Odd, counter-intuitive finding re: radiation
August 24, 2002 3:18 PM   Subscribe

Thanks, Robot Wisdom.
posted by grumblebee at 3:20 PM on August 24, 2002

Is CRT monitor radiation in that low-dose category? If it is, us mefites may be around for a long time.
posted by fatbobsmith at 3:50 PM on August 24, 2002

"Ever been to Utah? Ra-di-a-tion. Yes, indeed. You hear the most outrageous lies about it. Half-baked goggle-box do-gooders telling everybody it's bad for you. Pernicious nonsense! Everybody could stand a hundred chest x-rays a year. They ought to have them, too. When they canceled the project it almost did me in. One day my mind was full to bursting. The next day - nothing. Swept away. But I'll show them." - J. Frank Parnell, Driver '64 Chevy Malibu in Repo Man.
posted by birdherder at 4:04 PM on August 24, 2002


I'm gonna out live all of you!
posted by Lord Chancellor at 4:16 PM on August 24, 2002

This probably explains why my home town, site of the Hanford Nuclear Reactor, is populated almost entirely by old people. I always just assumed they were 28 year-olds made to look prematurely young, but perhaps they are in fact many hundreds of years old.

The article is not very specific; does anybody have any good guesses as to why it prevents cancer in low doses?
posted by Hildago at 5:48 PM on August 24, 2002

So, does this mean that Radithor is going to make a comeback and start competing with Coke's bottled water hegemony?
posted by ursus_comiter at 5:49 PM on August 24, 2002

Hildago: Correct me if I'm wrong here, but my guess is that it does something similar to what chemotherapy does in theory, killing off the cancerous cells without damaging the healthy cells beyond repair.
posted by fatbobsmith at 6:04 PM on August 24, 2002

... so it is true: Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger.
posted by nathan_teske at 6:06 PM on August 24, 2002

Umm.. correlation doesn't imply causation, and as far as I could tell, all of Cameron's evidence was statistical correlation.

Maybe people who know they are getting exposed to radiation quit smoking, start an exercise program and eat better. If you know you're being exposed to a possible cancer risk, you might be more motivated to avoid other cancer risks.
posted by slipperywhenwet at 6:26 PM on August 24, 2002

In addition, Cameron discussed similar news from a U.S. government sponsored study that he participated in which shows that the 28,000 nuclear shipyard workers with the greatest radiation doses, when compared to 32,500 shipyard workers who had no on-the-job radiation, had significantly less cancer and a 24 percent lower death rate from all causes.

It's the Philip Morris effect. Somebody with a boatload of cash says "first one to prove what we're doing to these people isn't killing them gets the loot!". Someone proves it, and gets the resarch grant. When someone in the affected industry gets cancer and sues, the responsible party points at the study and says, "No, what we did was good for you!".
posted by swell at 6:38 PM on August 24, 2002

Hot springs...mineral springs...in my state (CO) there are many that used to tout radiation as a plus. Thanks, M. Curie. "Radium Hot Springs" used to be the cat's meow. Is now , although information about their radioactive beginnings can be found mostly on yellowed clippings in the lobby.
posted by kozad at 6:55 PM on August 24, 2002

I'd like to know whether Cameron controlled for income level in the study. Wealthier people tend to be healthier and live longer (I think); and given that radiologists are specialists, their income might be higher than that of the average physician. If so, then the conclusion vanishes in a puff of statistics.
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:19 PM on August 24, 2002

But how about shipyard workers which are not usually wealthy?
posted by Lord Chancellor at 7:38 PM on August 24, 2002

Johnny Assay:

Nope, "poor" or lower-middle class first-worlders live longer on average then rich people. Obviously, thats not true in contries like china and bangladesh, but in the US (and, I would assume, the UK) it is.
posted by delmoi at 8:26 PM on August 24, 2002

delmoi: Really? That's pretty interesting.. Do you have an internet reference for that?
posted by slipperywhenwet at 8:50 PM on August 24, 2002

Good thing I got my Rad-X and Rad-Away.
posted by spungfoo at 9:00 PM on August 24, 2002

I have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about, but will continue to talk, regardless. Maybe long-term exposure to low-levels of radiation might cause some kind of immunity in the same way typical vaccines work? You're body gets used to it?

Again, absolutely no idea what I'm talking about.
posted by stevengarrity at 9:44 PM on August 24, 2002

Aren't people who work in radiation related jobs going to be screened more often for related health problems? If so, they're getting better health care. If they're getting better health care, they should live longer.

Radiotherapy only works because the radiation is targetted - there's nothing special about the radiation and/or the cancer that makes the treatment specific, afaik.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:04 PM on August 24, 2002

On income levels and life expectancy within the USA, this is the best summary I've found via a quick google search. In short, it's complicated.
posted by andrew cooke at 10:10 PM on August 24, 2002

Radiation good for you? Surprisingly to some, yes, this is not an exceptionally new idea. For the first half of the 20th century radiation's health benefits were cited more than its dangers -- then came Hiroshima and the Cold War, and it became an object of prickly fear. Naturally radiation has dangers, but we live with very low levels of radiation all the time. Many of us have radon seeping into our homes, and don't know it. We may work in a marble office that is dosing us daily. Or we work in the sun and our skin constantly sucks up UV radiation.

Today much of that early radiation data is being reassessed, in particular the idea of hormesis.

The bottom line is that there is no possible way to completely eliminate radiation from our lives. We've actually evolved to withstand common background levels. Small amounts of radiation aren't themselves considered dangerous, because risk is always relative to cumulative exposure. We use radiation in medical situations to kill things we don't want, like cancer cells. The risk of radiating a patient is overcome by the greater risk that the cancer will spread. This doesn't mean you should go out and find a chamber with a blue glow to live in -- but you needn't be pathologically afraid of radiation, especially since exposure is quite common almost everywhere on the planet.
posted by dhartung at 10:46 PM on August 24, 2002

Thanks, M. Curie. "Radium Hot Springs" used to be the cat's meow.
There is a natural radium onsen (hot spring) near my house in Kyoto that many of the older folks swear by. They bottle up the water and take it home for drinking as well.
Cancer rates are much lower overall in Japan than other industrialized countries (probably diet-related), but digestive-system cancers are higher.
BTW, regarding non-targeted radiotherapy, one of the treatments following certain cancer surgeries is "whole-body irradiation."
posted by planetkyoto at 4:09 AM on August 25, 2002

Thanks. Total Body Radiation: This is done generally for one of two reasons: 1. To suppress the patient’s immune system [...] 2. To kill abnormal cells that escape other therapies [...] The radiation effect is generally on cells that are rapidly growing and/or have poor repair function. [...]

So maybe that's the mechanism?
posted by andrew cooke at 5:32 AM on August 25, 2002

The concept of hormesis, as dhartung points out above, has been discussed/debated in health physics circles for some time. Needless to say, it is a somewhat controversial topic, particularly among the nontechnical public, but within the scientific community where the phenomena has been observed, as well. That is, correlating exposure to positive health effect, i.e -causation as "slipperywhenwet" points out above - is tricky whe you are dealing with a subject population (people) that you can't control all variables for in your study & only vary dose & evaluate the results. as andrew cooke and Johnny Assay point out other variables may be at work.

This is not to say that the effect may not be real. My uncle, a biologist, spent 40 years working at Los Alamos. During that time he conducted a study on the controlled irradiation of mice to determine whether irradiation could cause genetic defects following chronic/acute Cobalt 60 dosage. Three groups of mice were studied over 83 generations - (1) control group, with no exposure, (2) heavily exposed group, and (3) group with dosage slightly above natural background. The results were interesting - he found no statistical evidence that transferrable mutagenic effects occurred, that is, the level of dose required to cause detectable chromosomal damage that could cause mutations in offspring was invariably such a high dose that the mouse died of acute effects before it could reproduce (we're not talking about in vivo teratogenic effets on pregnant animals, where mutations could occur - just that they would not be transferable generation-to-generation).

More to the point of this discussion, he also found out the following:
a) as expected, the high-dose mice had greater mortality among the three groups;
b) however, the low-dose group lived longer, statistically, than the control group.

When he reported these findings, his results were assailed by other scientists, who found them counter-intuitive. However, his study & the statistics behind it held up under hostile scrutiny. These results are similar to other studies, like for alcohol drinking, in which tee-totalers have been shown to have greater mortality than those who drink in moderation. Thus, while not intended originally to do so, my uncle's study supports the hormesis theory.

What it may mean is that our bodies adapt to low levels of exposure, almost in an inoculation sense, ultimately making us healthier as we adapt. Somewhat understandably, the whole topic drives the no-nukes crowd absolutely crazy, however - most of them refuse to even discuss it.
posted by Pressed Rat at 6:05 AM on August 25, 2002

Gee Pressed Rat, how about providing some evidence to back up your wild assertions? Huh? Huh? Newbies, I tell you.
posted by lbergstr at 6:39 AM on August 25, 2002

Aha! New England is now less one more scourge!

Radon is Good for You!!
posted by ruggles at 7:06 AM on August 25, 2002

Cancer rates are much lower overall in Japan than other industrialized countries (probably diet-related), but digestive-system cancers are higher.

Low cancer rates possibly due to their diet, yet the Japanese have higher digestive-system cancers?

Please explain! (I live in Japan too by the way....Chiba, nr Tokyo).
posted by SpaceCadet at 7:40 AM on August 25, 2002

Does it say what type of radiation we're talking about? I know the main release of Radon is alpha particles and that solar radiation is gamma. Does the type have any influence on the outcome?

As a member of the nuclear power profession, I might say that Mr. Andrew Cooke said something accurate: we have continuous monitoring on how much radiation we have recieved. Usually, 2/3 of this is due to Radon in our homes and my dose due to my job is mind-boggling low.
posted by Lord Chancellor at 8:20 AM on August 25, 2002

Hildago: The article is not very specific; does anybody have any good guesses as to why it prevents cancer in low doses?

My speculation is that low doses of radiation are sufficient to activate the DNA repair mechanisms in cells, but not high enough to cause significant damage. Having increased DNA repair activity in cells, in the form of roving enzyme complexes and upregulated gene transcription, could potentially decrease cancer rates. Other mechanisms to scrub free radicals might also be increased. Of course, the question is whether the increased metabolic load generated by these repair mechanisms would be offset by the benefits they bring.

So, as others have commented here, it may be like the way in which immunity to diseases works. This theory seems plausible enough given what I know about molecular biology - but then plenty of things are plausible but not true.
posted by adrianhon at 9:59 AM on August 25, 2002


What will assertions? Evidence? You mean something other than anecdotal speculation - you want me to dig the paper out of the attic and scan it for you, or you want me to cite a bunch of scientific jobbledegook? 83 generations of mice too few, or WTF?
posted by Pressed Rat at 11:43 AM on August 25, 2002


Without digging out the hardcopy of Jake Spalding's report from my attic files, which you have provided me insufficient funding/motivation to accomplish, I provide you this which, while possibly not the same study I referenced, reports similar longevity of irradiated mice over control groups (about mid article). Satisfied?
posted by Pressed Rat at 12:01 PM on August 25, 2002

Pressed Rat, methinks lbergstr was being tongue-in-cheek. And riffing off all the newbie-bagging going on in the other place these days.
posted by rory at 5:03 AM on August 26, 2002

Hey, wasn't there a disclosure (don't remember where it was - anybody?) that the entire population of the U.S. got low-dose irradiated in the early sixties or something? So we're already golden! Literally! Any more than that, though...
posted by soyjoy at 12:26 PM on August 26, 2002

Oops, I thought my tongue-in-cheekness was clear.
posted by lbergstr at 9:53 AM on August 29, 2002

« Older On Solidarity, Community Spirit And Going...   |   Tony Gwynn knows full well how costly a baseball... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments