Ok, so you’re going to the dentist and are pretty sure they will want to take some x-rays.
What can you do to protect yourself from the potential damage of the x-rays?
We recently published an article titled, “Are dental x-rays safe?“, so let’s follow that up with solutions you can apply to help protect you and your loved ones from the risks of x-ray damage.
What’s the issue with x-rays anyway?
First, let’s be clear on a couple of points to put this into perspective…
1. The problem with x-rays is that they expose us to ionizing radiation. Many studies have proven that ionizing radiation causes damage to our DNA, increasing our future risk of mutations and cancer.
2. Dental x-rays (especially newer digital technology) expose us to much less ionizing radiation than some of the other medical/dental technology out there. For example, a CAT scan produces many, many times more radiation exposure than a set of dental x-rays. That said, panoramic x-rays are among the machines in dentistry that produce the highest exposure to ionizing radiation.
What can we do to mitigate the damage of radiation?
Plenty. Here are some good starting points.
When living tissue is exposed to x-rays, the result is a big hit of oxidative stress, or what we call ‘free radical’ damage. And, as many of us know, the ‘fix’ for free radical damage is antioxidants.
Here’s a quote from a research study on the role of antioxidants to mitigate radiation damage that will set the stage for this discussion:
“There are many types of radiation damage to normal tissues. The types of damage depend on the cells and organs being irradiated, the dose and dose rate of the exposure, and the time after exposure that is being assayed for a radiation effect. Many of the types of damage seen after irradiation can be ameliorated by antioxidants.”
Generally speaking, we can increase the amount of antioxidants in our diet by consuming what we all know is good for us: fresh, organic fruits and veggies (especially those with brighter and more vibrant color), certain herbs and spices, and certain supplements that research has shown can protect us from radiation damage.
Food sources for radiation damage-protecting antioxidants
The most notable fruits are the richly-colored berries, like blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and cranberries. Prunes are also a great source of antioxidants, and if you’re into more exotic foods and want an even bigger antioxidant boost, goji berries are the rockstars.
If you eat nuts, pecans are also a wonderful go-to for antioxidant support. And for the summer months, artichokes are another awesome source.
If you’re concerned about exposure to mercury vapor during dental appointments, then you may find benefit from eating cilantro. It will give you an antioxidant boost and help mitigate some of the potential mercury vapor you inhale while in the dental office.
Other notable antioxidant-rich foods are tomatoes, kale, broccoli and squash. Like we’ve all been taught, if we eat the rainbow of foods, we’ll be getting a great range of antioxidants from our diet.
Special shout-out for soy-based foods
While we aren’t big soy eaters in our home, the research is too strong to omit soy from any discussion about using foods for protection against radiation damage.
Soybean-based foods have several compounds which provide various levels of protection from radiation-related cellular damage.
Bacterial fermentation benefits: Much of the protective benefits come from the fermentation of the soy product. For example, miso, a fermented Japanese soy product, provides substantial free radical protection after radiation exposure.
Genistein: Also, studies have shown that even with just one dose, the supplement genistein (a compound derived from soy) protects against cellular damage from radiation.
Bowman Birk protease inhibitor (BBI): Soy-based products also contain BBI, an enzyme inhibitor that provides profound protection against cellular mutation even after exposure to radiation.
Another quick quality reminder… Since so much soy grown these days is genetically modified, be sure to only use products or supplements that contain organic soy. Also, make sure any soy you consume is a whole food, not some processed, food-like product like texturized soy protein. If you want to ramp up the health benefits, make sure it’s organic and fermented (unfermented soy is hard on the gut because it is more difficult to digest). Here’s a good source.
Note: soy is an endocrine disruptor. Folks with certain conditions, particularly thyroid and autoimmune conditions that are already creating hormonal imbalances, should avoid soy altogether (and especially if it is GMO, conventionally grown, processed, and/or unfermented).
The good news is, there are plenty of other antioxidant-rich food sources out there to help you step up your radiation protection even more, including some herbs and spices.
Using herbs and spices to protect against radiation damage
As we see it, the easiest way to consume a huge portion of antioxidants is by drinking a homemade cup of chai tea. Take a look at this list of highly protective spices/herbs that chai tea contains:
clove – has the highest antioxidant levels of any spice!
cinnamon – is a close second to clove in terms of its awesome antioxidant power
ginger – helps to raise glutathione activity to absorb free radicals before they damage cellular DNA
turmeric – is a heavy hitter that provides multiple benefits For example, turmeric reduces any damage to our DNA and at the same time protects healthy tissue from radiation damage.
Let’s give a quick shout-out to our HealThy Mouth Blend for including some of these big hitters as well! Here’s a link to our blog entry that explains what’s in the HealThy Mouth Blend and why it’s so effective.
Of course, the problem with getting antioxidants from clove and cinnamon is that we truly can’t consume very much of these very powerful spices unless we take them in capsule form. However, turmeric is a fabulous way to get tremendous protective support, and it’s pretty easy to consume, too.
Perhaps the simplest herbal supplement to take for massive antioxidant support…
We recently published a fun, informative expert interview with our new friend, Dr Kulreet Chaudhary. In the interview, I asked her if she were stranded on a deserted island and could only have one supplement, what would it be. She easily answered, ‘Triphala’.
If you aren’t familiar with Triphala yet, we’ll happily introduce it to you. Triphala is a combination of 3 dried berries (amla, haritaki, and bibhitaki) that are commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine, the ancient healing tradition of India.
It turns out that Triphala has some of the very highest antioxidants and protective capacity known to science! Everyone in our home takes Triphala regularly. Here’s the one we use.
How much simpler does it get than supplementing with the powder of 3 dried berries, right?
Do antioxidants help after the dental x-ray?
Definitely. In fact, one study stated, “Naturally occurring antioxidants also may provide an extended window of protection against low-dose, low-dose-rate irradiation, including therapeutic potential when administered after irradiation.”
Food-based supplements to optimize protection against x-ray damage
There are both naturally occurring and synthetic compounds that provide our DNA with substantial protection against radiation damage. In the spirit of brevity, let’s cover just a few of the best natural versions today.
One type of naturally occurring antioxidant is polyphenols. Polyphenols are found in many foods, and they are a big reason why the foods we mentioned earlier are helpful for mitigating the damage of x-rays. Three main polyphenols have been extensively studied for their protective capabilities:
Resveratrol is a compound found in many fruits and tree barks. The resveratrol in red wine is one of the reasons why our culture says a glass of red wine is health-giving. (Side note, just make sure the wine is organic, as many pesticides used on grapes are fluorinated compounds.) Studies show that resveratrol protects bone marrow, liver and small intestine tissues from the damage caused by excessive radiation. Given that dental x-rays are pointed at our teeth and jaw bone, protecting the bone marrow in our jaws could prove helpful.
Quercetin is a plant pigment called a flavonoid, which is a type of polyphenol. As a pigment, quercetin is one of the beneficial plant components that demonstrates the wisdom of the ‘eat a (plant) rainbow’ concept. Studies suggest that quercetin protects DNA from damage, and that it also prevents mutagenic changes to white blood cells after radiation exposure.
Green tea extract or Epigallocatechin gallate is a polyphenol found in green tea that has exhibited life-extending benefits in animal studies. While it’s hypothesized that drinking green tea helped protect Japanese victims of radiation exposure, no conclusive data has shown solid causal evidence of this yet. (Note: conventional green and black teas can contain 0.3 to 0.5 mg of fluoride per 8 ounces of tea. So, just like with other foods and drinks, it’s always a good idea to drink only the highest quality, organic green teas. In fact, the best option would actually be to choose organic white tea, which is produced from the youngest leaves. The youngest leaves contain less fluoride in their plant tissues. Here’s our take on the safety of fluoride.)
Actions you can take to reduce x-ray damage
Before exposure to x-ray radiation:
1. Optimize your antioxidant levels. Make yourself a big pot of chai tea with plenty of turmeric, ginger, clove and cinnamon and have a cup of it 1-2 times each day leading up to the dental appointment. Since these antioxidants are super healthy anyway, you could just make a pot of chai today. However, to be safe, begin to ramp up your antioxidant consumption a week before when you know you’ll be exposed to x-ray radiation.
2. Consider adding Triphala to your daily supplement regimen to really ramp up protective mechanisms. Continue to take Triphala through post exam.
The day of the dental exam:
1. Ask the dental office when their x-ray equipment was last tested and calibrated (you may even want to call to ask this question before your appointment). Unfortunately, these machines need to be maintained and calibrated, otherwise there is a risk of patients being overexposed to radiation. While this issue is most problematic with CT scans, we feel it prudent to ask your dental team how often they have their equipment tested. Also, remember to make sure the protective vest that they provide has a neck collar to protect your thyroid.
2. Be sure to not take lots of vitamin C the morning before any dental treatment. Vitamin C decreases the numbing effect of any anesthesia used in the dental office. However, you can begin to supplement right after the appointment to help support detox pathways and protect against cellular damage.
Post x-ray actions:
1. Eat the rainbow of organic fruits and vegetables. Also, if you use soy products, plan to have some fermented organic soy products with meals as a side dish for the next few days to support cellular protection and recovery.
2. Keep up with the chai tea habit. Our culture would be wise to continue to glean gems from traditional lifestyle and healing habits of India.
We hope this helps you understand how you can reduce your risk of future health challenges from x-ray radiation exposure. Of course, you can always try adding a few of these foods, spices, and supplements into your daily routine just for the heck of it, too. After all, it’s always a good idea to continue adopting new health-supporting habits.
Which of these tips are you most likely to try? Have you tried any of these ideas before? What results have you seen? Do you have any other suggestions for using nutrition to offset the effects of radiation exposure? Feel free to comment below to share your thoughts and experiences. We’re in this together!
If you’d like to know what questions to ask to find a dental team who will work with you on your journey to greater oral health, feel free to download our FREE Guide to Safe Dentistry.
Helpful, related Resources:
Are dental x-rays safe? [article]
What’s in the HealThy Mouth Blend? (and why is it so effective?) [article]
The mouth/brain connection [expert interview with Dr Kulreet Chaudhary]
Is fluoride safe to use? [article]
Full article on the role of antioxidants in repairing damage from radiation
Amazon for organic soy natto
Amazon for Triphala