Protection Before and Detoxing After a Scan: Contrast Dye and Radiation Detoxing
*An important note before we dive in that you should always check with your healthcare team before undertaking any of the suggestions below; you want to make sure that you are doing the things that will help you the most and not interfere with or worsen what’s going on in your unique body.
I have had probably 6 breast MRIs in the last 4 years. I have dense breasts, and so mammograms don’t work well for me; the mammogram that we did in advance of a biopsy before I was diagnosed came back negative, even though I could literally see the tumour with my own eyes when I pressed my skin down. So, that means it’s MRIs for me for my annual scan, until I can convince my oncologist to order something else instead (I’ll get into the other options at the end of this post).
Another reason I liked MRIs at first over mammograms was that they don’t use any radiation. They do however use a contrast dye to get a clearer image, and for the first 3 or 4 scans after my diagnosis, I didn’t know that this dye is NOT benign. It contains a heavy metal called gadolinium, which a 2014 study showed can be deposited and accumulate in the brain . There is massive debate over its safety (this is a great article to check out for the arguments on both sides), and while many doctors consider it safe, enough patients have raised concerns over side effects that some are questioning it and more research is being pursued.
Until we know more, as with most things under hot debate, I always err on the side of caution and say better safe than sorry! And if you are receiving a different type of scan such as a PET, CT, or Xray, there is the radiation to think about. So, whether its dye or radiation being used in your scan, it’s a good idea to be on the safe side and take steps to protect yourself as much as you can ahead of time and ensure that your body properly detoxes them out as much as possible (and promptly) afterwards.
The possible risk was something I had heard about in years previous, but I only looked into it properly shortly after my annual MRI in 2020. Because I will be getting an MRI annually for the foreseeable future, I wanted to know how I could support my body each year in its detoxing efforts. There is evidence that suggests that the MRI dye cannot be fully detoxed, but we don’t know for sure. Either way, we want to help ourselves out and increase the amount being detoxed as much as we can! Some of the following come from my own experience and research, some come from recommendations in my favourite breast cancer FB group run by consultant Layce Murray and many of which come from Dr. Nasha Winters, and some come from my favourite ND ever, Dr. Lori Bouchard at Inside Health.
Let’s dive in!
PET/CT/Xray (or Anything with Radiation)
With a PET/CT/Xray, you are going to be concerned first with protecting yourself from the radiation and then second detoxing it out. Before we get into what to do after the scan, there are a couple of things to do before the scan to offer radiation protection as well as some things to stop taking leading up to it (if they are things you are currently taking).
Things to do leading up to a PET/CT/Xray
*There is an easy-to-read recap list of all of these at the end of this section
There are two things that can interfere with your PET/CT scan and can therefore tamper with the results. If you are doing mistletoe injections as part of your protocol, take 72 hours off of mistletoe before getting a scan. Mistletoe’s purpose is to stimulate your immune system, so it can cause swelling and an immune response, and we want the system to be as calm as possible for the scan. Some research has shown that these mistletoe reactions can mimic nodular involvement on scans done with the radioactive sugar F-FDG, which is used in PET/CT scans . This would of course lead to the potential of a false positive, which is extremely stressful and distressing and something that we want to avoid.
Additionally, if you do high dose IVC or take oral vitamin C as part of your protocol, take 48 hours off of IV or oral vitamin C before getting a PET/CT scan. Research has shown that vitamin C, especially high dose IVC, can lead to an inability to accurately measure a patient’s blood glucose levels before a PET/CT scan because the high levels of ascorbic acid interfere with the chemical reaction on a blood glucose test strip . As already noted, PET/CT scans use the radioactive sugar F-FDG to detect cancer activity. This is because cancer cells love sugar and uptake it much more quickly and in higher amounts than healthy cells do. The radioactive sugar shows up in higher concentrations on the image, thereby showing areas where cancer may be active. It is important to have an accurate blood glucose reading before a scan using F-FDG because this sugar is in direct competition with glucose. This means, therefore, that if blood glucose levels are not in the optimal range for the scan and this is unable to be determined prior to the scan, it will cause a decrease in the absorption of the F-FDG and may lead to a false-negative on the resulting image . This would not be good, for obvious reasons, and so it is best to avoid vitamin C before a PET/CT scan.
In addition to avoiding these two things, there is something you can do to increase the clarity and accuracy of the image. Since PET/CT scans use this radioactive sugar that we’ve been discussing, it helps to go into the scan in full ketosis, for two reasons. Being in full ketosis helps to improve the image and make it as accurate as possible; lower blood glucose levels mean not as much competition for the F-FDG sugar, so uptake of this sugar is improved and therefore so is the image. There is also preliminary evidence showing that because fasting puts healthy cells into a dormant, protective state, fasting helps healthy cells to withstand stressors like radiation in both scans and radiation treatments . This might be a good time to do a 3-5 day fast, if you are able to do that. If not, try for at least a 24 hour fast.
Things to do the day of, before a PET/CT/Xray
1. High-dose melatonin, 300mg 2 hours before the scan: It’s not just for helping you sleep! High-dose melatonin has a lot of indications when it comes to cancer, and many take it regularly as a part of their supplement protocol (anywhere from 60mg-180mg daily). Some of its effects that have been observed in studies include antioxidant activity, stimulation of apoptosis (programmed cell death), regulation of tumor metabolism, inhibition on angiogenesis and metastasis, and antiestrogenic effects through estrogen pathway signalling and the inhibition of aromatase activity . Most important in the context of PET/CT scans, melatonin has been shown to have protective effects against radiation. “Melatonin has beneficial properties for the reduction of radiation toxicity in healthy tissue […] Potent antioxidative effects of melatonin reduce oxidative DNA damage and cell death during radiation treatment.”, and it has been shown to achieve these effects through the modulation of various things including the DNA repair system, antioxidant enzymes, immune cells, and transcription factors . The recommended dosage for a scan is 300mg of melatonin 2 hours before the scan. Many people are fine with this dose, but some people experience drowsiness at this high level, so it might be a good idea to do a test run before your scan on a day where you don’t need to go anywhere to determine whether you will need someone to drive you home afterwards. Some people experience some pretty vivid dreams after a high dose as well, so don’t be worried if that happens to you! It’s a normal side effect.
2. Oxicell Cream: This is a glutathione cream. Glutathione is often referred to as the master antioxidant, and maintaining healthy levels of it in our bodies is extremely important. Its benefits include protection from mercury and other toxic metals, from alcohol, and from organic pollutants, but in the context of scans that involve radiation, its most important benefit is protection from oxidative stress . Radiation causes the production of free radicals, and free radicals in turn lead to oxidative stress, which can have a number of negative effects in the body including mitochondrial dysfunction, DNA damage, and epigenetic dysregulation . These are all things that can impact our cancer risk, and while one scan likely won’t cause long-term issues, annual scans year after year are more concerning. Using Oxicell Cream in targeted areas before and after a scan can help to protect your body from oxidative stress by supporting the scavenging of free radicals produced as a result of the scan. Use 1/4 tsp on your hands up to 3x the day of your scan, then rub over your liver and gallbladder (under your right rib cage) as well as your thyroid and adrenals (over your throat and on the left side of your lower back, below the ribcage).
3. To keep your blood sugar as low and even as possible (for the reasons listed above when it comes to F-FDG), do not have any food or drink other than water for 6 hours prior to your scan. This includes gum or anything that contains sugar; plain water only up until the time of scan.
4. Diet: If you cannot do a prolonged fast before your scan, follow a high protein, low carb diet for 24 hours prior to the test to increase the quality of the image by reducing the competition for absorption of the scan’s F-FDG sugar. For the same reason, it is also a good idea to avoid the following foods the day of your scan in addition to avoiding all food and drink other than water in the 6 hours prior: refined sugar, all fruits, raisins, beets, carrots, corn, beans/peas, all grains, yams, cereal, all breads, muffins, tortillas, potatoes, pretzels, chips, rice, granola, oatmeal, pasta, sodas, and fruit juices, and use pure olive oil or coconut oil for cooking.
5. Exercise: You should not engage in any strenuous exercise 24 hours prior to your scan. As we have discussed already, PET/CT scans rely on the love that cancer cells have for sugar and their increased need for it. These scans are very sensitive however, and exercise can cause issues with differentiating between normal sugar uptake and cancerous sugar uptake. Because muscles use glucose to burn for energy, muscles that have been exercised around the time of a scan can show increased sugar uptake that may mimic cancer and result in a false positive , something we definitely want to avoid!
6. It is fine to take any medications you are on as long as you can tolerate them on an empty stomach.
Things to take the day before, the day of, and for three days afterwards:
1. Vitamin D3,20,000 iu a day:
The many benefits of vitamin D, especially its most active form 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3, are becoming more and more apparent with continued research. Research suggests that vitamin D may be protective against various forms of radiation, potentially by helping to transcribe proteins that protect the body from the effects of radiation .
2. Fish Oil, 6g in split doses (for example, 2g 3x a day):
Radiation can reduce levels of the healthy omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA in addition to causing oxidative stress, as discussed above. Research, including one study using rats to look specifically at fish oil and radiation on the brain, has shown that fish oil can reduce the severity of oxidative stress from radiation as well as counteract the decrease in EPA and DHA levels .
3. Probiotics, 1 capsule 3x a day:
Radiation can cause some serious disruptions to our gut health. It can damage the intestinal barriers and mucous layer, which are not good in and of themselves, but these also lead to leaky gut and bacteria escaping the intestines . This results in the activation of an inflammatory response and contributes to systemic inflammation in the body. Cancer thrives in inflamed environments, and so this is definitely something we want to mitigate. Our intestinal health is also closely linked to our immune health, with 70% of our immune cells being housed in the gut. For these reasons, we want to support our gut health around the time of a scan that uses radiation by pumping up the number of probiotics (good gut buddies) that we are taking.
4. Liposomal Glutathione (DFH), 2 pumps 2x a day or get a Glutathione Push (800mg) the day of or day after the scan:
We discussed glutathione up above with Oxicell Cream, so for the same reasons it is a prudent idea to get a glutathione push (IV) the day of or day after your scan. Many naturopathic clinics offer glutathione IVs, so do a search for one in your area if you don’t currently have an ND. If you cannot find one, you can opt for the liposomal glutathione instead, although some people find that it does upset their stomach when taken orally.
5. Binder of some sort, 1 tsp a day (not needed the day before the scan):
Binders do exactly what it sounds like they do: they bind to toxins and radioactive elements and carry them out of the body to more effectively detox these things from our system. Two recommended binders are Pectasol-C and Quick Silver Ultra Binder. If you don’t have either of these on hand or you find them to be too expensive, you can mix up a jar of equal parts bentonite clay, activated charcoal, and spirulina powders (note: if you struggle with high copper, leave out the spirulina, as it has high levels of copper). Each day add 1 tsp of the mix to water with a tablespoon each of aloe vera juice/gel and fresh-ground flax (unless you are taking the Quick Silver binder, as it already has fibre and aloe in it). Binders can be quite constipating, so the aloe and flax help with that.
6. Radium 30c (X-ray 30c) homeopathic medicine:
Homeopathic medicine is one of those things from the alternative world of medicine that is debated, like so much. Some believe it’s nothing more than sugar pills and the observance of the placebo effect, while others dedicate their entire professional careers to it as homeopathic doctors. My motto when it comes to things in my protocol has always been, “If it’s not going to hurt me and there’s a chance it will help me, I’m going to do it.” So, following the suggestion of taking one dose (3 pellets) of radium 30c (X-ray 30c) the night before, morning of, and for three days after your scan may help to mitigate some of the effects of the radiation from the scan.
7. If your body is really sensitive to radiation, you can also continue your use of the Oxicell Cream on these days as well.
Recap for PET/CT/Xray
Leading up to your scan:
- Take 72 hours off from mistletoe
- Take 48 hours off from oral or IV vitamin C
- If you can, fast for at least 24 hours prior to your scan, or even better, do a 3-5 day fast if you are able, so that you go into your scan in full ketosis
The day of, before your scan:
- High-dose melatonin, 300mg 2 hours before
- Oxicell Cream, 1/4 tsp up to 3x a day on your hands, over your liver and gallbladder, and over your thyroid and adrenals
- Do not eat or drink anything other than water in the 6 hours before a scan
- If you cannot do a prolonged fast leading up to your scan, adhere to a high protein, low-carb diet for 24 hours prior to your scan, especially avoiding simple carbs and sugary foods
- Do not engage in strenuous exercise for 24 hours prior to the scan
- Do continue to take your medications, as long as you can tolerate them on an empty stomach
The day before, the day of, and for three days after take:
- Vitamin D3, 20,000 iu a day
- Fish Oil, 6g in split doses
- Probiotics, 1 capsule 3x a day
- Liposomal Glutathione (DFH), 2 pumps of oral liposomal glutathione 2x a day for the 5 days, or get a Glutathione Push (800mg) the day of or day after imaging
- Binder of some sort (not needed the day before), 1 tsp a day in water + aloe and flax, if needed
- Radium 30c (X-ray 30c) homeopathic medicine, one dose (3 pellets) each of these 5 days
MRI (or Any Scan Done with Gadolinium-Containing Contrast Dye)
Unlike with a PET/CT/Xray, MRIs do not use radiation. Instead, as I discussed above, you are concerned with detoxing out the contrast dye which contains the heavy metal gadolinium. However, the recommendations for an MRI are very similar to those for a scan involving radiation, with the difference being a few things that can be left out.
Things to do leading up to your scan:
- Just like with a radiation scan, you should take 72 hours off of mistletoe before getting an MRI to avoid a false positive.
- Because an MRI doesn’t involve radioactive sugar, it may be unnecessary to stop vitamin C before an MRI; but, to be on the safe side, you can always leave it out for 48 hours prior to the scan.
- Because we want to prevent cells from absorbing the gadolinium as much as possible, it is also a good idea to go for an MRI in full ketosis as well so that your cells are in that protective, dormant state. Try for a 3-5 day fast, or at least 24 hours if a much longer fast is not possible for you.
Things to do the day of, before your scan:
- Just like radiation, gadolinium also causes oxidative stress, particularly in the brain . For this reason, it is also a good idea to make use of Oxicell Cream, or another glutathione cream, the day of your MRI, following the same instructions as for a PET/CT/Xray above.
- If you cannot do a prolonged fast, take at least 6 hours off from food and drink (other than water) the day of your MRI.
- For an MRI, you should also avoid strenuous exercise for at least 24 hours prior to the scan to avoid abnormalities in tissues that can lead to a false positive .
- Do continue to take your medications, again as long as you can tolerate them on an empty stomach.
Things to take the day before, the day of, and for three days after:
The gadolinium can cause similar issues with oxidative stress and gut health that radiation can cause. Therefore, take the same protocol as suggested for a PET/CT/Xray, minus the radium 30c homeopathic medicine.
- Vitamin D3, 20,000 iu/day
- Fish Oil, 6g in split doses
- Probiotics, 1 capsule 3x/day
- Liposomal Glutathione (DFH), 2 pumps of oral liposomal glutathione 2x a day for the 5 days, or get a Glutathione Push (800mg) day of or day after imaging
- Binder of some sort (not needed the day before), 1 tsp a day in water + aloe and flax, if needed
General Detoxing Good for After Any Scan
Whether your scan includes radiation or contrast dye, there are a number of general detoxing habits that you can include in the days around your scan to support your body in getting rid of as much of the gadolinium and radioactive elements as possible.
1. Take a detox bath the day of and for three days after: mix 1 pound of sea salt and 1 pound of baking soda (about 1 ½ cups of each) in the hottest water you can stand. Soak for 30-45 minutes, and if you feel the need to shower after, refrain for at least 4 hours (I can’t find any info on why this is the case, it’s just the recommendation I received; if I discover the reason, I will update this).
2. Include chelating foods in your diet (foods that pull out toxins from your body): parsley, cilantro, brazil nuts, garlic and onions are all chelators and pull stored toxins out of tissues and fat.
3. Include natural binders, as discussed above: modified citrus pectin, chlorella, bentonite clay, spirulina, and charcoal powder are all great binders (clay and charcoal also help with chelation), which are super important to include when detoxing otherwise some of the toxins will just be reabsorbed in your gut.
4. The day before, day of, and for at least 3 days after you can include some of these supplements (in addition to those listed above) that support the gut, liver, and kidneys (some of your major detoxing organs) and protect against radiation:
- Milk thistle, 150-600mg daily
- R-lipoic acid, 300mg a day
- Beta-carotene, 25,000 iu or 75mg daily
- CoQ10, 100-400mg a day
- Siberian ginseng, 1000mg daily
- EGCG green tea extract, 725mg 3x a day (note here that if you have done any epigenetic testing from Nutrition Genome, 23 and Me, SelfDecode, etc., it is wise to check your genetic SNPs and avoid EGCG if you have a potentially problematic COMT genetic mutation, as EGCG can clow COMT activity further; the COMT gene is involved in estrogen metabolism, among other things, and it is important to support and not inhibit its activity)
- N-acetylcysteine, 200-600mg daily
- MSM, 1000mg daily
- Selenium, 200-1000mcg a day
- Drink some of these detoxing teas: pau d’arco, dandelion, fennel, lemongrass, and nettle teas support the liver and liver detoxification.
5. Try these detoxing activities:
- Apart from keeping your blood sugar in an optimal range and protecting your cells, fasting for 24 hours the day of your scan or doing a 3-5 day fast (if you are an experienced faster) with your scan in the middle of those days is a great idea so that your body can focus on detoxing versus digesting as well
- Do a coffee enema daily for at least a week after the scan: coffee enemas get the gallbladder to open up and dump its contents (bile and toxins) into the intestines to be shuttled out of the body (you can learn more about coffee enemas, like what you will need, how to do them, and what to expect, in my full blog on them here)
- Do a colonic the day of or day after your scan: colonics help to flush out the colon and can help get rid of candida, parasites, and toxins, among other things; this both supports a healthy gut and helps to keep this major detoxing pathway open and optimal
- If you have access to one, do an infrared sauna for 30-45 minutes a day for at least a week after your scan (you can read all about the benefits of infrared saunas in my full blog on them here)
6. Exercise helps us to detox in a number of ways, so make sure you are getting lots of exercise after your scan; exercise helps us to sweat toxins out, to move waste (and therefore toxins) through the gut more efficiently, and increases blood flow and oxygen levels to many organs including those that are major detoxers like the liver and kidneys (you can read about the detoxing benefits of exercise in my full blog on that here)
7. Drink lots and lots of water throughout all of this to help your kidneys flush everything out; aim for at least 2 litres a day, but the more the better
A final reminder here that you should ALWAYS run anything new by your healthcare team (in this context, preferably a naturopathic, integrative, or functional doctor who has knowledge of the risks and mitigating factors that accompany these scans) before embarking on a detoxing or supplement protocol.
Safer Alternatives to These Scans
There are a few alternatives to these types of scans, but you may run into problems accessing them. Ultrasounds are an alternative that don’t use radiation or contrast dye, but your oncologist may refuse to order it since an MRI or PET/CT is more sensitive and is usually the standard of care. Always good to ask though if this is something you are interested in.
The next is thermography, which uses thermal imaging to pick up heightened inflammation and increased blood flow. Cancer thrives in inflamed environments, and the area around a tumour is often inflamed; with inflammation comes heat that thermography can pick up on. Tumours also make use of something called angiogenesis, the formation of new blood vessels with which they feed themselves; this extra blood flow again creates extra heat, which can be picked up by thermography. Though thermography can’t diagnose, any unusual, asymmetric heat patterns give a heads up that something is potentially wrong and that additional scanning or testing is needed.
And finally, there are two relatively new scans that many of us are hoping become the standard of care, or at least more widely available. Prenuvo is very sensitive and specific and doesn’t use radiation or contrast dye, but it is currently only available in limited countries and cities and the cost is out of pocket; this may prevent it from being an option for you. If you would like to learn more about it however, you can do so here. And the second is specifically for breast cancer screening, and it’s called SonoCiné. It is a whole-breast ultrasound that is more sensitive than a traditional ultrasound. Again, it isn’t widely available and is out of pocket, so it may not be an option for you but is definitely worth looking into if you are screening for breast cancer. You can learn more about it, including where the closest one is to you, on their website here.
Whether a PET, CT, Xray, or MRI, there are definite risks for each from either radiation exposure or gadolinium toxicity. Even if you haven’t had issues in the past, these substances can accumulate in the body and cause issues down the road, so it is a prudent idea to protect your body ahead of time and do everything you can to support it in detoxing as much as possible afterwards. There was some heavy science in this one, so well done for making it all the way here! If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below or shoot me a message using the Contact Me page. And as always, there is a list of references below if you would like to do any further reading and researching of your own.
- High signal intensity in the dentate nucleus and globus pallidus on unenhanced T1-weighted MR images: relationship with increasing cumulative dose of a gadolinium-based contrast material – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24475844/
- Homeopathic mistletoe adverse reaction mimics nodal involvement in F-FDG PET/CT performed for evaluation of response to chemotherapy in lymphoma – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27637868/
- The Impact of High-Dose Vitamin C on Blood Glucose Testing in 18F-FDG PET Imaging – https://tech.snmjournals.org/content/jnmt/early/2014/08/05/jnmt.114.140335.full.pdf
- Early Evidence Shows Fasting, Keto Diet May Make Chemo and Some Other Cancer Treatments More Effective and Easier to Tolerate – https://www.curetoday.com/view/early-evidence-shows-fasting-keto-diet-may-make-chemo-and-some-other-cancrer-treatments-more-effective-and-easier-to-tolerate
- Melatonin for the prevention and treatment of cancer – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5503661/
- The melatonin immunomodulatory actions in radiotherapy – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5425818/
- Glutathione – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4684116/
- Radiation-Induced Normal Tissue Damage: Oxidative Stress and Epigenetic Mechanisms – https://www.hindawi.com/journals/omcl/2019/3010342/
- Think Twice Before Exercising When Getting That PET Scan – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/03/060309073343.htm
- Could Vitamin D Save Us From Radiation? – https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/11/081107143847.htm#:~:text=Summary%3A,International%20Journal%20of%20Low%20Radiation.
- Fish oil omega-3 fatty acids reduce the severity of radiation-induced oxidative stress in the rat brain – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/263206017_Fish_oil_omega-3_fatty_acids_reduce_the_severity_of_radiation-induced_oxidative_stress_in_the_rat_brain
- Radiotherapy and the gut microbiome: facts and fiction – https://ro-journal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13014-020-01735-9
- Impaired mitochondrial function and oxidative stress in rat cortical neurons: implications for gadolinium-induced neurotoxicity – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20398695/
- Can You Exercise Before an MRI? – https://www.gettingoldandfit.com/exercise-before-an-mri/