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Body Scanning and Your Fertility


a blog by Beth and Tami of Pulling Down the Moon, Mar. 19, 2010

If you're TTC, an important part of any holistic program is being mindful of what you are putting into your body and how it might affect your ability to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term. While most of us know the does and don’ts regarding eating wholesome, nutritious foods and avoiding caffeine, smoking, and alcohol, what about those things that enter our body unavoidably? This week, Chicgo's O'Hare airport launched the use of full-body scanners as a way to enhance security in the aftermath of the infamous shoe and underwear bombers. While O’Hare is one of the first to implement this impressive technology, the TSA has plans to deploy 900 of these body scanners into airports by 2014.

While I am truly an advocate for homeland security and want to feel safe while up in the air, I did wonder, as a holistic expert, about the levels of radiation I would now be exposed to every time I pass through airport security lines. It got me thinking about all those TTC gals out there who probably have similar questions: Is it safe for my body or for my baby to be receiving these full body scans during this tender time of trying to conceive or being pregnant and exactly how much radiation am I putting into my body?

I felt the question merited an answer so I began by watching the mid-day news. Indeed body scanners were a headliner and the machines were applauded as being effective in detecting metallic and non-metallic objects, which include plastic explosives, ceramic knives and other weapons. Interestingly, the scans also reveal what a person is wearing under their clothing and the images can be quite detailed, and even embarrassing. Hmm, so the scanners are powerful enough to see our private parts, but still no mention of the radiation or potential health risks.

I looked for an answer in my daily paper, The Chicago Tribune. A front page article was entitled, “A Sneak Peak at How O’Hare Scans Work.” The article contained lots of information on how our privacy will be protected but not a word about how our health will be insured. Finally, I did an internet search that lead to the homepage of the TSA. Finally, a good response to the health issue. Here’s what they write:

    “Advanced imaging technology screening is safe for all passengers, and the technology meets national health and safety standards. Backscatter technology was evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH), the National Institute for Science and Technology (NIST), and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), and results confirmed that radiation doses are well below those specified by the American National Standards Institute. The amount of radiation from backscatter screening is equivalent to two minutes of flight on an airplane, and the energy projected by millimeter wave technology is 10,000 times less than a cell phone transmission.”

    Interesting, but it still didn’t answer my question about pregnant women or those trying to get pregnant. My searches took me to an article by the London Evening Standard which quoted a seasoned radiologist who said, "I am particularly concerned about the potential effects on women in their first trimester of pregnancy. That is when the risks of the baby developing genetic abnormalities are highest because radiation exposure can damage the body's reproductive DNA."

    As concerning was a paper published by the Royal Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology that states there were no systematic reviews on the effect of airport-style full body scanners on pregnant women. One good quality study did investigate the exposure to radiation of models simulating months one to nine of pregnancy passing through walk through metal detectors. This study found that recommended levels were not exceeded in months one to five, but that the six to nine month models were over-exposed. However, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) has published an assessment of the radiation doses associated with backscatter body scanners most frequently used at U.K. airports and they advise that a passenger would need to be examined 5,000 times before exceeding excessive values. It was concluded that the potential doses received from the use of a correctly installed and used x-ray backscatter body scanner are likely to be very low. Even in the case of frequent fliers.

    Nonetheless, the seeming lack of evidence and contradictions among experts leaves me feeling wary. While I probably have more radiation damage in my head from using my cell phone than I would ever get from an airport body scanner, I’d rather err on the side of caution.

    So, for all you frequent travelers out there who are trying to get pregnant or who may already be pregnant, here’s some biased advice from your friendly holistic healthcare provider: OPT OUT. Until more research has been done on the effects of full body scans on pregnant women or those TTC, ask for the good, old-fashioned, white-gloved pat down. It may take a bit more time, but what’s one more thing added to the list of “don’ts” to help detoxify your body during this most important time.

    Let us know what you decide.

    Be Peaceful, Be Positive, Opt Out,

    Tami Quinn

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