adioactivity has become a word that most human beings are afraid to hear. It has almost brought humanity to its end during the Cold War and yet it is helping to treat cancer, it is a very painful choice. What most people aren’t aware of is that the human body itself is radioactive as each of us emits a certain level of radioactivity that until now has been seen as harmless.
One of the main elements in the creation of life itself was potassium which contains a small fraction of radioactive isotope. To be more specific, potassium-40 is the radioactive isotope of potassium that has been in existence since the creation of our world. Radioactive resources such as uranium are quite unique throughout our galaxy and it is believed that radioactive sources have been created billions of years ago during a supernova.
It could be argued that without radiation life itself would have never existed. Many have questioned the importance of radiation or at least background radiation, but to everyone’s surprise, experts have said that we would not be alive without background radiation. A sustainable life is a balanced life where you have a bit of everything. The small amount of radiation we have been emitting was just right, but what if we are starting to emit more background radiation?
We emit radioactive isotopes from the potassium found in most common food sources. Almost all food sources from fruits to vegetables, meats, and processed foods contain potassium as the human body requires it to sustain its own system. A simple explanation by senior scientific writer Meg Murphy from MIT gives a much better explanation as to exactly how much radiation we emit:
“I like to put things in terms of what we call the banana-equivalent dose. Sleeping next to someone for eight hours gives you about one and a half banana’s worth of a dose” (Quote by Meg Murphy)
History of Radioactivity
In the first volume of History of Humanity, we are presented with theories showing that during the era when Homo habilis and Homo erectus (our ancestors) were alive, they had evolved at a certain period of time to be more resilient to background radiation. Due to a large number of solar storms, it produced a lot of cosmic radiation that could have potentially affected the biological evolution of the two species.
It is difficult to give a more exact measurement of how radioactive Earth was during those periods, millions of years ago. However, we cannot neglect the importance radiation has had on our evolution, just as mentioned by Yves Coppens and Denis Geraads in History of Humanity:
“Homo erectus indicate clearly that human presence in Europe was the result of radiation from tropical to temperate countries, presumably from Africa or Asia.” (Quote taken from History of Humanity Volume I)
Research done at the end of the 20th century by Juan Collar at the University of South Carolina looked at a different possibility that may have caused the full extinction of dinosaurs. He believes that neutrinos that have been absorbed by earth from cosmic radiation may have killed the dinosaurs. Radiation can be absorbed by anything, especially food. Large consumption of neutrinos can damage DNA and even provoke mutations.
A large quantity of carbon-14 is found within fossils from the periods mentioned above. This type of carbon is also a radioactive isotope that can be found within most types of organisms such as the human body. All of the records analyzed by archeologists show that at certain points the level of background radiation had increased and was much higher than today if we exclude the output created by the present human consumption as well as production.
Humanity is increasing its Resilience to Radiation
Today’s level of natural background radiation possible isn’t as high as it once used to be millions of years ago, but if we take into consideration all the background radiation that is produced by human technological production, the levels aren’t looking good. However, humanity is lucky enough to have been gifted with an organism able to biologically adapt in most situations.
Since the first nuclear bomb had been detonated in 1945, there has been a disturbance in the natural levels of background radiation. During the 18th century, 98% of the background radiation present around the globe was natural. Today only 88% of background radiation is natural, 12% is caused by us. This justifies that background radiation levels have increased a lot in the last 3 centuries and once again it is caused by technological advancements.
An interesting study done in 2011 had looked at the biological effects of space radiation on human cells. The study is looking at the beginning of the Space Race when humanity started exploring space. The biggest problem within space is the high levels of cosmic radiation that could be lethal to the human body. Within the study, the authors have pointed out that with the increased number of flights astronauts had, their resilience to radiation had also increased.
It had been argued before that radiation could play a vital role in biological evolution, something that we sometimes refer to as a mutation. Our exponential evolution within the 20th and 21st centuries which brought a very different lifestyle may have also impacted the amount of radiation we are exposing ourselves to.
A study conducted in 2014 had shown that the human body has become more resilient to ionizing radiation within the 21st century. As the level of background radiation slowly increased, the human organism had time to adapt and become more resilient. There have also been signs of faster DNA repair that is necessary to combat high doses of radiation.
The question that should be asked now is, will our bodies be able to increase this resilience quickly enough to combat the radiation that will be created by technological advancements?
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