If you are like me, it seems like I am on a plane every month. From traveling back home to see family, to flying for work or vacation, I am always in and out of the airport and up in a plane. Plane travel can be quite taxing on the body as we know, not only disrupting sleep patterns, but increasing our chances of contracting a nasty cough or cold. The things we often don’t think about though is how dehydrating plane travel can be, and our radiation exposure when flying. These are two factors that shouldn’t cause too much concern if you are an infrequent traveler in good health, but if you are constantly on a plane, have any health issues or are pregnant, then it might be something to start thinking about. For me, one who travels often and is now pregnant, coming up with a plan of action became of the utmost importance. That is why I developed the essential smoothie for plane travel and radiation protection. It has since become a vital part of my healthy travel routine (in addition to always bringing my own food and snacks, refillable water bottle, and the essential oil On Guard by Doterra to support my immune system).
How much radiation am I exposed to when flying?
The average amount of radiation that one would be exposed to when flying within the US from east coast to west coast is 3.5 mrem. It breaks down to about 1 mrem of radiation exposure per 1,000 miles traveled. But this is a number that also increases with altitude, as well as latitude (the farther you are from the equator).
So what does that mean exactly? To put it into context, a chest x-ray typically gives a dose of 10 mrem, a pelvic x-ray gives a dose of 70 mrem, a mammogram is 72 mrem and a full-body CT gives a dose of 1,000 mrem. We are also exposed to a good amount of radiation (about 400 mrem) from nuclear medical procedures. Nuclear medicine imaging uses small amounts of radioactive materials called radiotracers that are typically injected into the bloodstream, inhaled or swallowed. These tests are commonly used for a wide array of health investigations to determine blood and oxygen flow, organ function, brain abnormalities, bone fractures and health, potential bleeding or infection sites, and investigations for cancer. You can see the whole list here. So as you can see, radiation exposure when flying is much less than medical procedures.
While your exposure from plane travel is minimal in comparison to medical procedures, its impact on health all has to do with the total amount of exposure. So if you are traveling frequently like me and are racking up the radiation exposure points, thinking about offsetting your exposure becomes important. This is even more relevant if you are or have been getting regular x-rays and imaging, or are a flight crew member.
Who should protect against radiation?
- frequent airline traveler
- pregnant while flying on planes
- flying with compromised health status
- live near nuclear power plants
- live near nuclear weapon fallout sites
- live near nuclear weapon testing sites
- if you have had radiation treatment
- have had or currently having x-rays
- have had or currently having nuclear medical imaging
- work as an x-ray technician, doctor or dentist
- increased exposure to radiation due to occupation (nuclear testing, nuclear cleanup, aerospace)
- airline employee
- had increased radiation exposure as a child from medical treatment or disaster
- wear a plutonium-powered cardiac pacemaker
* if you want to determine your exact overall radiation exposure, use this calculator
What is the concern about radiation exposure?
High doses of ionizing radiation clearly produce negative health consequences in humans, including, but not exclusively, cancer induction and genetic defects in future generations. At very low radiation doses the situation is much less clear, but the risks of low-dose radiation is a topic to be mindful of since our exposure is compounding due to varied screening tests for cancer, diagnostic testing, nuclear fall out sites, occupational radiation exposure, and frequent-flyer risks. Research has pinpointed that the effects of low dose long-term exposure to radiation, say from flying on planes and undergoing routine x-rays, may increase risk for cancers such as leukemia and breast cancer. This risk increases if the exposure began in childhood or was more concentrated in childhood. In particular, an increase in thyroid cancer was noted in these case studies.
- increased risk for breast cancer
- increased risk for thyroid cancer
- increased risk for leukemia
- increased risk for genetic abnormality
While the direct connection between flying on airlines and an increased risk of cancer is very low, if you happen to fall into other categories where your exposure is increased from other sources, or if your health is compromised, I would suggest being mindful. The best way to do this is by offsetting your exposure with nutrition and more specifically, with the essential smoothie for plane travel and radiation protection! How did you know this is where we were going…
How can we protect against radiation exposure?
The good news is that nature has given us an abundance of ways to protect the body from radiation damage. There are numerous foods and nutrients that we can consume to offset our inevitable exposure, which is exactly why I made the essential smoothie for plane travel and radiation protection. This smoothie is packed with hydrating elements (we can’t have health if we are dehydrated!) and carefully chosen nutrients that have proven in scientific studies to protect against radiation. Let’s take a look!
Coconut Water and Cucumber
Both foods are essential foods for hydrating our cells and infusing the system with key minerals. Coconut water is rich in electrolytes making it nature’s gaterode, which is ideal for keeping your muscles and heart happy on a flight. As for cucumbers, fresh extracts from cucumbers have recently been show to have both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. While research in this area must still be considered preliminary—since it’s only been conducted on animals in a lab setting—the findings are clear and consistent. Substances in fresh cucumber extracts help scavenge free radicals, help improve antioxidant status, and inhibit the activity of pro-inflammatory enzymes.
The polyphenol epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), derived from green tea, is a very powerful antioxidant, helping to protect our cells from being damaged. It has also been found to protect against whole-body radiation, blocking lipid oxidation and prolonging life span in animal studies. Green tea extracts can protect rapidly reproducing cells in the intestine and hair follicles from the damaging effects of radiation therapy, a form of radiation exposure far more intense than typical computed tomography (CT) doses—and one that more closely resembles the immediate effects of exposure to a nuclear plant disaster.
Pineapple and Lime
Pineapple and lime are great sources of vitamin C. Vitamin C, together with natural antioxidant systems such as glutathione, helps protect DNA and chromosomes from oxidative damage. Vitamin C also inhibits radiation-induced death of human blood cells. Remarkably, vitamin C can counteract radiation-induced “long-lived radicals” (LLRs) that destabilize chromosomes and induce cancerous mutations. The ability to counter both classical radicals and LLRs may be vital in preventing genetic damage from radiation and preventing cancer.
Not only does this fruit make this smoothie extra smooth and creamy in texture, avocadoes are rich in vitamin E. Like vitamin C, vitamin E quenches free radicals once they form, reducing their toxicity, an effect vital in radioprotection. Importantly, vitamin E enhances the growth-inhibiting effect of radiation on cancer tissue while simultaneously protecting normal cells. Animal studies show that vitamin E significantly protects mice from dying after exposure to otherwise lethal levels of gamma rays.
A remarkable study among X-ray technicians reveals just how powerful antioxidant vitamins can be. Radiology technicians are nominally protected by elaborate shielding, but they’re still exposed to unnaturally high levels of radiation over the course of a lifetime. As a result, they tend to have higher levels of tissue oxidation. But when a group of techs was supplemented with vitamins C (500 mg) and E (150 mg) daily for 15 weeks, their markers of tissue oxidation plummeted, and their levels of natural antioxidants (such as glutathione and glutathione peroxidase in red blood cells) rose significantly.
Ginger extracts boost glutathione activity and reduce lipid peroxidation by a separate and complementary mechanism.These extracts directly scavenge a host of free oxygen and nitrogen radicals immediately following their formation by radiation.
Spirulina was found to have very positive effects for radiation sickness when given to children exposed to radiation after the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Many studies have found that Spirulina can serve as a “radiation shield,” helping protect your thyroid gland, strengthen your immune system and blood, protect your kidneys, and bind to heavy radioactive isotopes so they can be more quickly eliminated from your body.
Much like its algae cousin spirulina, chlorella has protective effects as well. Chlorella’s high levels of chlorophyll have been shown to protect the body against ultraviolet radiation treatments while removing radioactive particles from the body.
How often should I drink the smoothie?
If you have daily exposure to radiation, try to drink the smoothie at least 4-5 times a week. If you are taking it as a precautionary measure for a airplane flight or for medical imaging or x-ray, drink the day prior, the day of, and the day after. If it seems too difficult to incorporate the smoothie in that manner, you can always take the chlorella and spirulina as a supplement, and even add in a green tea extract supplement as well (this is a good brand). These two supplements are excellent to take on a daily basis if you have ongoing exposure, or if you had acute exposure in the past, especially from radiation treatment.
The Essential Smoothie for Plane Travel and Radiation Protection
makes 2 small smoothies, or one large smoothie
- 1 cup coconut water
- 1 cup green tea, freshly brewed – I use Mighty Leaf brand
- 1 cup cucumber, chopped
- 1 cup pineapple
- juice of 1 lime
- 2 inches ginger, peeled
- 500 mg Chlorella/Spirulina (can add both or just one) – I use Onnit’s Spirulina Chlorella
- 1/2 avocado, medium
- 2 drops stevia or 1 tablespoon honey
Optional toppings: coconut shavings, sprouts, kiwi
Directions: Blend in a high-speed blender and enjoy!
Malhomme de la Roche H, Seagrove S, Mehta A, Divekar P, Campbell S, Curnow A. Using natural dietary sources of antioxidants to protect against ultraviolet and visible radiation-induced DNA damage: an investigation of human green tea ingestion. J Photochem Photobiol B. 2010 Nov 3;101(2):169-73.
Wambi CO, Sanzari JK, Sayers CM, et al. Protective effects of dietary antioxidants on proton total-body irradiation-mediated hematopoietic cell and animal survival. Radiat Res. 2009 Aug;172(2):175-86.
Weiss JF, Landauer MR. Protection against ionizing radiation by antioxidant nutrients and phytochemicals. Toxicology. 2003 Jul 15;189(1-2):1-20.
Annabi B, Lee YT, Martel C, Pilorget A, Bahary JP, Beliveau R. Radiation induced-tubulogenesis in endothelial cells is antagonized by the antiangiogenic properties of green tea polyphenol (-) epigallocatechin-3-gallate. Cancer Biol Ther. 2003 Nov-Dec;2(6):642-9.
Uchida S, Ozaki M, Suzuki K, Shikita M. Radioprotective effects of (-)-epigallocatechin 3-O-gallate (green-tea tannin) in mice. Life Sci. 1992;50(2):147-52.
Lee HJ, Kim JS, Moon C, et al. Modification of gamma-radiation response in mice by green tea polyphenols. Phytother Res. 2008 Oct;22(10):1380-3.
Jagetia GC, Baliga MS, Venkatesh P, Ulloor JN. Influence of ginger rhizome (Zingiber officinale Rosc) on survival, glutathione and lipid peroxidation in mice after whole-body exposure to gamma radiation. Radiat Res. 2003 Nov;160(5):584-92.
Jagetia G, Baliga M, Venkatesh P. Ginger (Zingiber officinale Rosc.), a dietary supplement, protects mice against radiation-induced lethality: mechanism of action. Cancer Biother Radiopharm. 2004 Aug;19(4):422-35.
Sharma A, Haksar A, Chawla R, et al. Zingiber officinale Rosc. modulates gamma radiation-induced conditioned taste aversion. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2005 Aug;81(4):864-70.
Qishen P, Guo BJ, Kolman A. Radioprotective effect of extract from Spirulina platensis in mouse bone marrow cells studied by using the micronucleus test. Toxicol Lett. 1989 Aug;48(2):165-9.
Cancer risks attributable to low doses of ionizing radiation: Assessing what we really know. David J. Brennera,b, Richard Dollc, Dudley T. Goodheadd, Eric J. Halla, Charles E. Lande, John B. Littlef, Jay H. Lubing, Dale L. Prestonh, R. Julian Prestoni, Jerome S. Puskinj, Elaine Rone, Rainer K. Sachsk, Jonathan M. Sametl, Richard B. Setlowm, and Marco Zaidern