A study was conducted to estimate radiation levels based on satellite and ground observations of X-rays and gamma rays. Terrestrial gamma-ray flashes are mysterious phenomena that are believed to originate at the same flying altitudes as airliners. Scientists believe they are produced in the electric fields above the thunderstorms.
Using computer models to estimate the levels of radiation produced within or near thunderclouds during a lightning storm, researchers concluded that the amount of radiation within immediate proximity to these lightning events could be high enough to be considered a "biologically significant level."
Flying frequently can be hazardous to your health. This is especially true for those who do it for a living, of course. However, many people fly frequently on business and are also exposed to this risk.
One study published in The Lancet found higher rates of certain cancers among jet pilots and crew members. The study’s authors theorized that the increased cancer risk was due to chromosome damage caused by excessive exposure to ionizing radiation.
The form of cancer found to be most increased among the flight crews is acute myeloid leukemia, which is very often fatal. It has an average survival time of 3 to 4 years following diagnosis. Even in patients who experience complete remission, recurrence is common.
Scientists have also discovered a higher risk of skin cancer among flight crews. Commercial airline pilots appear to have a greater risk of developing a particular type of skin cancer known as malignant melanoma. While melanoma is relatively rare, it is more dangerous than other types of skin cancer because it is more likely to metastasize or spread to other parts of your body, and carries a high mortality rate.
Flight attendants may be at an increased risk of skin and breast cancer, according to studies. What’s more, research has shown that flight attendants who work an average of 16 weeks during pregnancy have nearly double the rate of spontaneous abortions (miscarriages) as their nonworking counterparts.
I have personally seen a number of flight attendants become disabled and unable to work due to chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia. There is clearly something hazardous about flying regularly.
More Dangers than Radiation
In addition to the radiation dangers, frequent flying causes regular disruptions of your sensitive pituitary hypothalamic axis due to shifting time zones. Melatonin levels are clearly affected. There is also the issue of breathing recycled air that may be contaminated with airborne infectious agents from some sick passengers.
I am convinced that for whatever reason, flying is not one of the healthiest things to do on a regular basis. The common sense approach would be to minimize any unnecessary flights. If you have to fly regularly in your job and you have the opportunity to switch positions, I would encourage you to do that for health reasons.
Protect Yourself with a Healthy Diet
One of the best things you can do to limit your risk of cancer, whether you are a pilot, flight attendant or otherwise, is to make certain you are eating healthy food. This is virtually impossible with the current quality of airline food. So make sure you bring your own food on long trips.
Increased intake of vitamins C and E and other antioxidants may protect against DNA damage from ionizing radiation. The strongest protective effects -- a reduction of 73 percent in chromosome translocations -- have been observed for above average combined intakes of vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin, and lutein-zeaxanthin from food.
This will also, of course, help protect you against ionizing radiation from other sources -- such as excessive X-rays and CT scans. Even if you avoid flying, make sure to also protect yourself against a health care system that could kill you the exact same way!
Personally I use high doses of powerful resveratrol, like our Purple Defense, to help protect me against these radiation dangers when I fly. I typically take 8 when I fly domestically and 10 internationally and that seems to work very well.