Is It That Bananas Are Radioactive?

Is It That Bananas Are Radioactive?

Everything in the world is made up of elements (remember the periodic table). Elements are also made up of atoms. Some of these atoms are unstable and decay or break apart. As a result, they can transform into subatomic particles such as electrons, alpha particles and neutrons, or electromagnetic particles known as gamma rays. All these energy-carrying particles exhibit the ability to disrupt or “ionize” the molecules they encounter. Therefore, damage to important biomolecules such as proteins or DNA can trigger radiation poisoning or cancer.

The amount of exposure is very important here, as with chemical poisons, and depends on the nature of the radioactive element in question, the amount of the element, our distance from the radioactive substance, and the availability of substances that can act as a shield between us and the source. Potassium (K), of which a tiny fraction of its atoms, about 0.012%, is radioactive, is a commonly encountered element. These K-40 atoms decay spontaneously and emit gamma rays as well as electrons (beta radiation). But with a half-life of 1.3 billion years, K-40 is not very radioactive; that is, only a few thousand atoms decay per second. The real question is how much damage this can do. How dangerous is eating bananas actually?

The answer to this question can be determined by the radiation dose absorbed by the relevant human tissues and measured in “rem”. In this unit of measurement, the amount of absorbed radiation and the medical effects of this radiation are taken into account. Measuring rem is complex, but suffice it to say that a dose of 10 millirems (mrem) will increase the average adult’s risk of death by one-millionth. (This amount is said to be an increase equivalent to 1 “microkill” and 1 kill means certain death. A banana contains about 450 mg of potassium and when eaten, exposes the consumer to about 0.01 mrem due to its K-40 content.

Comparison If done, a chest X-ray would yield 10 mrem. If we make a quick calculation (10/0.01), it would appear that we would have to eat at least a thousand bananas to be exposed to a value of 10 mrem, in which case the probability of death would increase by one in a million. In other words, it takes a billion bananas to be consumed in order for death to occur, which is done in one sitting. So is there any danger in eating bananas for life? Does cumulative damage occur? Since potassium is a natural component of our body (our body contains about 120 grams) and the body keeps the amount of potassium at a constant level (see internal balance control), this does not happen. A certain amount of potassium is always taken through diet and some is excreted from the body.

Therefore, there is no accumulation of radioactive potassium. So even though bananas are actually radioactive, the level of radioactivity they offer poses no danger. Sleeping near someone exposes you to more radioactivity, but to an insignificant amount. If that person is breathing too quickly, the exposure will be increased because of the C-14 isotope contained in the carbon dioxide they give off. All in all, enjoy the world’s most popular fruit, the banana. In fact, a banana is a grocery store just like a berry. What about the shell? Shine your shoes with it too.


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