Do You Know Your Total Radiation Exposure? : An Exclusive Renegade Health Article by Dr. J.E. Williams

Tuesday Feb 7 | BY |
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Radiation is everywhere. In fact, natural radiation has been part of our environment since the planet was born. This chart shows the sources of radiation exposure in the United States.

Resident Medical Authority: J. E. Williams, OMD, FAAIM

In my last blog, I introduced the concept of the proactive patient – some one who cooperates with their health…

In thirty years of clinical practice, I’ve never had a patient present a record of their cumulative medical radiation dosage. I’ve never understood why not, as having a personal radiation dose chart seems important, especially for those with chronic illness (the treatment of which often requires repeated X-rays, CT scans, and other medical imaging that uses radiation). It’s also really important for pregnant mothers and young children, who are more sensitive to the effects of radiation than adults.

Radiation is everywhere. It’s not just from nuclear reactor leaks and medical radiology tests. Natural radiation has been part of our environment since the planet was born. It exists in the atmosphere, the ground, the water supply, and even within our own bodies. It’s called natural background radiation, and it’s perfectly safe.

However, most of the radiation we are exposed to is from medical procedures like X-rays, CT scans, and the X-rays you get at your dentist or chiropractor. And this can be a serious problem if you get too much, over time.

The biological effects of low levels of radiation exposure are so small they are undetectable; however, too much radiation affects living cells. The body has repair mechanisms to fix any damage induced by radiation, possibly resulting in three outcomes: (1) injured or damaged cells repair themselves, resulting in no residual damage; (2) cells die, much like millions of body cells do every day, and are replaced through normal biological processes; or (3) cells incorrectly repair themselves resulting in a biophysical change, which can lead to cancer.

Radiation exposure is measured in units called a rem. Low dose exposure is measured in millirems (mrem), 1/1000th of a rem. High dose readings are calculated by multiplying one rem by 100 to get an mSv.


Single Radiographs Effective Dose, mrem (mSv)
Skull (PA or AP) 3 (0.03)
Skull (lateral) 1 (0.01)
Chest (PA) 2 (0.02)
Chest (lateral) 4 (0.04)
Chest (PA and lateral) 6 (0.06)
Thoracic Spine (AP) 40 (0.4)
Thoracic Spine (lateral) 30 (0.3)
Lumbar Spine (AP) 70 (0.7)
Lumbar Spine (lateral) 30 (0.3)
Abdomen (AP) 70 (0.7)
Abdomen 53 (0.53)
Pelvis (AP) 70 (0.7)
Pelvis or hips 83 (0.83)
Bitewing dental film .4 (0.004)
Limbs and joints 6 (0.06)

Complete Exams Effective Dose, mrem (mSv)
Intravenous Pyelogram (kidneys, 6 films) 250 (2.5)
Barium swallow (24 images, 106 sec fluoroscopy) 150 (1.5)
Barium meal (11 images, 121 sec fluoroscopy) 300 (3.0)
Barium follow-up (4 images, 78 sec fluoroscopy) 300 (3.0)
Barium enema (10 images, 137 sec fluoroscopy) 700 (7.0)
CT head 200 (2.0)
CT chest 800 (8.0)
CT abdomen 1,000 (10)
CT Pelvis 1,000 (10)
CT (head and chest) 1,110 (11)
PTCA (heart study) 750-5,700 (7.5-57)
Coronary angiogram 460-1,580 (4.6-15.8)
Mammogram 13 (0.13)
Lumbar spine series 180 (1.8)
Thoracic spine series 140 (1.4)
Cervical spine series 27 (0.27)

On average, each person receives about 360 mrem every year from background, or natural, sources of radiation. We are evolutionarily equipped to do just fine with this amount. With routine medical exposure, the average American now gets 600 cumulative mrem annually. In comparison, single one-time exposure of 400 rems (400,000 mrem) is fatal in 50% of people. At 1,000 rems, radiation exposure is 100% fatal. The question I want to know is how much cumulative low-dose radiation exposure over a lifetime influences my patients’ (and my own) risk for cancer, or for accelerated aging and shorter lifespan?

The government allows astronauts to get 25,000 mrems per mission. Occupational limits are 5,000 mrems per year, and for those under 18 years to get 500 mrem annually. In my opinion, these limits are too high when cumulative exposure is taken into consideration.

Remember, all radiation exposure carries increased risk of cancer, and the larger the amount, the greater the risk. Therefore, only get medical radiation procedures when there is a significant problem to be solved (like if cancer has spread to your liver, or if you have a brain tumor causing pounding headaches). Don’t get a whole body CT scan just to have a trendy health work up, especially if you’re a healthy person. Don’t get repeated X-rays of your entire spine just to measure alignment. If necessary, only get an x-ray of the affected part, being as specific as practically possible. Don’t get mammograms every year if you are not in the high-risk category and can have a normal breast examination. And, ask if there are alternative tests, like ultrasound, that may be just as good but don’t require radiation.

And, as a proactive patient, if you have a medical condition (like advanced osteoporosis that require regular radiological tests that use radiation), keep a medical radiation chart so you and your doctor know your exposure. Bottom line: keep your radiation exposure as low as possible.

If you’d like to calculate your radiation, visit the American Nuclear Society by clicking here.

To check out the Environmental Protection Agency Radiation Calculator, click here.


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Dr. Williams is a pioneer in integrative and functional medicine, the author of six books, and a practicing clinician with over 100,000 patient visits. His areas of interest include longevity and viral immunity. Formerly from San Diego, he now resides in Sarasota, Florida and practices at the Florida Integrative Medical Center. He teaches at NOVA Southeastern University and Emperor’s College of Oriental Medicine.

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