As a practicing chiropractor and an admittedly 100% organic health nut, I get asked this question a lot:
“Dr. Hardick, if you’re so ‘organic,’ why do you X-ray your patients?”
I can’t figure out why, but the fact that I don’t like to “shoot in the dark” is a problem for some people.
X-Rays Take Out the Guesswork
Here’s the thing: I have a scientific, show-me-the-data type of mindset and I hate to guess at anything I do; especially when someone’s wellbeing is at stake. So, when it comes to taking care of my patients with gentle, specific chiropractic adjustments, I try to take out as many variables as possible. And, yes, this includes the variables that I cannot see with the naked eye. For example, what if my patients have abnormalities in their spines (which are more common than you may think)?
Let’s say that you were one of my patients. Would you want me to perform spinal correction without knowing if you had a(n):
- Missing or extra vertebrae?
- Naturally fused vertebrae?
- Spinal cord deformity?
- Vertebral subluxation?
- Disc herniation?
Definitely not! Adjusting patients with these sorts of deformities can cause seriously dangerous effects, and I could NEVER live with myself knowing that I caused someone harm because I didn’t do my due diligence.
Also, to perform the most specific spinal correction, I wish to know EXACTLY how to move the vertebrae. In addition to finding out if patients have any abnormalities, X-rays allow me to measure, down to the millimeter, the most scientific way to adjust subluxations.
At the end of the day, X-raying patients is not even a cause for concern for me. However, there has been a lot of hype out there about the possible negative effects of X-ray radiation. Naturally, people ask questions.
What Does the Research REALLY Says About X-Ray Radiation?
To date, the most important scientifically validated clinical approach to understanding the risks associated with moderate radiation doses is the world-renown 100-year British study. (1) Registered British radiologists were evaluated from 1897 and 1997 to determine if an increased death rate could be connected to ionizing radiation, cancer and other diseases. Here are some of the interesting findings from the study:
- Of those radiologists who registered after 1920, the observed number of cancer deaths was similar to that expected from death rates for all health care practitioners combined.
- In fact, radiologists who were regularly exposed to radiation after 1920 benefited from lower cancer mortality than the average person in England and Wales.
- There was evidence of an increasing trend in risk of cancer mortality with time, which uncovered that, for those registered, and thus exposed for more than 40 years, there was a 41% excess risk of cancer.
- It expected that this is a due to the long-term effects of radiation exposure, particularly in those who first registered during 1921 and 1954 when x-ray safety protocols were being developed.
- There was no evidence of an increase in cancer mortality among radiologists who first registered after 1954 because of improved x-ray safety protocols. It was also in this era that tremendous safety protocols were also enhanced for patients.
- Interestingly, British radiologists who first registered after 1954 were 29% less likely to die from cancer and 36% less likely to die from non-cancer causes compared to their closest peer group (the average male MD).
Ultimately, the study concluded that,
“There was no evidence of an effect of radiation on diseases other than cancer even in the earliest radiologists, despite the fact that doses of the size received by them have been associated with more than a doubling in the death rate among the survivors of the Japanese atomic bombings.”
In addition to the questionable negative effects of X-ray radiation, scientists have uncovered that every human on the planet is exposed to varying levels of radiation every day.
According to researchers, “Natural background radiation is ubiquitous and ranges from about 1mSv–20mSv.” (2) It is emitted by natural and artificial sources from Earth and is literally impossible to avoid. We are exposed to it in the air that we breathe, the foods that we eat, the water that we drink, and even when walking on the soil beneath our feet.
To help put things into perspective, The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has put together a fantastic breakdown comparing regular moderate doses of ionizing radiation from routine X-rays to common background radiation sources. (3)
Knowing that people are constantly being exposed to radiation may cause panic is many organically-minded health enthusiasts, but it shouldn’t. It’s simply the way that God designed the planet.
In fact, some data suggests that increased background radiation actually improves one’s health! (4) According to the US Atomic Energy Commission, Americans who live in the six States with the greatest radiation background benefit from a 15% lower cancer mortality rate compared to the average of all 48 States! (2, 5) Rocky Mountain states emit upwards of 3.2 times the amount of background radiation than in Gulf Coast states, which may (in part) explain why Americans in the Gulf Coast experience cancer-related deaths 1.26 times more than people in the Rocky Mountains. (6)
Putting the Radiation Issue to Bed
In the words of a commentary published in the Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association,
“In light of the discussions presented above, it is our view that a modern and realistic view of the current health risk of routine use of diagnostic radiography in chiropractic practice and research is that there is essentially no scientifically demonstrable risk to the given patient. Further, follow-up radiographs to monitor response to treatment as required by some technique protocols, also provide negligible risk.” (2)
This is bottom line is this:
“The fact remains there is no existing, reliable data proving cancer can be induced by diagnostic x-rays.” (2)
I take radiation and all forms of potential toxicities very seriously. That being said, when I visit my own chiropractor, I don’t sweat the small stuff.