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Guarding Against Cosmic Ray-Induced Oxidative Stress: Harnessing Antioxidants for Health at High Altitudes

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on July 17, 2023

Professions that entail prolonged periods at high altitudes, such as those in the airline industry, expose individuals to cosmic rays, which can lead to increased susceptibility to oxidative stress. Cosmic rays are a form of radiation originating from outer space, consisting of energetic particles that can penetrate the Earth's atmosphere. In this evidence-based blog post, we will explore how naturopathic and functional medicine perspectives recognize the importance of taking precautions and incorporating antioxidants, like glutathione, to mitigate the oxidative stress induced by cosmic rays.

Understanding Cosmic Rays and Oxidative Stress: Cosmic rays comprise a range of high-energy particles, including protons, electrons, and atomic nuclei, that traverse space and can penetrate the Earth's atmosphere. When individuals are at high altitudes, such as on airplanes, the shielding effect of the Earth's atmosphere is reduced, resulting in increased exposure to cosmic rays. This exposure can lead to the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) within the body, initiating oxidative stress and potential cellular damage.

  1. The Protective Power of Glutathione: Glutathione, often referred to as the "master antioxidant," plays a critical role in combating oxidative stress induced by cosmic rays. This tripeptide, naturally produced within our cells, acts as a powerful scavenger of free radicals, neutralizing their harmful effects. Glutathione also aids in the regeneration of other antioxidants, such as vitamins C and E, further bolstering the body's defense against oxidative damage. By maintaining optimal levels of glutathione, individuals can support their antioxidant defense system and potentially reduce the risk of cosmic ray-induced health complications. (1)
  2. Enhancing Glutathione Levels: Promoting glutathione synthesis and availability is key to supporting cellular health and counteracting cosmic ray-induced oxidative stress. Certain lifestyle and dietary factors can help enhance glutathione levels naturally. Regular exercise, stress management techniques, and adequate sleep have been shown to promote optimal glutathione production. Additionally, consuming foods rich in sulfur-containing amino acids, such as broccoli, cauliflower, and garlic, can provide building blocks for glutathione synthesis. In some cases, glutathione supplementation may be considered, under the guidance of a qualified healthcare provider, to support antioxidant protection. (2)
  3. Comprehensive Antioxidant Support: While glutathione is a crucial player, a holistic approach to antioxidant support is important for individuals exposed to cosmic rays. A diet rich in antioxidant-rich fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can provide a diverse array of protective compounds. These include vitamin C, vitamin E, selenium, and various phytochemicals, which work synergistically to neutralize free radicals and reduce oxidative stress. Additionally, minimizing exposure to other oxidative stressors, such as tobacco smoke and environmental pollutants, can further support antioxidant defense mechanisms. (3)
  4. Individualized Recommendations and Professional Guidance: Recognizing that every individual is unique, it is vital to consult with a naturopathic physician or functional medicine practitioner who can provide personalized recommendations based on individual needs and circumstances. These healthcare professionals can assess an individual's oxidative stress levels, offer targeted antioxidant strategies, and ensure an integrative approach to overall well-being.

Professions that involve spending substantial time at high altitudes expose individuals to increased cosmic ray-induced oxidative stress. Understanding the role of antioxidants, especially glutathione, in combating oxidative damage is crucial for safeguarding health. By incorporating lifestyle modifications, consuming a diet rich in antioxidants, and potentially considering glutathione supplementation under professional guidance, individuals in the airline industry can take proactive measures to reduce their susceptibility to cosmic ray-induced oxidative stress. Embracing a naturopathic and functional medicine approach empowers individuals to nurture their health and well-being amidst the unique challenges of their profession.


  1. Fang YZ, Yang S, Wu G. Free radicals, antioxidants, and nutrition. Nutrition. 2002 Oct;18(10):872-9. doi: 10.1016/s0899-9007(02)00916-4. PMID: 12361782.
  2. Minich DM, Brown BI. A Review of Dietary (Phyto)Nutrients for Glutathione Support. Nutrients. 2019 Sep 3;11(9):2073. doi: 10.3390/nu11092073. PMID: 31484368; PMCID: PMC6770193.
  3. Canals-Garzón C, Guisado-Barrilao R, Martínez-García D, Chirosa-Ríos IJ, Jerez-Mayorga D, Guisado-Requena IM. Effect of Antioxidant Supplementation on Markers of Oxidative Stress and Muscle Damage after Strength Exercise: A Systematic Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Feb 5;19(3):1803. doi: 10.3390/ijerph19031803. PMID: 35162826; PMCID: PMC8835002.

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