Antioxidants May Make CT Scans Safer

Taking antioxidants before a CT scan may protect patients against some of the harmful effects of radiation they experience when they undergo this type of medical imaging, a new study suggests.

A specific combination of antioxidants reduced DNA damage from the radiation by almost 50 percent.

However, researchers caution the study was very small — just two participants — and much more research is needed to validate the results. The researchers plan to conduct a larger study involving patients who will undergo CT scans of their hearts, said study researcher Dr. Kieran Murphy, deputy chief of radiology at the University of Toronto in Canada.

Medical imaging — including CT scans, X-rays and mammograms — provide valuable information, allowing doctors to see inside patients and assist in diagnosis and treatment. But they are also associated with an increased risk of cancer, particularly if patients undergo multiple imaging tests.

When X-rays crash into water molecules, they produce free radicals, which are molecules with extra electrons that can damage components of cells, including their DNA. Antioxidants can neutralize free radicals and prevent them from being destructive.

Murphy and colleagues created a mixture of three antioxidants, vitamin C, glutathione and uric acid. They used a specific combination that would be optimally absorbed by the body.

Blood samples from patients were subjected to radiation at levels equivalent to those experienced during a CT scan. The samples were collected both before and after participants were medicated with the antioxidant cocktail for five days.

The researchers looked at how much repair the DNA needed after radiation as an indicator of how much damage the radiation did. DNA in patients' samples required less repair when they took the antioxidant formula before the radiation, the researchers say.

The study was presented March 29 at the Society of Interventional Radiology’s 36th Annual Scientific Meeting in Chicago.  Murphy conducted the research with Joseph Barfett and Stephanie Spieth, also of the University of Toronto.

Pass it on: A formula of antioxidants may be able to protect patients against some of the harmful effects of radiation from medical imaging.

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This story was provided by MyHealthNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.