Do You Need to Protect Yourself against EMF Dangers? | Chris Kresser
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Do You Need to Protect Yourself against EMF Dangers?

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Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from cell phones, other electronic devices like laptops and smart meters, Wi-Fi, and high-voltage power lines generate non-ionizing radiation, which some experts have assured us is not harmful, but growing research indicates EMFs may impact human health in negative ways.

EMF dangers
Living near high-voltage power lines could expose you to EMF dangers.

Read on to learn what EMF radiation is, how it can disrupt human cells, five possible consequences of EMF exposure, and how to reduce your exposure.

Are you concerned about EMF radiation? Find out more about the potential health effects of EMFs and get tips on reducing your exposure. #healthylifestyle #chriskresser

What Is EMF Radiation?

Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) exist along a spectrum of frequencies. Higher-frequency EMFs have higher energy and shorter wavelengths. Lower-frequency EMFs have lower energy and longer wavelengths. The earth and sun produce natural EMFs, but the bulk of modern society’s EMF exposure is from manmade electronics. The list below shows common EMF sources, from lowest to highest frequency/energy:

  • AC power (50 to 60Hz)
  • TV and radio waves
  • Cell phone signals
  • Wi-Fi
  • Microwaves
  • Some cell phone networks and Wi-Fi
  • Infrared rays
  • Visible light
  • Ultraviolet (UV) light
  • X-rays
  • Gamma rays
  • Cosmic rays

At high frequencies, from UV light down through cosmic rays, EMF radiation is ionizing, meaning that the energy is strong enough to break molecular bonds and knock electrons from atoms. Ionizing radiation is a known carcinogen.

Non-ionizing radiation encompasses frequencies at visible light and below and includes all telecommunication and electronic devices.

What’s the Controversy Surrounding EMFs?

Are low-frequency EMFs harmful? Depending on who you ask, the answer varies quite a bit. Tech companies claim that Wi-Fi, cell phones, and the like are safe. The FDA and many other agencies don’t consider low-frequency EMFs harmful, stating that no evidence has established clear causative links between non-ionizing radiation and adverse health outcomes. (1) However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (a part of the World Health Organization) classifies low-frequency EMFs as a “possible human carcinogen” based on human observational data and animal research that link EMF radiation to tumors. (2)

As our EMF exposure increases with 5G networks, ubiquitous Wi-Fi hot spots, and smartphones that never leave our sides, we need to critically evaluate our exposure. Emerging research suggests that we could sustain harmful effects of radiation at these frequencies, although the effects can take months or years to develop and depend on intensity, frequency, duration, and other variables. Let’s look closer at the mechanisms and possible consequences of low-frequency radiation.

EMFs Can Disrupt Cellular Activity

A growing body of research demonstrates that low-frequency radiation disrupts voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs), transmembrane proteins that are found in many of our body’s cells. (3, 4)

In response to a potential cell membrane change, VGCCs—which act like gatekeepers for a cell—allow an influx of calcium ions into the cell to carry out core biologic processes, including muscle contractions, the release of hormones and neurotransmitters, gene expression, enzyme activity, and more. (5)

The available evidence showing how EMF sources can disrupt VGCCs is compelling. More than 26 studies over the past 25 years have shown that non-ionizing radiation initiates a massive influx of calcium into cells and that this calcium influx can be blocked by calcium channel blockers, meaning that the mechanism is VGCC-dependent. (6, 7)

Excessive calcium influx into a cell can lead to the following, all of which can contribute to the development of disease and cancer:

  • Oxidative stress (8, 9, 10)
  • Cellular DNA damage (11, 12, 13)
  • Apoptosis, or cell death (14, 15)

Interestingly, EMF has been shown to stimulate bone growth through a VGCC-mediated mechanism—although we haven’t optimized that unintended effect yet. (16)

Five Potential Dangers of Continuous EMF Exposure

You might sleep with your smartphone next to your bed. Maybe your workplace is equipped with high-speed 5G Wi-Fi. Your house might have a smart meter instead of a standard analog electrical box. We’re exposed to significantly greater amounts of low- and extremely-low-frequency EMFs than we were even 20 years ago. Here’s a quick overview of some of the research showing associations between EMF exposure and adverse health outcomes.

1. Cancer

Let’s start with most controversial question: Do cell phones cause brain cancer? Because of the brain’s high metabolic rate, it is more prone to oxidative damage (which EMFs may cause) compared to other organs. (17) Several papers (published as part of the Hardell group of studies in Sweden) found an increased risk for brain cancer in people who used cell phones, particularly on the same side of the head that the phone was used on. (18192021) Another long-term epidemiological study also supported a connection between cell phones and brain cancer. (22) In contrast, the INTERPHONE study, which spanned 13 countries, found no association between cell phone use and brain cancer, except in the case of very high cell phone use. (2324)

The case isn’t closed, but based on these findings, it makes sense to limit the length of cell phone calls and avoid keeping your phone on your person (i.e., in a pocket or “wearing” it) when not in use.

2. Neuropsychiatric Effects

Neurons have the highest density of VGCCs of all human cell types, which means the brain may be extra susceptible to EMF effects. (25) In animal studies, EMF exposure induced damaged neurons, brain structure changes, cognitive impairment, and brain inflammation. (26, 27, 28)

Over two dozen epidemiological and observational studies have related neuropsychiatric effects—including headache, fatigue, insomnia, impaired sensation, irritability, lack of concentration, and depressive mood—to EMF exposure from things like living near a cell tower, high cell phone usage, having a smart meter, and occupational exposure. (29)

3. Thyroid Issues

An estimated 20 million Americans suffer from a thyroid disorder. (30) The release of non-steroid hormones, including thyroid hormones, depends on voltage-gated calcium channels, which can be disrupted by low-frequency EMFs. In rodents, both Wi-Fi and cell phone frequencies altered levels of TSH, T3, and T4 in exposed mice compared to control mice. (31, 32) A couple of observational studies have found that more time spent on mobile phones correlated with increased levels of TSH and lower levels of T3 and T4. (33, 34, 35) One interesting study compared computer workers to people whose occupations weren’t centered around computer usage. (36) The authors reported lower TSH, T3, and T4 in the computer workers and also reported that zinc supplementation addressed some of these changes. Zinc, along with selenium and iodine, supports thyroid function. (37)

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4. Fertility Problems

Almost one in eight couples will experience some degree of infertility in their lifetime. (38) Men are often told to keep laptops off their laps to prevent overheating and damaging a sensitive area, but it appears that EMFs may induce non-thermal, harmful effects on male fertility. After exposure to cell phone radiation, human semen had higher levels of oxidation, as well as decreased sperm motility and viability. (3940) Likewise, men who attended an infertility clinic and who reported frequent cell phone usage had lower sperm count, motility, and variability. (41) EMF exposure has also been correlated with sperm DNA damage, lower testosterone, erectile dysfunction, and abnormal sperm structure in rodents and humans. (42, 43, 44, 45)

5. Sleep Disruption

Several studies have indicated that cell phone, Wi-Fi, and other EMF exposure can lower melatonin levels in rats and humans, thereby disrupting circadian rhythm and sleep. (46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51) However, other studies have shown EMFs to have no effect on melatonin, or even to increase it. (52, 53) Whether or not EMFs play a role, electronics are not conducive to healthy sleep because of the blue light they emit and because they are distractions. Turn them off—or better yet, don’t even bring them into the bedroom.

How to Reduce EMF Exposure

The evidence against EMFs isn’t overwhelming, but it shouldn’t be entirely ignored. While I don’t believe EMF exposure is a root cause of every modern disease, for some people it could be a contributing factor.

Here’s another way to look at it: EMFs from cell phones, high-voltage power lines, Wi-Fi, and other electronics could be considered another modern environmental toxin and therefore a contributor to oxidative stress. As I’ve said before, you should lower your risk where you can.

Consider the following tips:

Realize that Children May Be Extra Susceptible to EMFs

Babies, small children, and young people have thinner skin and bones and higher water content in their tissues, which might concentrate the effects of EMFs in their bodies compared to fully grown adults. (5455) A few studies have found disturbing connections between childhood cancer and close proximity to radio stations, high-voltage power lines, and high-EMF environments. (56, 57, 58, 59)

Increase the Distance between Your Phone and Body

Due to the nature of the fields, EMF exposure rapidly decreases as distance from a cell phone increases. Keep it in another room and limit your usage. Don’t tuck it in your pocket—especially not in your front pants pocket if you’re male. For long calls, use speakerphone, earbuds, or even a Bluetooth headset or earpiece (but don’t wear it all day). At night, keep the phone off the night table, or, better yet, shut it down and put it in another room.

Don’t Use Your Phone When the Signal Is Weak

When only a bar or two shows on the screen, the phone is emitting higher levels of radio frequencies to compensate. Wait to make your call until the signal improves. Likewise, don’t make calls in a moving car, bus, or train.

Shut Down Your Wi-Fi Router at Night

This is easily achieved using a 24-hour mechanical timer.

Avoid High-Voltage Power Lines

Don’t buy a house or rent an apartment right next to 10,000-volt power lines, especially if you have or plan to have kids.

Rethink Your “Smart” Home

The more devices that are connected to your Wi-Fi or cellular network, the more EMF exposure your family is going to have. Ditch the “smart home” devices that can lock the door or start the oven. Decline having a smart meter installed by the electric company.

Be Skeptical of Radiation Shields

These products might interfere with phone signals, making the phone work harder and actually emit more radiofrequency energy. The only exception here might be putting a shield between your laptop and body if you’re literally setting it in your lap.

  1. I am dependent on my behind-the-ear hearing aids. Newer technology centers on Bluetooth devices one controls with a smartphone. You suggest in your article to mitigate harm by using a Bluetooth headset or earpiece – but not all day. Any counsel for those of us who need these devices all day every day?

  2. Our school district has entered a contract to put 40 5G cell towers on our school grounds. Each district property is considered an asset to the company.

    Many of us are concerned but everyone is quick to point out the FCC guidelines and the ACS statement.

    What are your thoughts?

  3. Switching power supplies put out a lot of emf.

    When possible replace with linear regulated power supply.

  4. Is a wi-fi router active (sending out signals) if all our devices/computers are in sleep mode? They are set to not search for emails/notifications automatically.

  5. I work on wireless networks. We’re cautioned against being in the path of anything for too long because it’s similar to the frequency used in microwave ovens, so if it’s 30-300 MHz it could cause a burn if exposed long enough. We recently started using RF meters and exposure is generally very low, but it’s my understanding that the skin absorbs the energy pretty superficially from cell antennas.

  6. Thanks for the information. I’m wondering what some of the symptoms might be, other than sleep disturbances so I can be aware. Does anyone know?

  7. I live in a condo community that was built in 1980s and has cement walls and ceilings (I assume for sound proofing and weight bearing since our units are three stories tall.) I wonder whether our cement walls and ceiling can help “stop” the EMF’s from entering our space? Many of us are doing the best we can to avoid EMF’s. Personally we no longer use our microwave oven, I do not own a Smart Phone instead use a flip phone for lower EMF’s and do not carry it in my pocket. I do not travel and go through airport X-rays and I basically avoid ALL X-rays even dental X-rays. The only culprit in our condo is the WIFI and I am looking for a way to turn that off at night. There are Smart Meters (for utilities) on the ends of each of our buildings but they do not touch the walls of my condo as there is a condo with cement walls and ceilings between us and those meters. Unfortunately, there is one cellphone tower near our area so much of this exposure is not within our control. I do sleep on a special “grounding sheet” each night that is designed to release what I can from my body at night.

  8. Having discovered a lot of metals in hypodermal fluids, I strongly suspect that most people have some metals in the body, too. When I would lean over my stove, my belly would get a shock. All electric devices “leak” electricity to some degree, and the older the appliance, the more likely. However, once I got rid of the toxic chemical elements, that shock never returned, as with many other symptoms.

    You have to learn to read your symptoms with relevance to the Acupuncture meridians, which are “channels” for fluid transport in the body. I am talking about the system set up for delivering nutrients to and metabolites from the cells in the body. We are not that heavily vascularized to have a capillary going to every cell. Since movement of ions in that fluid relies on diffusion, this means we need an extra-vascular system set up to create a diffusion gradient to each cell. That is what I think the acupuncture meridiens (which may include or rely upon the recently discovered interstitium organ) are for. That is how “energy” moves in the body.

    Thus, I have to bring up the fact that none of the research done on EMFs has been adequately controlled by including toxic load of its participants. Much of it has found no correlation between EMFs and the symptoms mentioned in this post. Because the researched population has not been controlled for toxic load, we are going to see different statistical results in every study.

    If a sensitive person got rid of the metals running under the skin, he/she might reduce their sensitivity to zero. Given our modern life, we cannot expect to be free of toxic metals (which most metals are), but there may be some people with more or less than average amounts of metals under the skin.

  9. Calcium channel function is compromised in people with M.E. like myself. When I lived where ground current was high (low frequency EMR would vary between 2mG and 6mG from the ground) my fatigue and brain fog would go up and down with the background radiation. Every time I felt better than usual the radiation tested lower, and every time I felt worse the radiation tested higher.
    Radiation from LCD monitors is a problem. I have infection which is worse in the left side of my head. Sitting here on the computer, I can feel the sensation in the left side of my head becoming slowly worse. I have to limit my time on the computer otherwise it impacts on my health in a big way. The computer itself is a couple of meters away from the monitor and keyboard. RF and EMR tests too low to be much of a problem but there is a lot of EMI being emitted from the monitor. It’s difficult to shield something that you need to see, and most filters that block RF do not block EMI. Wearing a foil hat does prevent most of the sensation in my head where the foil covers it. I still get sensation in my left eye which has herpes simplex 1, so I’m going to try a phone liquid screen protector applied to glasses. When I spend too much time on the computer my metabolism is affected – I get very cold in cold weather. I also get more hair loss.
    Mobile (cell) phone radiation is the worst. I get an instant brain squeeze from phones. The constant feeling of pressure that I have in my head is made several times worse. I recently stuck a Cellsafe radi-chip to the phone I keep for emergencies. They reduce SAR by around 90%, and it has reduced my reaction to the phone quite a lot. SAR seems to be fairly proportional to other biological effect.
    My sensitivity to radiation varies with immune activity and inflammation. I’ve observed worse symptoms in other people with brain inflammation (depression etc) corresponding with their exposure. There really needs to be testing of the effects of EMF done on people with illnesses that involve brain inflammation, who are affected so much more than healthy people.

  10. There are so many products out there that claim to block or reduce EMF exposure. Would love to hear your opinion on them,

  11. Hey
    1. Cabled my place for Internet connection
    2. Put in a couple of Stetzer filters in my son’s room as he has a computer in there & when i had it tested by a building biologist, the readings without the filters were 50 (which is apparently ok), but when we plugged in one filter at a time – the readers decreased by 10 points with each filter! Great decrease in dirty electricity.
    3. Earthing mat under the keyboard. I feel better.
    4. …… always on the look-out for updates…. 🙂
    Maria

  12. To the critics of the science: Having just done a deep dive into this issue for my book Cancer and EMF Radiation, there are four corroborating lines of evidence that suggest non-native, non-ionizing EMFs are a significant human carcinogen. They are as follows:

    1. Epidemiological evidence with RF radiation (cellphones) increasing risk of glioma, acoustic neuroma, and salivary gland tumors with exposure > 10 years.

    2. Mechanistic research showing clear evidence of EMFs suppressing melatonin production (numerous studies) and Martin Pall’s research with EMFs effecting voltage-gated calcium channels, causing oxidative damage through the peroxynitrate pathway.

    3. Dr. George Carlo’s work for WTR project documenting chromosome damage from a SAR rating as low as 1 watt per kilogram. These findings have been replicated.

    4. The landmark 2018 study by the National Toxicology Program showing “clear evidence” of cancer growth form RF radiation in animal studies.

    Collectively, these lines of evidence build a strong case to apply the precautionary principle for anyone interested in preventing cancer (all of us) and takes steps to avoid, remediate, or shield exposure to non-ionizing radiation.

  13. Dear Chris,
    I’d love your thoughts on 5G as I am to believe this will be a type of radiation, once implemented globally / via satellite, may be something none of us will be able to avoid. Perhaps an article about what we can do to minimise the impact of existing places with 5G towers and what’s to come in future? I think we may have more sinister concerns to come.
    Thank you.

  14. Seems like this article is horribly conflating EMF’s and standard radiation. There’s nothing MAGNETIC about standard visible light.

  15. Love the information in this article! I am thinking of getting the radiation proof case and laptop case from Defender Shield? They also have radiation proof headphones! Curious to know what you think about that company.

    Thanks in advance!

  16. I am very concerned about EMF and have been since the mid 80’s when I met a biologist researching these fields and collecting data on health issues including hallucinatory images etc. His name was Albert Budden. He also wrote a lot on the subject and about a hospital called the Breakspear Hospital which specialised with people who were affected by these emmisions. Unfortunately neither myself or any friends have heard from Albert Budden in a long time and there seems to be no trace of him. One of his books was titled ‘Electromagnetic Man’. Keep up the good work and publicity!

  17. I have severe sensitivity to EM. I cannot use my laptop computer without becoming saturated with arm, chest, and hand pain. I do have wi-fi in my home (upstairs) and do not have a smart meter.

    I believe this has caused me other ills as well, definitely in the brain). I don’t know what to do? I am retired and have a lifetime project I have wanted to complete, but can’t do so without a computer (it involves being able to do health-related research on the internet). Do I need to give up the dream? I am no longer doing e-mails (though there are some I have to read/respond to, like dr. appointments), looking up the weather, using age gaming, and try to print out anything I want to read on-line. Any exposure at all is painful to my nerves.

    Has anyone else had this problem and found a way to deal with it? Or do I have to look at it as an environmental toxin and just stay far, far away?

    If anyone even has an intuition about what I might do, please respond.

  18. Be skeptical of radiation shields. Why? What do you think about the shielded paint, the fabrics, the curtains, the sleeping bags, clothing and the faraday canopies, when your phone is off? What about shungite? Or EarthCalm or Blushield which transmit a life compatible signal louder than the wifi so that human cells align with the new signal and people feel better even if they are not shielded? What about the study showing that a cloth shield worn while sleeping helped those with autoimmune diseases? https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12026-016-8825-7 Your opinion is valuable but if one has EMS more drastic measures are needed.

  19. I have EHS and it’s so frustrating to have to deal with. It’s another stress that has to been added to my life. Most people don’t have to think about whether they will get sick by going somewhere. It’s definitely gotten way better and I’ve written about what I’ve done to heal. I’m thankful I’m better now!