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Radiation Ahead? Eat a Black Mushroom!

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Suppose that one day you have the misfortune to receive a strong dose of radiation in preparation for a medical procedure, say a bone marrow transplant. To your surprise, the physician prescribes that you eat a hefty serving of dark-colored mushrooms about an hour beforehand. Lest you think this black magic, the clinician explains that this has been proven effective in 'clinical trials' in mice, surprisingly so in fact. A 2012 paper with the forbidding title Compton Scattering by Internal Shields Based on Melanin-Containing Mushrooms Provides Protection of Gastrointestinal Tract from Ionizing Radiation describes this work. The authors fed mice a mushroom used in East Asian cuisine, called Judas’ ear, tree, or jelly ear (Auricularia auricula-judae) an hour before giving them a powerful 9 Gy dose with the beta emitter Cesium137. For perspective, anything over ~0.1 Gy is considered a dangerously high dose for humans. All the control mice died in 13 days while ~90% of the mushroom-fed ones survived. Mice fed a white mushroom (porcini) died almost as fast as the controls, but those fed white mushrooms supplemented with melanin also survived.

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