RADIATION HORMESIS: Biopositive Effect of Radiations
T.D. LUCKEY, 1009 Sitka Ct, Loveland, CO 80538, USA
My purpose is to promote
harmony with nature and to improve our quality of life with the knowledge that cancer
mortality rates decrease following exposure to low dose irradiation. Hormesis
(Greek HORMO = I excite) is the stimulation of any system by low doses of any agent.
Hormology is the study of excitation. Low doses of many agents evoke a biopositive
effect ; large doses produce a bionegative effect. The message is simple : small and
large doses induce opposite physiologic results.
Antibiotics became available to
non-medical investigators toward the end of World War II. It was just 50 years ago that I
received some streptomycin from the Eli Lilly Company. Our working hypothesis was :
feeding antibiotics should prevent intestinal microbes from supplying unknown vitamins to
the host ; the animal should then exhibit a new vitamin deficiency. The expected did not
happen ; chicks fed streptomycin grew better than controls (Moore et al, 1946). The
mechanism of action of dietary antibiotics was complex (Luckey, 1959). The use of germfree
animals showed that part of the action was directly on the host ; part was on the
intestinal microbes (Luckey et al, 1956). This began the use of dietary antibiotics
for animals all over the world.
Figure 1. Summary of the effects of chronic, whole body exposures on four physiologic functions. Radiation hormesis is represented by the defined area above the horizontal line. When compared with the controls, represented by the horizontal line, large dose rates exert a negative effect.
physiologic functions show radiation hormesis : growth, neuromuscular development, hearing
and visual acuity, learning and memory, fecundity, immune competence, cancer mortality and
average lifespan (Luckey, 1990; 1993). The effects of chronic, whole body exposure to low
doses of ionizing radiation upon four physiologic functions shows radiation hormesis
(Figure 1). The controls, at ambient levels of radiation, are set at one, the horizontal
line. Hormesis is displayed by values >1. Large doses decrease these functions. There
is a definite threshold, the zero equivalent point (ZEP), at the transition between
biopositive to bionegative effects. Note that the ZEP is more than 1,000 times ambient
radiation levels. Note also that cancer mortality is displayed as an inverse function :
the less cancer mortality, the higher the relative value.
Acute exposure to
ionizing radiation is exemplified by the 86,520 Japanese survivors of atomic explosions;
41,372 were in the exposed cohort (Shimizu et al., 1992).
Chronic whole body exposure to ionizing radiation is pertinent to the welfare of all societies. Epidemiologic studies of chronic exposure to ionizing radiation consistently showed a negative correlation between ambient (background) radiation and leukemia, cancer and total mortality rates (Luckey 1990, 1993). These are exemplified by a study in which lung cancer mortality rates were compared with radon in homes (Figure 3) (Cohen, 1993). The dashed line represents a popular fallacy. Unfortunately, many agencies use this erroneous concept for official recommendations and regulations. The solid line represents the mean values, with 5% errors bars, from 1700 counties of the United States in which 90% of the population reside. The negative slope of the solid line shows that the optimum concentration must be greater than the 4 pCi l-1which some agencies consider to be excessive. Cohen's data confirm the results of Haynes from England and Wales (Haynes, 1988). Large radon clinics in Russia are used to treat a variety of minor disease problems (Bogoljubov, 1988).
Figure 2. Cumulative mortality rates in Japanese survivors of atomic bombs (Shimizu et al., 1992) The numbers above the abscissa give the thousands of persons exposed to all doses up to and including the dose indicated: A: cumulative total cancer mortality rate and B: cumulative leukemia mortality rates.
concentrations of radon and progeny were increased to over one million times ambient
levels, lung tumors were induced in animals. This is not cause to change our perception of
the results in Figure 2. Low levels of radon and progeny do not cause lung cancer
mortality ; they may decrease it.
Figure 3. Lung cancer mortality rates in males compared with radon concentration in United States homes (Cohen, 1993). Each mean ± one standard deviation includes the number of counties represented. The dashed line indicates the invalid, but much used, linear model of the data.
Presumably, low dose irradiation activates the immune system to destroy the altered stem cells of leukemia. This concept is supported by many studies showing increased activity of the components of the immune system (Sugahara et al., 1992)
TABLE 1. Total cancer mortality in nuclear
US Shipyardsc 32,510 38,220 67* Matanoski
US Weapons 20,619 15,817 21** Gilbert
Canada Energy 21,000 4,000 59** Abbatt
Canada Energy 4,000 4,000 95* Gribbin
Brit.Weapons 24,500 70,900 3** Kendall
* P< 0.05 **
Most evidence showed a significant decrease in cancer mortality rates of lightly exposed
humans. This was true for acute exposures, survivors of atomic bombs in Japan and
observers of atmospheric nuclear explosions in the United States, Britain and Canada. It
was equally true for chronically exposed workers when compared with either unexposed
workers in the same plants or with the general population. The obvious conclusion is : low
doses of ionizing radiation do not cause cancer. Experimental animals show the same result
(Luckey 1990, 1993). Thus, it is highly probable that low dose irradiation actually lowers
cancer mortality rates in humans.
comparisons and contrasts between radiation hormesis and homeopathy be made? One
represents science; the other the art of medicine. Science does not intrude on the
delicate nuances between physician and patient. Science attempts to simplify and separate
elements of complex phenomena. Medicine accepts the complex, ever changing condition of
each patient as the progress of disease and multiple treatments accrue. Science demands
strict controls and knowledge from multiple sources. Medicine involves individual faith,
hope, beliefs and prayers in addition to all that science can contribute.
Finally, radiation hormesis is in a special class of hormetics. A major mechanism of action of ionizing radiation is proposed. It is probably an essential agent. Thus, radiation hormesis is comparable to those essential nutrients which are not present in adequate quantities in certain environments. The hormesis curve for ionizing radiation is comparable with those for vitamin A or selenium. An excess is harmful. Small amounts are needed for essential physiologic functions. Supplementation is usual for populations living in a partial deficiency. This is done for vitamin A and selenium. Irradiation supplementation promises increased quality of life and a new plane of health for people in the 21st century.
TABLE 2. Comparison and contrast of hormesis and homeopathy
Large doses are harmful
B. Homeopathy characteristics
Only special compounds are active
C. Hormesis characteristics
Non specific agents are active
* Fecundity, development, lifespan
New concepts raise new questions. What is an optimal level of radon, alpha, beta, gamma and X rays for babies, children, teens, young adults, pregnant females, old people and sick people ? How can the art of medicine best use low dose irradiation ? Is ionizing radiation essential for optimal physiologic functions ? For life ? Should whole populations be supplemented ? How ? Should control be with health physics professionals, the medical profession, public health officials, or politicians?
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