Is Low Dose Radiation Exposure Really Harmful?

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Jeffry A. Siegel, PhD
President & CEO, Nuclear Physics Enterprises, Marlton, NJ
Charles W. Pennington, MS, MBA
NAC International, Norcross, GA, Retired; Executive Nuclear Energy Consultant
Bill Sacks, PhD, MD
Emeritus Medical Officer, FDA Center for Devices and Radiological Health
Silver Spring, MD
James S. Welsh, MS, MD, FACRO
Department of Radiation Oncology
Stritch School of Medicine Loyola University Chicago, Maywood, IL

Medical Research: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: The background is the falsity of the widespread claim that all ionizing (high energy) radiation is harmful regardless of how low the dose.  This claim is expressed in the official policies of almost all radiation regulatory agencies around the world, as well as in many scientific journal papers.  It has been responsible for a common fear of radiation (radiophobia) among the public and members of the medical profession, including even most radiologists and nuclear medicine physicians.

The radiophobia resulting from this false allegation has been instrumental in the forced evacuations of hundreds of thousands of people near nuclear energy plants at Chernobyl and Fukushima that have produced thousands of deaths from the evacuations themselves of sick and/or elderly people, from consequent suicides, alcoholism, heart attacks, and strokes, as well as other health destroying reactions to the loss of homes, possessions, jobs, and communities.

This erroneous belief has acted to prevent many people from getting needed CT scans and x-ray studies, and to prevent many parents from permitting their children to get such imaging studies, with consequences such as surgical explorations that might have been otherwise unnecessary and carry risks of injury and mortality, or such as the foregoing of treatment that would otherwise be health restoring.

This unfounded proclamation and its resultant radiophobia have acted as obstacles to the development of clean and sustainable nuclear energy, and have underlain widespread irresponsible propaganda by all sorts of would-be anti-nuclear gurus.  There are other harmful effects of this unwarranted contention, including severe limitations on funding for further research into the beneficial effects of low-dose radiation.

The main findings in this article are that the very scientists whose experimental work gave rise to this false claim in the 1940s – Hermann Muller and Curt Stern and their colleagues – in fact demonstrated the exact opposite, namely that below certain threshold radiation doses there were no harmful effects at all and possible beneficial effects.  Even more importantly, there were no scientists at the time who realized that Muller and Stern’s conclusions flew in the face of their actual experimental results.  Or at least there were none who were inclined to point out the falsity of Muller and Stern’s unwarranted conclusions, perhaps intimidated by Muller’s status as a Nobel Prize winner (1946, for his earlier work on radiation-caused mutations in fruit flies).

Medical Research: What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: Clinicians and patients need to recognize that they have been surrounded by a false paradigm that has been around for the better part of a century and that they need to investigate the many scientific studies demonstrating the benefits of low-dose radiation.  They need to investigate this issue themselves, rather than simply accept the concept that if “everyone” around them, including most doctors, says something is true then it must be true.  They need to recognize that the paradigm must be rejected as untrue, and that radiotherapy and radiation imaging studies are not only not harmful, not even a little bit, but instead benefit patients in two ways – through the information from the imaging study and the direct beneficial effects of the radiation itself.

Radiation in low doses and at low rates of delivery act like a vaccination that stimulates the body’s evolved defenses.  These defenses include either repairing radiation-caused damage to cells or removing those cells from the body.  This removal occurs either through the cell’s own self-destructive action, through neighboring cells’ reactions, or through the heightened activity of their immune systems.  There is undoubted damage to cells from radiation, but neglect of the damage-stimulated biological defenses leads to a harmful fiction.

Medical Research: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: We recommend that far greater funding be made available for the research needed to discover, clarify, and understand the body’s mechanisms for these defensive and/or reparative responses to low-dose and low-dose-rate radiation.  This research is particularly needed in the field of medical care, but also in fields affected by radiophobia, such as nuclear energy.  We also recommend that official medical, regulatory, and scientific organizations publicize these findings in order to counter the media promulgation and promotion of the conventional but false wisdom about the putative harms of low-dose radiation. 

Medical Research: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response:  It is vital that everyone come to understand that we have been fooled for some seven decades about a scientific fact that was first misinterpreted and then turned to the advantage of self-serving regulatory personnel and organizations, as well as to the advantage of self-building gurus who pretend to deliver us from harm even as they deliver us into its hands. This false paradigm has been a steadfast hypothesis with no evidence to support it, and much evidence to refute it, for all these years.

It is important for everyone to know that our environment bathes all life forms in a veritable sea of radiation and has done so for billions of years.  This radiation arises from natural radioactive sources in the ground and from the sky in the form of cosmic rays.  In this environment we, and all bacteria, fungi, plants, and other animals, have evolved protective biological responses, in the absence of which natural selection would have long since caused the extinction of our various species.  Furthermore, our food is radioactive from naturally occurring unstable isotopes of potassium, radon daughters, and carbon, making all of us radioactive.  We also receive radiation from other human-generated products/services – medicine and imaging, farming, tobacco smoke, airplane travel, potable water, construction materials, various consumer products, etc. – all to our great benefit.  What matters is the dose, not the mere presence of radiation, just as dose is the key factor for any agent, including oxygen, sunlight, water, and vitamins.  Each of these, like radiation, is toxic in too high a dose, but necessary for health in moderate doses.  How else explain the fact that we are living longer despite all of this natural and human-produced radiation?  Is it not time to let the hypothesis that all radiation is harmful go the way of belief in a flat earth?

Citation:

The Birth of the Illegitimate Linear No-Threshold Model: An Invalid Paradigm for Estimating Risk Following Low-dose Radiation Exposure

Siegel JA1, Pennington CW, Sacks B, Welsh JS.
Am J Clin Oncol. 2015 Nov 3. [Epub ahead of print]

Jeffry A. Siegel, PhD, Charles W. Pennington, MS, MBA, Bill Sacks, PhD, MD, & James S. Welsh, MS, MD, FACRO (2015). Is Low Dose Radiation Exposure Really Harmful? 

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