Natural supplements that offset damaging effects of radiation
Is there any safe threshold below which radiation exposure is considered safe? Well, according to some experts in this field, even small doses of exposure can be detrimental to health. And, no dose except zero dose is free of health risk.
When you think of ionizing radiation, nuclear disasters such as Chernobyl (1986) and Fukushima (2011), come to mind. But the truth is, you also get exposed to radiation from medical imaging diagnostic procedures such as X rays, CT scans and nuclear medicine.
While there a considerable amount of debate surrounding this topic, an article by Harvard Health Publishing aptly sums it up: “… we don’t really know for sure, since the effects of radiation damage typically take many years to appear, and the increase in high-dose imaging has occurred only since 1980.”
Radiation exposure and health
So, how does ionizing radiation wreak havoc in the body? This kind of radiation basically consists of high-energy particles that pierce deep into cells and tissues. These particles damage your cellular framework by knocking off electrons and producing excessive amounts of free radicals.
These free radicals, which are highly unstable molecules with unpaired electrons, then tear apart electrons from cells and their components such as DNA, lipids, enzymes, and mitochondria, altering their chemical structure and functions. This triggers a chain reaction where more and more free radicals get produced, causing cells, tissues and organs to function erratically. This is called oxidative damage, giving rise to chronic inflammation and disease.
Damage to the DNA causes mutations, increasing the risk of cancer, birth defects in babies and fertility problems. And oxidative damage to proteins and lipids also inflammatory conditions such as heart disease and cataracts.
In fact, some recent studies show that even low-dose radiation can increase one’s risk of cardiovascular disease. This study concluded that “even a moderate radiation dose of 0.5 Gy has a significant adverse impact on the endothelial proteome. Molecular alterations seen here support the data from population studies suggesting an increased risk for cardiovascular disease after exposure to 0.5 Gy.”  And radiation can be particularly bad for your immunity. Weakened immunity is another hinderance in mitigating exposure risk.
Your body can fight this oxidative damage to some extent. And it can even repair some of the DNA damage on its own. The body achieves this with the help of antioxidants; both endogenous and exogenous. Endogenous antioxidants are the ones produced naturally within the body with the help of enzymes and proteins, whereas exogenous antioxidants are provided by food and supplements. You can limit the damage caused by ionizing radiation if you maintain a healthy status of antioxidants. However, it is easier said than done.
Every day, your body has to deal with a number of factors that undermine its antioxidant status. Whether it is poor diet, poor lifestyle, constant exposure to environmental pollutants (including cigarette smoke, radiation, heavy metals, pesticides and chemicals in food, cosmetics and grooming products), poor sleep, chronic stress, chronic infections and excessive drinking, all of these factors cause oxidative damage in the body, exhausting your body’s antioxidant defense system.
So, how can you make sure you are well protected from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation? While eating a healthy diet certainly helps, studies show that increasing your intake of dietary supplements also goes a long way in providing protection from radiation damage.
The main mechanisms through which these supplements work include:
- Preventing oxidation of DNA and other cellular structures
- Repairing DNA
- Improving the body’s immunity by providing vitamins, minerals and bioactive compounds
- Reducing inflammation
- Helping in effective detoxification
Let’s look at some of the best supplements to fight and prevent radiation induced damage.
High doses of Vitamin C
Vitamin C has been found to be very effective against exposure to radiation, due to its antioxidant capacity. A 2011 study by Dr. Atsuo Yanagisawa demonstrated that taking high dose of IV vitamin C, along with other antioxidants limited, radiation induced DNA damage in Fukushima workers when they took these supplements before visiting the radioactive site to clean up the toxic waste. The supplements also reduced the overall cancer risk. 
Additional health benefits of vitamin C supplements: Did you know vitamin C is one of the best supplements you can take for your heart health? Mostly known for its immune boosting potential, vitamin C is also crucial in keeping your heart, skin, bones and muscles strong and healthy. It is not only a powerful antioxidant but also works as an essential co-factor in collagen synthesis and repair. And you also need vitamin C to absorb iron form your food.
Almost every cell of your body can make its own glutathione, a simple molecule with extraordinary antioxidant powers. It not only destroys free radicals but also recycles other important antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E and alpha lipoic acid. No wonder it is also known as a master-antioxidant of the body.
Radiation exposure triggers generation of extremely dangerous hydroxyl free radicals and glutathione is quite impressive in its ability to destroy these unwanted molecules. In fact, studies show that glutathione not only prevents DNA damage caused by radiation but may also be instrumental in DNA repair. There are studies showing that availability of glutathione affects body’s DNA repair ability.
A 2013 study found that “GSH, as a single agent, is found to affect DNA damage and repair, redox regulation and multiple cell signaling pathways. Thus, seemingly, GSH does not only act as a radioprotector against DNA damage induced by X-rays through glutathionylation, it may also act as a modulator of the DNA-repair activity.” 
Glutathione is also an integral part of the body’s detox machinery. It attaches itself to toxins such as drugs, poison, heavy metals and other chemicals, and makes them water soluble. This property makes it easy for the body to flush out toxins. However glutathione natural production takes a blow with age, interfering in your body’s ability to cleanse out toxic waste and fight oxidative damage.
Related article: Can Glutathione Protect Against Radiation Damage?
Additional health benefits of glutathione: You need glutathione for healthy detoxification. It also reduces the risk of inflammation and boosts immunity.
Reishi mushroom is loaded with more than 400 biologically active compounds that help reduce or prevent oxidative stress caused by radiation and other sources. Contents like polysaccharides (B-glucans), triterpenes (ganoderic acid) and unique proteins found in Rishi have immense antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities.
Moreover, your body can easily absorb these bioactive compounds. And these compounds also improve the quantity and activity of other antioxidant enzymes occurring naturally in the body. This increases the natural aptitude of the body to fight and limit the oxidative damage.
Studies show that antioxidant triterpenes can protect DNA and cellular membrane from radiation induced damage, while polysaccharides in Reishi boost the body’s natural ability to repair DNA damage.   .
Additional health benefits of Reishi mushroom supplements: Looking to explore Reishi mushroom benefits to safeguard your body against radiation damage? Well, this woody mushroom has much more in store. One of the best properties of Reishi mushroom is that it is an adaptogen, a unique category of herbs that help you achieve overall balance that your body needs for a healthy and optimal performance. As an adaptogen, Reishi mushroom is exceptionally effective in assisting the body to deal with stress. It also helps in reducing fatigue, improving energy levels and maintaining hormonal balance. Reishi supplements are available as spores powdered capsules and dried mushroom slices.
Curcumin is one of the most known bioactive compounds found in the spice turmeric. It not only destroys free radicals but is also known to increase the activity of antioxidant enzymes found naturally within the body. In addition, it blocks the pathways and activities of various enzymes, proteins and molecules (such as cytokines, NF-κB and prostaglandins) that are known to cause inflammation and pain.
In terms of its benefits in radiation exposure, studies show that curcumin works through two mechanisms. One, it protects healthy cells and organs from radiation damage. Two, it also triggers cancer cell death.
Additional health benefits of curcumin supplements: Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin is fast gaining popularity as a natural supplement to relieve pain, especially in conditions such as arthritis. In fact, it has been found to be even more effective than prescription and over the counter drugs, which may provide pain relief, but their long-term usage can cause severe side effects. Curcumin also supports heart, brain and liver health.
Jiaogulan: The Herb of Immortality
Like Reishi mushroom, Jiaogulan is also an adaptogen. This herb is loaded with more than 150 saponins, the main source of Jiaogulan’s antioxidant powers. Interestingly, Jiaogulan stimulates the body to make its own super antioxidants. These endogenous antioxidants; namely Superoxide Dismutase (SOD), Glutathione and Catalase are extremely effective in their ability to destroy free radicals. Glutathione, as we know, is also known as master antioxidant of the body and is one of the most critical compound needed for detoxification.
Additional health benefits of Jiaogulan supplements: It reduces stress, restores hormonal and immune balance, and relieves fatigue.
Surprised to see the sunshine vitamin in this list? Well, there are studies that show vitamin D could be beneficial against damage inflicted by low levels of radiation. The active form of vitamin D, calcitriol, appears to protect against exposure from background radiation as well as the kind you are exposed to after a small-scale nuclear accident. 
Additional benefits of vitamin D supplements: You need vitamin D for healthy bones. It is also known to reduce the risk of autoimmune disorders and heart disease.
Magnesium is a multi-tasking mineral with diverse talents. It can help the body fight radiation damage through a number of mechanisms.
Being an anti-oxidant, it fights free radicals, thus limiting oxidative stress in cells and tissues. Magnesium helps to clear out radioactive particles from the body. In fact, you need magnesium to get rid of Strontium 90. It also plays an important role in DNA synthesis and in pathways that are involved in DNA damage repair. It is interesting how your cells are armed with natural mechanisms to do some of the DNA repair on their own, with the help of certain enzymes and proteins. So, what magnesium does is that it activates an enzyme DNA polymerase, that help in DNA synthesis and correcting errors during DNA replication.
Did you know magnesium works as an important co-factor in glutathione synthesis? It should hardly come as a surprise as the mineral is at the helm of more than 300 bio-chemical reactions. We have already discussed the role of glutathione in offering protection from radiation exposure.
Additional health benefits of magnesium: Magnesium can be effectively used to reduce painful muscle cramps. The mineral also reduces your stress levels by regulating stress hormones. Another very important yet lesser known fact about magnesium is that it is required for Vitamin D absorption. It converts vitamin D into an active form that is readily used and absorbed the cells. It also activates enzymes that metabolize vitamin D. Like vitamin C, magnesium supports your heart health and may even reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
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- Azimzadeh et al. Proteome analysis of irradiated endothelial cells reveals persistent alteration in protein degradation and the RhoGDI and NO signalling pathways. Internation Journal of Radiation Biology. 2017
- Yanagisawa A. Orthomolecular approaches against radiation exposure. Presentation Orthomolecular Medicine Today Conference. Toronto 2011 http://www.doctoryourself.com/Radiation_VitC.pptx.pdf )
- Anupam Chatterjee. Reduced Glutathione: A Radioprotector or a Modulator of DNA-Repair Activity? Nutrients. 2013
- Smina et al. Protection of radiation induced DNA and membrane damages by total triterpenes isolated from Ganoderma lucidum (Fr.) P. Karst. Chemico-Biological Interactions. 2015
- Pillai et al. Fungal beta glucan protects radiation induced DNA damage in human lymphocytes. Ann Transl Med. 2014
- Pillai et al. Enhancement of repair of radiation induced DNA strand breaks in human cells by Ganoderma mushroom polysaccharides. Food Chemistry. 2010.
- Could Vitamin D Save Us From Radiation? Inderscience Publishers. Science Daily. 2008