Radiation Exposure and Protection

Determining whether or not radiation exposure is biologically hazardous can be extremely confusing. There are many different units of measurement associated with radiation, and many different biological factors to consider. For example, the same dose of radiation can cause different effects on the intestines than on the lungs. Additionally, the same dose of radiation can be harmless to the skin, while being lethal if ingested or inhaled. Finally, different types of radioactive emissions can penetrate biological tissue to different depths, causing different levels of damage. This and the next few articles, will in a simple and common terms, explain exactly what radiation does to human tissue. Rather than seeing a meaningless number in a Geiger-counter, you will understand whether or not you are at serious risk.

 

The physics of radiation

Atomic nuclei consist of protons and neutrons. Neutrons, which have no electric charge, exist to prevent the positively charged protons from repelling each other out of the nucleus. In stable atoms, protons and neutrons exist in such quantities that forces in the nucleus are balanced, and nothing is ejected from the nucleus. However, anything that disturbs the natural ratio of protons to neutrons can cause the nucleus to become unstable. Atoms with unstable nuclei are called radioactive particles. When this happens, the unstable nucleus ejects any excess protons, neutrons, or energy in order to make itself stable again. These ejections are what we call radiation, or radioactive emissions.

Biologically, the best way to think of a radioactive emission is as an extremely microscopic bullet that penetrates cells and DNA. There are three different types of bullet, each with a different size and velocity: alpha, beta, and gamma.

 

Alpha radiation

An alpha emission consists of 2 protons and 2 neutrons bound together into a sphere. This is the largest bullet, and thus the most physically damaging. However, this also makes it the slowest and least energetic form of radiation. Alpha emissions can rupture cellular membranes, causing immediate cell death. Fortunately, alpha emissions can only travel a few centimeters through the air, and can only penetrate through one or two cells.[1] This means that they are completely blocked by paper, clothing, and skin; and are only dangerous if inhaled or swallowed. If radioactive particles that emit alpha radiation are taken into the bloodstream or into the intestines, then arteries, veins, and epithelial cells can be destroyed.[2] Wearing thick clothing and a gas-mask will protect you from almost any dose of alpha radiation. When radioactive, Uranium, Radium, and Bismuth are alpha emitters.

 

Beta radiation

A beta emission consists of either a positron or an electron that is ejected from the interior of a neutron. These specific positrons and electrons can be thought of as types of quarks, which are the particles that make up protons and neutrons. Therefore, beta emissions are extremely small bullets. They cannot damage cells directly, like alpha emissions can. Unfortunately, due to their smaller size and higher energy, beta emissions can penetrate the body much deeper than alpha. They cannot be blocked by clothing, and can penetrate into the germ layer of skin cells.[3] Because they are electrically charged, beta emissions can ionize molecules within cells. This creates free radicals, and can also cause breaks in DNA. Although beta emission can cause tumor growth in the skin, it can only be immediately lethal if ingested or inhaled. When radioactive, Strontium, Cesium, Tritium, Carbon, Phosphorus, and Nickel are beta emitters.

 

Gamma radiation

Gamma rays travel as electromagnetic waves. This is the type of radiation that can penetrate through several feet of concrete, or 5 inches through lead. It is the smallest and most energetic bullet, and can easily cause multiple double-strand-breaks in DNA as it travels entirely through a human body. This leads to cell death and tumor growth.[4] Gamma is the only type of radiation that can be immediately lethal even if not ingested or inhaled. When radioactive, Iodine, Barium, Cobalt, and Iridium are gamma emitters. As Cesium decays into radioactive Barium after it has emitted its beta particle, Cesium can also be considered an indirect gamma emitter.

 

What is dangerous?

When you hear that there is a “radiation leak,” you now understand that the first thing to consider is the type of radiation that you will encounter: alpha, beta, or gamma. You will know by the type of atom that is said to have been released, as indicated by the lists above. Now that you know the type of bullet, the next thing to consider is the quantity of them, and where they are going. Our next article will tabulate exposures and doses, and how they correspond to physical injury – check back with us!

If you have any question about this blog and/or the natural remedies in general, feel free to leave your question or comment in the section provided below. We love to hear from you.

Jeff Riddle and Paul Tsui

 

[1] Graf F, Fahrer J, Maus S, Morgenstern A, Bruchertseifer F, et al. (2014) DNA Double Strand Breaks as Predictor of Efficacy of the Alpha-Particle Emitter Ac-225 and the Electron Emitter Lu-177 for Somatostatin Receptor Targeted Radiotherapy. PLoS ONE 9(2): e88239. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0088239

[2] Phys Med Biol. 2001 Jul;46(7):1963-74. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11474937

[3] Acta Oncol. 2009;48(2):308-13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18766999

[4] Breast Cancer Res Treat. 1998 Sep;51(1):83-95. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9877031

The information provided here has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. It is for education purpose only and not meant to replace medical advise. As always, if you smoke and suffer any of the symptoms described you should go to your medical physician as soon as you can.

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