Gamma rays are part of the electromagnetic spectrum and are high-energy, subatomic particles created by the decay of radioactive elements such as radium-226 or by nuclear reactions. Gamma rays possess the smallest wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum, but the energy they contain can measure millions of electron volts. These rays have enough energy to pass entirely through your body and can potentially come into contact with all organs which can have negative effects on your health.
Acute Radiation Sickness
Gamma rays from strong sources can cause acute radiation sickness, or radiation sickness, or even death. This illness is caused when your body is exposed to a high dose of radiation over the course of several minutes. Acute radiation sickness produces symptoms of nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, tendency to bleed, weight loss and increased susceptibility to infection. Your survival rate depends on the radiation dose absorbed by the body, type of radiation, route of exposure and length of time exposed. Radiation sickness recovery can take a few weeks to two years.
Food irradiation is a food safety technique used to eliminate disease-causing pathogens. Irradiated food is food not technically radioactive but radiomimetic, or effects that mimic the actual exposure of ionising irradiation. Gamma rays are the preferred source for the irradiation of food. These rays change the molecular structure of the food which can produce mutagens such as formaldehyde and benzene, chemicals suspected of causing cancer. Food irradiation also causes nutrients in the food to be destroyed. Vitamins A, C, E, K, the entire B group, amino acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids are all affected by irradiation.
Gamma rays can cause radiation-induced ionizations which can directly effect the cellular component molecules. The results on radiation-induced ionizations on the cell is that the DNA strands break. Segments of DNA become deleted in cells that are irradiated but survive. Repair of these cells becomes difficult and erroneous joining of broken DNA strands can occur which result in mutations, chromosome aberrations or cell death.