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.
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
- Some cell phone networks and Wi-Fi
- Infrared rays
- Visible light
- Ultraviolet (UV) light
- 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
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:
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.
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. (18, 19, 20, 21) 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. (23, 24)
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)
Learn More about Thyroid Disorders
EMF radiation isn’t the only thing that can impact thyroid hormones. Find out more about what causes thyroid disorders.
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. (39, 40) 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.
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. (54, 55) 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.
Now I’d like to hear from you. Are you concerned with rising EMF exposure in modern society? Have you taken any steps to lower your exposure? Let me know in the comments.