One question we hear now and then is “Does Radiation Alter Your DNA?” There are different types of radiation, and some have little to no effect on DNA – electromagnetic and radio waves, for example. However, ionizing radiation does affect DNA, and this can be harmful at best, and fatal at worst, if humans don’t have access to adequate protection.
Outside of the medical field, radiation exposure typically comes from external sources, including X-ray machines, radioactive materials used for industrial purposes, weapons production, nuclear power plants, etc. Its impact on human tissue depends on the type of radiation it is, the amount of exposure a person has, his/her access to radiation shielding products and/or the type of tissue that’s affected.
What is DNA?
In order to understand how radiation alters DNA, it’s good to know a little bit about what DNA is and how it’s structured.
DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is the most important molecule in the body. It’s the blueprint, so-to-speak, from which every cell grows, develops, takes place, heals, replenishes, etc. These molecules are twisted up chains of genetic information, in the form of linked proteins and chemical bonds. DNA is quite amazing because while it’s actually microscopic – if the “chain” of sequenced proteins were stretched out, it would be about two-meters long.
The chemical bonds that hold the links in the DNA chain together are very strong, but they aren’t strong enough to withstand high-level, repeat and/or long-term exposure to radiation. When ionizing radiation enters the scene, it can become a force like a hatchet on a piece of wood – splitting crucial bonds apart, causing damage or destruction to these crucial DNA molecules. It can also cause a scattering effect, where the hits aren’t direct – but multiply and reveal themselves over time.
Ionizing Radiation + DNA = Cellular Chaos
The chemical bonds mentioned above take place via positively charged (protons) and negatively charged (electrons) molecules that are bound together. When ionizing radiation is present, it pushes an electron out of its natural orbit – destabilizing important bonds – and creating free radicals, or free, destabilized electrons that are scrambling to restore a stable balance of electrons again.
Freed electrons can continue to collide with other particles, causing more free radicals and further destabilization –the result being physiologic chaos at the cellular level that ultimately disrupts the body’s overall health and well-being. All of this happens very quickly, but the effects may not show up for quite some time.
How Does This Affect My Health?
When DNA is affected by radiation in this way – one of three things can happen:
- Immediate cell death. The damage can be so great that the cell dies. A few dead cells may not be that big of a deal, but numerous cell deaths could result in a burn or other, acute injuries or illness.
- Genetic mutations. If an area of the DNA strand is altered, rather than damaged completely, it causes mutations that will alter how the cell behaves or reproduces. These mutations can even take place in future generations, as the result of the altered DNA sequences a radiation-exposed parent passes on.
- Reproductive cell death. Even if the cell continues to live, or is mutated, damaged DNA may mean the cell can no longer reproduce.
Again, the types of damage that occur are related to radiation dose, exposure time, and so on – which is one of the reason workplace radiation safety programs include methods for detecting, measuring, and preventing exposure levels/times that would cause harm.
In the long-term, altered DNA can cause genetic mutations leading to cancer, sickness, disease, death or even genetic mutations that pass on to the next generation via mutations to sperm and egg cells.
Would I Know if I Had Cancer From Radiation?
Unfortunately, the types of cancers caused by radiation are not all that different from cancers that happen without radiation exposure. There are exceptions of course, but there is currently no way to measure the rate of cancer due to radiation.
Radiation Shielding and Protection Are the Solution
The best way to protect your DNA from mutations or cell death from radiation exposure is to ensure you’re adequately protected.
- If you work in a radioactive career, insist on the shielding products or protective clothing that will keep your body safe.
- Insist that your company provide a safety-first culture that both monitors and minimizes radiation exposure.
- Heed emergency personnel instructions if a nuclear meltdown, fallout or other radiation-related event occurs in your area.
- Minimize radiation exposure in the event of a radioactive spill or workplace accident.
- Know your radiation exposure limits and honor them.
- Be aware of scatter radiation, the most common source of unhealthy, radiation exposure so you can guard against it in the workplace.
The more we know about radiation, and have access to products that limit our exposure, the less susceptible we’ll be to radiation that harms DNA – and the body it inhabits.
We Protect Your DNA From Ionizing Radiation
Do you want to learn more about radiation shielding and the workplace clothing and protective equipment available to you? Contact us here at Lancs Industries. We’ve provided high-quality radiation shielding and protection for nearly 50 years, and we’re always happy to help your company create customized materials that meet your particular niche or need.
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