It’s summer, which for many people means it’s time to travel. I’ve had a lot of questions from people regarding the issue of whether full-body airport scanners (the big space elevator-looking things parked at more and more airport security lines) are safe, especially for people who may be more susceptible to radiation such as those who are pregnant or have a history of cancer. Of course there is a HUGE amount of controversy surrounding this subject ranging from an individual’s right to privacy to the issue of national security to the health risks of radiation exposure. There is an excellent excerpt from the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association titled “Pandora’s Boxes: Questions Unleashed in the Airport Scanner Debate” that sums up the health-related issues pretty well. If you have time to read the entire text I really recommend it. If you don’t have time (because you’re at the airport frantically deciding which security line to stand in) here is my 5-second summary:
- The type of radiation used in most of these machines is likely to be carcinogenic (meaning it may cause cancer, probably by damaging DNA), but the doses are supposedly very low. This is still not very reassuring to me since I am already exposed to small doses of daily radiation from my cell phone, wireless laptop, etc. and radiation exposure is cumulative.
- The common estimate is that it would take 1,000 scans in an airport scanner to equal the amount of radiation you would receive in 1 chest x-ray. However, the methods used to calculate this estimate have been questioned by studies including several performed by scientists at the University of California San Francisco.
- The authors of the text were unable to find any large-scale studies done on humans or animals using this technology. That is not a good sign – especially for something that is being placed in airports nationwide!
Another tidbit that I found in other articles was that scientists are questioning the safety of radiation that appears to only penetrate skin-deep and how that could lead to skin cancer in individuals who are predisposed. To put it in perspective, airport scanners are not exposing people to enough radiation to cause skin to burn the way that prolonged exposure to UV radiation (sunlight) would but it is something to consider when looking at overall radiation exposure over a lifetime.
With all that said, here is what I do when I’m heading through airport security:
- I decline the airport scanner line and instead ask for the standard metal detector/pat down treatment. Many people don’t realize that this is a perfectly legal option and will not put you on the “suspicious activities” list! You have a right to refuse to walk through something of questionable safety. The pat down takes an extra 5-10 minutes so plan accordingly in your travel timing. If you think this is a crazy and extreme thing to do, you can be encouraged by the fact that when I recently flew while still pregnant and refused the scanner line, the female TSA agent who did my pat down quietly said to me “Good for you honey, and good for your baby. You should refuse this every time, pregnant or not. These scanners are not good. I don’t like working around them all day.”
- I try to remember to take a dose of a good multivitamin and eat a few Brazil nuts prior to travel. The multivitamin will supply zinc and B vitamins including folate and the nuts supply selenium. Zinc, B vitamins (especially folate), and selenium are three very important nutrients for DNA repair. Even if you refuse the full-body scanner line, there is still exposure to radiation simply from the altitude at which the plane is flying.
- Do what you can to support the immune system which is your surveillance system to help track down and destroy any pre-cancerous cells (not to mention bacteria and viruses you may be exposed to while traveling). Things you can do to support your immune system include: drinking water, avoiding sugar, eating protein, getting sufficient rest, taking vitamin C and/or zinc lozenges, and utilizing immune-boosting herbs such as echinacea and elderberry. One thing I DON’T recommend is taking Airborne products for travel. The packaging is cute and it’s a nice idea but the last time I checked they all contained Splenda, an artificial sweetener that contains chlorine, as well as another artificial sweetener called Acesulfame Potassium.
Most importantly, I would say not to stress out too much about the whole issue! Traveling in and of itself is stressful and overly stressing out about exposure to small amounts of radiation can also cause damage to DNA. If you’re reading this after your thousandth trip through the full-body airport scanner and are worried your skin is going to mutate into its own person and walk away, please take comfort in the fact that the body is very smart and if you supply it with what it needs, it knows how to repair itself, all the way down to your DNA.
June 27, 2012 No Comments
I realized today that I’ve been writing so much lately about pregnancy, babies, and women’s health that I better balance it out and write about something manly lest this become a girls only blog! Here are a few foods that balance testosterone levels and help to keep a manly man the way nature intended – you guessed it – manly.
- Butter: Yes, I am famous for going on and on about the health benefits of butter and allowing my toddler to eat slices of butter like they’re candy but there’s a reason for that. Butter from healthy cows that have been fed grass instead of grain is rich in CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), the only trans fat found in nature and one of the most manly fatty acids out there. In fact, if you take a break from reading this blog and do a search on CLA I bet you will come upon a host of bodybuilding websites, and what is more manly than a bunch of overly tan men, greased up with Crisco, dancing around on a stage and posing in tiny underpants? But back to butter. It contains CLA, which helps to balance levels of insulin, estrogen, and testosterone. And this is why it’s a popular supplement for bodybuilders. Butter also contains activated vitamin A, which is necessary for production of testosterone.
- Grassfed beef: This is another great source of CLA and also a wonderful way to get plenty of protein and zinc – two precursors needed for testosterone production. Please note that I am making a distinction here between grassfed meat and butter and regular commercial meat and butter. Sadly, commercial cows are raised in feedlots, fed grain that lowers their levels of CLA (cows get CLA from the fermentation of grass in their gut done by bacteria that are killed off when feedlot cows are fed grain and antibiotics), and in some cases are even given doses of synthetic estrogen to make them grow faster and produce more milk. These factors end up having the opposite effect on testosterone and they are the reason that foods containing saturated fat have such a bad reputation these days.
- White button mushrooms: Aromatase is an enzyme that turns androgens (man hormones) into estrogens (lady hormones). This is most important in the development of hormone dependent cancers, which is why foods that have anti-aromatase activity are heavily studied so that drug companies can figure out how to make drugs with the same activity. White button mushrooms are one of the foods that you will find in these studies, though I suspect that most mushrooms have the same benefits (white buttons are just the cheapest, so probably they are the easiest to study in large amounts – that is purely my speculation though). If you’re going to go off the deep end on eating mushrooms, make sure that you cook them first (in grassfed butter!). Eating raw mushrooms in large amounts can expose you to a toxin inherent in mushrooms which is broken down when they are exposed to heat.
- Cruciferous vegetables: This includes broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, bok choy, radish, turnip, and watercress. Cruciferous vegetables contain sulfur-based compounds including one called I3C (indole-3-carbinol) that help to balance hormone levels and detoxify excess estrogen. These compounds are widely studied for their anti-cancer effects, and when I worked in a clinic we used to give men a supplement containing these sulfur-based compounds to help them with urinary frequency problems. Some of them came back reporting an increase in function in the “love area”, which I’m guessing would be due to a balancing of their testosterone levels!
- Pumpkin seeds: Rich in zinc (another important nutrient for balancing hormone levels), pumpkin seeds also contain phytochemicals that are especially nourishing to the prostate. The two studies I read found that pumpkin seed oil effectively reduced prostate size in cases of BPH (benign prostatic hyperplasia – also known as an enlarged prostate) that were caused by hormone imbalance. And for all you coconut lovers out there – I found a study from Cuba that showed coconut oil to have the same benefits on BPH!
Ladies – I know the focus of this blog was more on men, but keep in mind that testosterone levels are important for women too! In fact, testosterone is the single most important hormone related to sex drive for women. So you may want to re-read this blog with that in mind :).
July 6, 2011 2 Comments