don’t know what we don’t understand until it’s too late. What we don’t know can usually hurt us.
So should everyone take measures to strengthen their systems against EMFs and radiation?
Should you be a little extra careful after taking an airplane flight, particularly if it’s lengthy or during the daytime? I will from now on.
There are a myriad of options here – don’t feel that you have to do every single one. Just pick a few and make a short list for pre- and post-flight procedures for yourself.
Sea vegetables like kelp, kombu and dulse are high in sodium alginate which can reduce absorption of radioactive materials in the intestine. They are also usually a good source of natural iodine, which helps the body resist absorbing radioactive iodine (this may be more for actual radiation poisoning than the kind exposed to on a flight however).
Anti-Radiation Foods to Eat
Certain foods have a protective effect against radiation in the body, including:
- leafy greens, celery, parsley, sprouts (high in chlorophyll) (Learn how to make a DIY sprouting kit)
- spirulina, chlorella (yaeyama) and alfalfa (high in chlorophyll)
- apples, guavas, plums, gooseberries, oranges and other citrus fruits that are high in pectin (or pectin powder supplements)
- nutritional yeast
- Vitamin E
- olive oil in large quantities
- garlic and onions
- potassium and magnesium spray might be a good idea for general health. need to be in balance – eat bananas and potato skins for potassium and leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and black beans for magnesium. Many people in the U.S. are low in magnesium; a
- some recommend a macrobiotics diet (again for more severe radiation poisoning), which cuts meat, dairy and processed foods and emphasizes whole grains and fresh vegetables.
To make a clay detox bath, toss a palmful of clay into water as hot as you can stand it and soak for 15-20 minutes (or more if you need a relaxing rest, too!). I like to read a magazine and enjoy the peace and quiet. Clay has a multitude of other uses and is actually a mainstay in our own natural medicine cabinet.
EDIT: The X-ray tech reader stated that X-rays don’t stay in the body at all, so in fact no detoxing is needed or helpful with airport scanners…but maybe for the stress and germs encountered with travel, a clay bath might still be a good idea! 😉
Is Detoxing Even Real?
I came across a note at snopes.com as I was reading about oil pulling the other day which threw me for a loop – it said that all forms of detoxification are myths and “the bane of real medical science for many years.” I’ve been immersed in the natural world long enough that “detoxing” is a totally accepted word in my vocabulary, and I had no idea that people call into question the idea that our bodies need help detoxing beyond what our and kidneys naturally do, or the validity of detox claims.
Unfortunately, it seems that the likes of WedMD and Medical News Today think detoxing (especially through food) is akin to snake oil, which is to say a made-up malady with made-up fixes, sold together to gullible people.
None of them talked directly about clay though. Honestly, I’ve heard enough stories of near-miraculous healing that included detoxing that I’m not ready to write it off yet. Any thoughts on that, KSers?
MY List for Pre- and Post-Flight
Detoxing may or may not be real (eye roll) but foods and supplements that have a myriad of health benefits beyond radiation protection/detox certainly aren’t going to hurt anything. Here’s what I plan on having the fam do next time we fly:
A month before flying:
- Eat more antioxidant foods
- Consider an astaxanthin supplement
After flying on a plane:
- Take kelp supplements for at least a month; kelp powder is something we include in smoothies once a week or so now, so that’s not a huge deal to increase the frequency
- Take a clay detox bath once or twice and/or a foot soak
- Take clay supplements internally as well
- Make some sprouts – why not? It’s something I should do more regularly for the chlorophyll and enzymes anyway!
I know sometimes it seems like there are too many things to watch out for, like if we really avoided all the bad things we would neither eat nor drink anything and have no fun, ever. You just have to take a deep breath, lift your family up to God and know that we can only do our best in each situation. We take baby steps and we realize that our bodies will be able to handle quite a bit of junk and detoxify itself.
But it never hurts to know a few extra precautions if they can fit easily into your life.