Electromagnetic Radiation: Are EMFs Really a Risk?

June 16, 2017
electromagnetic radiation - dr. axe

Is electromagnetic radiation really safe? Chances are you’re probably sitting in an electromagnetic field (EMF) at this very moment. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences describes EMFs as invisible areas of energy, often referred to as radiation, that are associated with the use of electrical power and various forms of natural and man-made lighting.

Electromagnetic radiation may surround us in modern everyday life, but what is it? And is it actually safe? While some forms of electromagnetic radiation are known to be harmful, other forms are more controversial. We’ll discuss the different types and the science surrounding safety below.
A basic point to remember is that EMFs come from all sorts of things, including your microwave, cell phone, cordless telephones, smart meters, TV and radio broadcasts, computers, power lines, fitness tracking devices, routers, and, of course, ultraviolet waves, x-rays, and gamma rays. We are practically bathed in EMFs at all times. (1)

What Is Electromagnetic Radiation?

There are electric fields that develop through variances in voltage, and there are magnetic fields that develop from the flow of electric current. The higher the electric field or the greater the magnetic field, the stronger the electromagnetic radiation. You can have an electric fields without a current; however, if there is a current, the magnetic field will vary in how much power it uses, whereas the electric field will be constant.

OK — so if that is confusing, let’s look at it this way: If you are traveling with your cell phone on using a navigation tool, it’s going to create a higher electric and magnetic field because it’s working harder to maintain a strong connection the whole time you are traveling — another reason your battery may run out more quickly. It is using way more energy to produce (find and maintain) a signal. The problem is, that when this type of energy is high and near your body, it may cause damaging microwaves and free radicals within the body.

Non-Ionizing Radiation

This category of electromagnetic radiation includes low- to mid-frequency radiation, which is generally perceived as harmless due to its lack of potency.

Forms of non-ionizing radiation include:

  • Extremely Low Frequency (ELF)
  • Radiofrequency (RF)
  • Microwaves
  • Visual Light

Source examples include:

  • Microwave ovens
  • Computers
  • House energy smart meters
  • Wireless (Wi-Fi) networks
  • Cell Phones
  • Bluetooth devices
  • Power lines
  • MRIs

Ionizing Radiation 
This type of electromagnetic radiation includes mid- to high-frequency radiation which can, under certain circumstances, lead to cellular and or DNA damage with prolonged exposure.

Forms of ionizing radiation include:

  • Ultraviolet (UV)
  • X-Rays
  • Gamma

Sources of ionizing electromagnetic radiation include:

  • Ultraviolet light
  • X-Rays
  • Some gamma rays (2)

According to the World Health Organization (3):

  • The time-varying electromagnetic fields produced by electrical appliances are an example of extremely low frequency (ELF) fields, which generally have frequencies up to 300 Hz; our electricity power supply and all appliances using electricity are the main sources of ELF fields.
  • The frequencies of intermediate frequency (IF) fields range from 300 Hz to 10 MHz; computer screens, anti-theft devices and security systems are the main sources of IF fields.
  • Radio frequency (RF) fields include frequencies frequencies of 10 MHz to 300 GHz; radio, television, radar and cellular telephone antennas, and microwave ovens are the main sources of RF fields.

Key Electromagnetic Radiation Points

  • Mobile telephones, television and radio transmitters and radar produce RF fields, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). These fields are used to transmit information over long distances and form the basis of telecommunications as well as radio and television broadcasting all over the world.
  • Microwaves are RF fields at high frequencies in the GHz range. In microwaves ovens, we use them to quickly heat food.
  • The electromagnetic spectrum encompasses both natural and human-made sources of electromagnetic fields.
  • Ionizing radiation such as X-ray and gamma-rays consists of photons which carry sufficient energy to break molecular bonds. Photons of electromagnetic waves at power and radio frequencies have much lower energy that do not have this ability.
  • Wavelength or frequency usually describes EMFs more specifically as non-ionizing.

EMF Comparison Chart

The National Cancer Institute provides a handy chart to help you understand the levels of EMFs.

 

Electromagnetic spectrum
Courtesy of http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/radiation/electromagnetic-fields-fact-sheet

As you can see on the left side of the chart, power lines and computers are lowest with the cell phone and microwaves being higher, but all are in the non-ionizing radiation range. It is the ultraviolet, x-rays and gamma rays cause by diagnostic radiation and therapeutic radiation that move into the more damaging ionizing radiation levels. (4)


Is Electromagnetic Radiation Dangerous? 

Now that you have a little knowledge of what EMFs are, let’s establish some awareness about some specific dangers that may be around you. The World Health Organization notes that low frequency and high frequency electromagnetic waves affect the human body in different ways.

Cell Phones

Have you ever noticed your cell phone getting really hot when you are driving your car? When your phone is in high use, including when you’re using a GPS location finder or talking while your car is moving, your phone is doing a lot of working to keep up. The harder it has to work, the more cell-damaging microwaves it is putting out into the atmosphere, right near your body.

If you think this doesn’t affect you, think again. Researchers conducted two separate studies, one on a  38-year-old vegetarian woman and another focusing on a healthy 21-year-old woman. Both carried cell phones in their bras for a number of years. What do you think happened? You guessed it; an aggressive breast cancer developed in the exact spot where the cell phone was carried. Now, I think it is fair to point out that the Susan B. Komen website lists cell phones as one of the factors that DO NOT cause breast cancer. But, since we do not have enough research at this point, carrying cell phones on the body is probably not the best choice. (56)

Microwave Oven

The World Health Organization reports that microwaves are high frequency radio waves that are “part of the electromagnetic spectrum” much like light — visible radiation. Microwaves ovens are typically designed so that the microwaves are only produced when the oven is on and the door is shut; however, older, less-cared-for microwave ovens could seep, so checking to make sure it is in good condition can be helpful. This is important since the energy created by microwaves can be absorbed by the body and caused free radicals to form in tissues. However, this thermal damage requires long exposures at high power levels, “well in excess of those measured around microwave ovens,” WHO notes.  

What about the microwaves and how it affects the food that is being cooked? Harvard Health Publications noted that the best way to preserve nutrients is by using a cooking method that is shorter. So basically, the less amount of time needed to cook a food, the more nutrients it will retain. This claim states that microwaved cooked food is fine, though more research is needed. (789 ) I personally don’t opt for microwaved food.

Wi-Fi

What about Wi-Fi? A relatively newer technology, some organizations deem it safe while others say it’s posing a public health threat. Technically, Wi-Fi works in the range of 2.4 GHz frequency, the same as a microwave oven. So as noted above, it may require a lot of exposure to yield negative results.

On the flip side, Environmental Health Trust warns of the dangers of electromagnetic radiation, saying it contributes to a person’s toxic body burden. The organization points to research showing that that the protective barrier of the brain — the blood-brain barrier — is compromised due to wireless electromagnetic radiation. Several studies suggest wireless radiation pokes holes in this protective barrier, causing more toxic toxic compounds to reach the brain. (10)

Doctors and organizations have also voiced concerns over Wi-Fi technologies in schools, where students and teachers often experience heavy electromagnetic radiation exposure throughout the entire day. Stephen Sinatra, MD, an integrative metabolic cardiologist and co-founder of Doctors for Safer Schools, says the heart is sensitive too and can be adversely affected by the same frequency used for Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz) at levels a fraction of federal guidelines (less than 1 percent) and at levels that have been recorded in schools with Wi-Fi technology.

Dr. Sinatra says children in high-tech classrooms have complained of the following symptoms:

  • dizziness
  • racing heart or irregular heartbeat
  • weakness
  • anxiety
  • fatigue
  • feeling faint
  • difficulty concentrating
  • chest pain or pressure (11)

Power Lines

When it comes to power lines, the American Cancer Society states that the levels of electromagnetic radiation greatly lowers as you move further away from the lines. The strength of the lines are highest when you are underneath them, but usually it’s the same frequency as some appliances in your home. If a power line is positioned across home and you are concerned, you can measure its strength using a gaussmeter. If you are not happy with what you find, you can move or ask the power company to bury the lines, though underground lines may not make a difference.

Regardless of the source, it may not be as much of a problem as you think, but it is definitely best to take precautions. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that various frequencies are regulated. For example, EMFs from “cell phones, power lines, smart meters and other wireless devices is regulated by a combination of other state and federal agencies.” (12)


4 Major EMF Dangers 

1. Electromagnetic Radiation May Cause Cancer

Although much more research needs to be done, there are reports that EMF sources, include cell phones, Wi-Fi routers and microwaves, could cause cancer. One such report studied childhood leukemia and noted that EMFs may put children at high risk for damaging carcinogens. Another study’s results were inconclusive. The bottom line is more independent study is needed. (1314)

Preliminary results of a large, $25 million government study released in 2016 found that cell phone radiation could increase the risk of malignant gliomas in the brain and schwannomas of the ear. (Schwannomas are rare tumors that in nerve sheath.) The study found a dose-response effect. That means the higher the dose, the higher the risk. The results backed up previous research suggesting cell phone radiation could increase the risk of gliomas. Acoustic neuromas have also been linked to cell phone use. (15)

Otis W. Brawley, MD, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, called the results of this rat study “good science” and released this statement:

The NTP report linking radiofrequency radiation (RFR) to two types of cancer marks a paradigm shift in our understanding of radiation and cancer risk. The findings are unexpected; we wouldn’t reasonably expect non-ionizing radiation to cause these tumors. This is a striking example of why serious study is so important in evaluating cancer risk. It’s interesting to note that early studies on the link between lung cancer and smoking had similar resistance, since theoretical arguments at the time suggested that there could not be a link. (16)

In 2011, the World Health Organization listed cell phone radiation as a 2B carcinogen, meaning it’s possibly carcinogenic to humans. Since cell phones have only been in wide use since the 1990s, epidemiological studies looking for long-term risks from cell phone exposure could be missing certain threats that may not be surfacing in humans yet. (17)

2. Electromagnetic Radiation Affects Brain Function

Studies are being conducted to see if cell phone use affects our brains. Even though the EMFs from cell phones are considered low, studies have concluded that there is an effect on the brain. Dr. Nora D. Volkow, a lead researcher with the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that there are “changes in brain glucose metabolism after cell phone use.”

The Environmental Working Group conducted studies using focus group with cell phones attached to their heads. The studies varied the stimulus with periods of time when cell phones were off as well as turned on. Though the study has not provided enough information to confirm major issues, it concluded that brain glucose increased when the phones were on for a period of time. This could cause inflammation in the brain, leading to illness. (18)

3. Electromagnetic Radiation May Fuel Dementia

Studies were conducted in a lab to see what happens when subjects are exposed to cell phone radiation. The results suggest electromagnetic radiation could cause symptoms of dementia. In addition to damaged DNA, which can cause cancer, the studies indicated that neurons in the brain experienced damage linked to memory loss and negatively affected learning capabilities.

What’s even more shocking is that this damage occurred just two hours after exposure to cell phone radiation. Researchers found the radiation seemed to poke holes in the barrier between the circulatory system and the brain, allowing toxins to make their way into the brain. This is pretty scary. (19)

4. Electromagnetic Radiation Could Cause Loss of Antioxidant Defenses

Cell phone usage may cause the loss of antioxidants in our saliva. Saliva is critical for many reasons, including its purpose to fight pathogens. Saliva is actually one of our first defenses against microbial infections. Studies show that talking on a phone for up to an hour can lead to a 25 percent lower level of salivary antioxidant levels. (20)


5 Natural Ways to Reduce the Dangers of EMFs

1. Keep Your Cell Phone and Computer at a Distance When Possible

Clearly, people are spending a lot of time around electromagnetic radiation. Your cell phone is one prime example. Did you know nomophobia — the fear of being without your phone, is actually a thing? I know that staying connected is a big deal to many, especially our teens out there, but EMFs are disruptors that may cause damage to the cells in your body. Why risk it?

Luckily, there are simple things you can do to avoid excess levels of electromagnetic radiation. Avoid carrying your cell phone in your pocket or bra. For both men and women, especially young boys and girls, this is a big issue. Those little microwaves that you cannot see may actually cause damage to your body, including reproductive issues and possibly cancer. 

There is also the potential for birth defects and many other problems that we simply don’t know enough about quite yet. It’s not just your cell phone that you need think about. Avoid overusing electronic tables and try to keep these devices away from children in particular. Never use your computer on your lap when it is connected to a power source; if working on laptops for an extended period of time, use a separate keyboard and mouse. This can help minimize time with your hands or legs are near the power source, which is the battery area. (21)


electromagnetic radiation - dr. axe

 

2. Avoid Bluetooth Headsets and Use Speakerphone Instead

These little conveniences, when combined with the cell phone usage, may affect you. However, CNN reports that it is minimal and the problem more so lies in wearing it constantly, even when not in use. You could avoid it altogether by using the speakerphone option. The further your cell phone is from you, the better. (That’s why texting with your phone held far away from your body is a safer option compared to talking with the phone by your ear.)  In fact, the radiation is greatly reduced for every inch it’s away from your body. (22)

3. Try Earthing

Earthing is making direct contact with the earth, putting you in contact with electrons found on the surface of the earth. I always make sure to get grounded when I travel, especially to different time zones. I will take a walk on the beach or in the grass of a nearby park as soon as possible upon arrival. It’s the perfect time for some mindful thinking and meditation, too.

The good news? Grounding really works. Researchers conducted a study measuring voltage in multiple areas of the body in people while they were grounded and ungrounded. The grounding resulted in significant reductions in voltage in the body. The study confirms the “umbrella” effect of earthing, according to Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman in his lectures on electromagnetism.

Feynman said that when the body potential is the same as the Earth’s electric potential (and thus grounded), it becomes an extension of the Earth’s gigantic electric system. The Earth’s potential thus becomes the “working agent that cancels, reduces or pushes away electric fields from the body.” Basically, grounding can eliminate the ambient voltage that comes from everyday electricity power sources. (23)

4. Protect Your Home

There are a few things you can do to protect your family while at home, such as electromagnetic radiation filters and even special paint and fabrics that can help shield your home. There are some very basic things you can do, too.

  • Unplugging appliances when not in use. This not only avoids wasting energy, it will reduce the levels of EMFs emitted in your home.
  • Keep the bedroom clear of as many EMFs as possible. You spend a lot of time there and technologies can affect your sleep as well as your DNA.
  • Avoidhalogen and fluorescent lighting. (24)
  • If you do use Wi-Fi instead of ethernet internet in the home, unplug it when it’s not in use and be sure to keep the router away from areas where you or family members spend a lot of time.
  • Avoid unnecessary, ridiculous Wi-Fi technology, such as wireless pacifiers that monitor a baby’s temperature and wireless diapers that tell alert you when the baby’s diaper is wet. Parents and caregivers survived for centuries without these technologies.

5. Eat a Healing Diet

Food is medicine, so it should be of no surprise protecting your body from the negative effects of EMFs involves nutrient-rich options. A diet that is nutrient-dense is essential. High Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) foods can make a big difference in healing EMF-related DNA damage. Try adding pecans, pomegranate seeds, rosemary, asparagus, blueberries, walnuts, prunes, cruciferous vegetables, cinnamon, dates, broccoli and cilantro into your diet in a regular basis. Certain nutrients and amazing superfoods — such as iodine, Vitamin D3, spirulina, noniB-complex vitamins, melatonin, holy basil, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium and zinc — are just a few beneficial options you can easily incorporate into your daily life. (25)


Final Thoughts on Electromagnetic Radiation

The fact is we are bombarded by EMFs from numerous technological devices in use today, but we don’t really know enough about these EMFs impact the human body. That is the perfect reason to take extra precautions, especially with cell phones, tablets and Wi-Fi. Having your cell phone attached to you at all times is an unnecessary risk I don’t recommend taking. It’s best to avoid exposure when possible, especially for our children since they will be using cell phones for a much larger percentage of life than many of us due to their popularity at such an early age.

If you have concerns around your home, you seek out an electromagnetic radiation field testing professional who can perform tests in your home. (26)

Read Next: Top 10 High Antioxidant Foods


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