Orthodox healthcare, like government, can take forever to update flawed doctrine. History is full of examples of this. German physician Ignaz Philipp Semmelweis was ridiculed and ostracized for recommending physicians wash their hands after inspecting cadavers before they delivered babies. He was ostracized so badly he ended up in a mental institution where he died of gangrene from a severe beating. Current thoughts on the assumed dangers of low dose radiation are similarly entrenched into healthcare education and permeate throughout our culture in the form of radiophobia.
The Journal of Nuclear Medicine published an article in January 2017 disputing that low-dose medical imaging x-rays are dangerous. In fact, the article argues low dose x-rays, as found in spine x-rays and CT scans, are not only safe but potentially beneficial. Dr. Jeffry Siegel et al argue “data are more consistent with a radiation hormetic (protective) model than with the linear no-threshold (harm at any dose) model.” For over 70 years, medicine followed a Linear No-Threshold Hypothesis (LNTH) that assumes ALL x-ray radiation has damaging cumulative properties and is bad no matter how little you receive.
What this means is that no matter how big or small the dose of x-ray radiation you are exposed to, its effects are always negative. The more x-ray radiation you are exposed to over time the worse your chances for cancer. Even a very small amounts of x-ray radiation like background x-ray radiation or medical imaging x-rays is assumed to contribute to your risk of cancer.
To better understand the LNTH, think of a 5-gallon bucket representing your body. The sand represents x-ray radiation you are exposed to over your entire lifetime. It never gets emptied. The sand includes a sprinkle of background x-ray radiation, a pinch of x-ray radiation from chiropractic spine images, or a shovel full of cancer treatment x-ray radiation. The outdated LNTH assumes that just like sand being put into the bucket, the negative effects of x-rays accumulate regardless of the rate of exposure. No matter how slow you were exposed to x-rays, your risk for cancer increased. In the same way, no matter how slow you put sand in the bucket, eventually the sand would overflow regardless of how fast you put the sand in. This LNTH is the reason for teaching medical doctors and chiropractors and radiation technicians to use as little x-ray radiation as possible to take x-ray images.
X-ray radiation does not affect the body like this, however. The LNTH lacks any scientific support. Despite this, it has remained a foundation of orthodox radiation protocols and policy. Dr. Jeffry Siegel et al sites numerous studies that contradict the LNTH. The problem is that the LNTH was assumed correct via evidence-supported research that shows the dangers of high-dose x-ray radiation. It is clear to see the dangers of high-dose radiation but no such dangers have been observed or tested for low-dose radiation. In fact, there is a lot of research that shows the protective factors of low dose x-ray radiation exposure. There is also no evidence to show the proposed lifetime cumulative effect of x-ray radiation. Both of these claims are demonstrably erroneous.
X-ray radiation can be better understood when comparing it to another form of ionizing radiation, ultraviolet radiation. UV radiation like x-ray radiation is often assumed to possess only negative and dangerous properties. This is not true. Human exposure to UV radiation in low controlled doses can be very beneficial. When exposed to UV radiation the skin responds by producing vitamin D, AKA the sunshine vitamin. Overexposure to UV radiation is shown to causes burns and increase the risk of skin cancer. Like with x-ray radiation, the rate of exposure is more important when considering risks of exposure. Regular low-dose exposure to UV doesn’t increase your risk for a sunburn. You are actually less likely to get sunburned with regular low-dose UV exposure. Correspondingly, many doctors and research support the idea that regular low-dose exposure to UV or x-ray radiation will not greatly increase your risk of cancer because they have a protective factor instead of a cumulative negative effect.
Regular exposure to UV radiation in low doses where you do not burn helps produce a darker pigmentation in the skin that protects you from burning in the future. X-ray radiation appears to have similar properties. You are exposed to UV radiation virtually every time you go outside. You are also exposed to background x-ray radiation every day even if you don’t go outside. Research has shown that there are significant differences in the amount of background radiation in different environments. Contrary to the LNTH the populations exposed to much higher background x-ray radiation do no experience higher rates of cancer, but often less cancer.
It’s important to understand that the immune system is the primary force that prevents cancer from taking over an organism. Cancer generally develops in people with suppressed immune function. Research has revealed that low dose x-ray radiation actually stimulates the immune system.
When asking the question “Are X-rays dangerous?” you have to take into account how the human body responds to stress. Exercise damages muscle cells. Excessive stress on the muscle can cause permanent injury but regular “low dose” stress can result in significant muscle growth. A few genetic alterations (mutations) caused by low dose x-rays are dwarfed by the mutations caused by regular metabolic processes in the human body. For example, a CT scan causes about 10-100 mutations in each cell compared to rates a million times higher in each cell during normal cellular metabolism. This means that compared to low dose radiation of a CT, the amount of potentially cancerous mutations in the cell is far more likely to come from normal cellular activity than a low-dose x-ray exposure in a CT scan.
The January 2017 article in The Journal of Nuclear Medicine provided a great deal of research to support the need for a hormetic (protective) model to determine proper imaging using x-ray radiation. This would prevent the underuse of necessary x-ray radiation for imaging to avoid misdiagnosis. We at Corrective Chiropractic agree that the evidence supports avoiding the outdated and flawed LNTH. We feel that obtaining the correct diagnosis is paramount. Using insufficient exposures or avoid necessary imaging due to radiophobia serves no beneficial purpose and is far riskier than the alternative.
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