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Reducing Radiation Damage With Ginger & Lemon Balm

A component of cooked ginger root protects human white blood cells in vitro against radiation-induced genetic damage, and lemonbalm tea appears to protect radiology staff against radiation-induced oxidative stress.

June 26, 2013 |
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Supplementary Info

Sources Cited

A. A. Malekirad, A. Ranjbar, K. Rahzani, A. A. Pilehvarian, A. Rezaie, M. J. Zamani, M. Abdollahi. Oxidative stress in radiology staff. Environ. Toxicol. Pharmacol. 2005 20(1):215 - 218

A. Zeraatpishe, S. Oryan, M. H. Bagheri, A. A. Pilevarian, A. A. Malekirad, M. Baeeri, M. Abdollahi. Effects of Melissa officinalis L. On oxidative status and DNA damage in subjects exposed to long-term low-dose ionizing radiation. Toxicol Ind Health. 2011 27(3):205 - 212

M. S. Baliga, R. Haniadka, M. M. Pereira, K. R. Thilakchand, S. Rao, R. Arora. Radioprotective effects of Zingiber officinale Roscoe (ginger): Past, present and future. Food Funct 2012 3(7):714 - 723

B. N. Rao, P. R. Archana, B. K. Aithal, B. S. S. Rao. Protective effect of zingerone, a dietary compound against radiation induced genetic damage and apoptosis in human lymphocytes. Eur. J. Pharmacol. 2011 657(1 - 3):59 - 66

R. Arora, D. Gupta, R. Chawla, R. Sagar, A. Sharma, R. Kumar, J. Prasad, S. Singh, N. Samanta, R. K. Sharma. Radioprotection by plant products: Present status and future prospects. Phytother Res. 2005 19(1):1 - 22

H.-C. Lien, W. M. Sun, Y.-H. Chen, H. Kim, W. Hasler, C. Owyang. Effects of ginger on motion sickness and gastric slow-wave dysrhythmias induced by circular vection. Am. J. Physiol. Gastrointest. Liver Physiol. 2003 284(3):G481 - G489

E. Chernin. Richard Pearson Strong and the iatrogenic plague disaster in Bilibid Prison, Manila, 1906. Rev. Infect. Dis. 1989 11(6):996 - 1004

S. C. White, S. M. Mallya. Update on the biological effects of ionizing radiation, relative dose factors and radiation hygiene. Aust Dent J. 2012 57 (Suppl 1):2 - 8

R. S. Cardoso, S. Takahashi-Hyodo, P. Peitl Jr, T. Ghilardi-Neto, E. T. Sakamoto-Hojo. Evaluation of chromosomal aberrations, micronuclei, and sister chromatid exchanges in hospital workers chronically exposed to ionizing radiation. Teratog., Carcinog. Mutagen. 2001 21(6):431 - 439

E. H. Livingston. German medical group: Apology for Nazi physicians' actions, warning for future. JAMA 2012 308(7):657 - 658

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S. E. Lederer. Children as Guinea Pigs: Historical Perspectives. Account Res. 2003 10(1­16):1-18

R. R. Faden, S. E. Lederer, J. D. Moreno. US medical researchers, the Nuremberg Doctors Trial, and the Nuremberg Code. A review of findings of the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments. JAMA 1996 276(20):1667 - 1671

M. McCarthy. Cold war human radiation experiments in the USA. Lancet 1994 344(8935):1498

Department of Defense USA. Report on Search for Human Radiation Experiment Records. Department of Defense USA 1944-1994 1997 1:1-101

E. Shuster. Fifty years later: the significance of the Nuremberg Code. N Engl J Med. 1997 337(20):1436-1440.

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Image thanks to Nataraja via Wikimedia Commons.


The German Medical Association finally just apologized for the profession's role in the Nazi atrocities, 65 years after 20 physicians stood trial in Nuremberg. During the trial, the Nazi doctors argued that their experiments were not unlike previous studies by researchers in the United States, like Dr. Strong's injection of prisoners with the plague. Nazi Docs were hung; Dr. Strong, went on to Harvard. And we were just getting started. The few examples the Nazis cited were nothin' compared to what the American medical establishment started doing after Nuremburg. After all prisoners are much cheaper than chimpanzees.

Much attention has focused on our cold war radiation experiments, which remained classified for decades. Declassification, the American Energy Commission warned, they would have a very poor effect on the public, because they described experiments performed on human subjects, including the actual injection of plutonium into the body. Subjects like Mr.Cade, a 53 "colored male" who got in a car accident and ended up in the hospital—great! Let's inject him with plutonium.

Who else is powerless besides patients? How about kids, at the Fernald School for the mentally retarded in Waltham, Massachusetts who were fed radioactive isotopes in their breakfast cereal. Despite the Pentagon's insistence that these were the "only feasible means" of developing ways to protect people from radiation, researchers have since come up with a few ways that don't violate the Nuremburg code, which states the only time doctors are allowed to do experiments that may kill or disable people if they themselves are willing to sign up as experimental subjects as well.

One way is to study cells in a petri dish. The protective effect of Zingerone against radiation-induced genetic damage and cell death in human white blood cells. What is zingerone? It's a phytonutrient found in cooked ginger root. You blast cells with some gamma rays and you get less DNA damage and fewer free radicals when add ginger phytonutrients. They even compared it to the leading drug injected into people to protect them from radiation sickness and found the ginger compound to be 150 times more powerful. And without the serious side effects of the drug itself.

They conclude that it's an inexpensive natural product that may protect against radiation-induced damage. In fact lots of different plant-products have been found to be protective in vitro against radiation damage by a whole variety of mechanisms. After all, plants have been utilized since time immemorial for curing diseases, so they started screening plants and also found radiation-protective benefits from other plants one can find at grocery stores: garlic, turmeric, goji berries, mint leaves but this is all just on cells in a test tube. None had actually been tested in actual people, until now.

How are you going to find people exposed to radiation you can test stuff on? Well, aside from pilots, another group that suffers inordinate radiation exposure is the hospital workers that run the X-ray machines, who have been found to suffer chromosomal damage as a result, compared to other hospital staff, and higher levels of oxidative stress on their bodies. Although X-rays can damage DNA directly, much of the damage is caused by the free radicals generated by the radiation.

So, they asked radiology staff to drink two cups a day of lemonbalm tea a for a month, an herbal tea known to have high levels of antioxidants as I showed in one of my favorite videos, Antioxidants in a Pinch. So what happened? The level of antioxidant enzymes in their bloodstream went up and the level of free radical damage went down, leading to the conclusion that oral administration of lemonbalm tea may be helpful for the protection of the radiology staff against radiation-induced oxidative stress and improve antioxidant defense system, especially enzymatic defense, due to its antioxidant properties. And if that's the reason that practically any plant should fit the bill. So know that as you're sucking on some crystalized ginger to prevent travel sickness on some airplane, little did you know that you may be protecting yourself from the cosmic radiation at that altitude as well.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Ariel Levitsky.

To help out on the site please email

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

This is the final installment of a five video series on preventing and treating radiation damage. I started with Fukushima and Radioactivity in Seafood, on avoiding radiation exposure in one's diet and then moved to diagnostic medical and dental radiation in Cancer Risk from CT Scan Radiation and Do Dental X-Rays Cause Brain Tumors? In the last video, Mediating Radiation Exposure from Air Travel, I reviewed population studies of airline pilots and Chernobyl victims that studied which dietary components may decrease radiation-induced DNA damage and cancer risk.

For those interested in the Nuremburg narrative, I touch on other cases of medical mistreatment in:

The prior lemonbalm video I reference is one of my favorites, Antioxidants in a Pinch

What else can ginger do? See:

I've since added ginger to my pink juice and hibiscus punch recipes.

For some more context, please check out my associated blog posts: Dr. Greger's Natural Nausea Remedy Recipe, Are Dental X-Rays Safe?, Fukushima Radiation and Seafood, How Risky are CT scans?, and Ginger & Lemon Balm for Radiation Exposure.

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • Cory

    Speaking of ginger, does anyone know if the pickled ginger that they serve with Sushi is actually good for you? Ever since I saw Dr. Greger’s video about Kimchi I have been skeptical of most fermented vegetables.

  • ken

    Does raw ginger give the same results?

  • Stephen Lucker Kelly

    Should people be recommended to drink high amounts of lemon balm before and after flying?

  • Jane

    My husband will most likely be going through his third round of radiation treatments for his recurrent low grade lymphoma. Would consuming this tea/ginger lessen the effectiveness of the treatment at all, or could it help prevent future problems that the treatment itself may cause?

    • Darryl

      Here’s a site that offers recommendations of foods that synergize with radiation treatment for breast cancer, others to be avoided that reduce treatment effectiveness, and a bland low-antioxidant diet for during radiotherapy:

      Food for Breast Cancer: What should breast cancer patients eat during radiation treatment?

      The site offers extensive references to news items and studies for every food listed. I think the rationale for many of their recommendations should apply to other cancers.

  • Scott

    Hi Dr. Greger, I was just wondering if you had read anything about Graviola fruit/sour sop. There seems to be some hype going around the internet touting its ability to fight cancer. Here is one example:

  • Cass

    I am being a bit picky here, but people are hanged, while a coat is hung.

  • Chris Hartley

    I don’t know whether to be amused or just confused with this article.
    “When eating healthy becomes dangerous”

    “A local doctor said awareness is growing locally around orthorexia, an
    obsession to consume only healthy foods that can leave sufferers far
    from well.”

    • Plantstrongdoc M.D.

      Talk about inventing a disease… it is a disease to eat a healthy diet….can you get a pill to cure this terrible condition !? Of course it is a threat to the diseasecare system if people start to eat healthy.

  • Vaughan

    Just to ask, what were the other 6 spices/herbs analyzed in the antioxidant table? What was the number 1 with 721?

  • Meg

    I have a question. I’ve been hearing a lot about lemon water (squeezing half a lemon in a glass of water) , that it has lots of beneficial effects, including weight loss, improved digestion, breath-freshening, boost immune system, cleanses your liver of toxins, give you an energy boost, keep skin clear, reduce inflammation. I’d be curious to hear what the science says about this, and just how much of this is actually true.

    • Meg

      Also, I’ve been drinking this for a while, and I feel good, and it would make sense since it is a citrus fruit and should be healthy, and I do a plant-based diet anyways, but I’d still like to hear if there is more
      science backing it up.