By Lindsay Christensen
Nutritionist @ The Pratt Clinics
In Parts 1 and part 2 of this blog series, I explained what EMFs are and the problems with our current EMF safety standards. Here in Part 3, I’ve broken down the research on the harmful health effects of man-made EMFs. If there’s anyone in your life who is doubtful about the health impacts of EMFs, show them this post! They may change their mind after giving it a read…
The health effects of EMFs
A growing body of research indicates that man-made EMFs have significant detrimental effects on the human body. While the health risks of EMFs have historically been studies in the context of their thermal effects, aka how much they heat up the brain and other tissues, they also have significant non-thermal effects. In this article, I will focus on the non-thermally-mediated health effects of EMFs.
Your body responds to EMFs because it is an excellent conductor of electricity. Man-made EMFs change the natural electrical currents in our bodies, altering the function of our cells and organs. One mechanism by which EMFs alter our natural electrical currents is by polarizing voltage-gated calcium channels, electrically-sensitive channels in the membranes of excitable cells such as muscle and brain cells. The polarization of these channels causes the hyperexcitation of cells, resulting in adverse muscular and neurological outcomes.
EMFs also harm the body by causing DNA and protein damage and depleting antioxidant levels. These effects may result in cell death, reproductive problems, and cancer, among many other issues.
18 health conditions linked to EMFs
Antibiotic resistance and infections
Antibiotic resistance refers to the ability of a microbe to resist the effects of medication that, at one point, could successfully kill it. Currently, the CDC estimates that 70 percent of bacteria responsible for hospital-acquired infections are resistant to at least one antibiotic. While antibiotic resistance has been attributed to the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in humans and livestock, emerging research suggests that EMFs also play an important role! In fact, scientists have found that radiofrequency EMF in the range to which we are exposed daily promotes antibiotic resistance in Escherichia coli and Listeria monocytogenes, two important human pathogens.
In addition to increasing bacterial resistance to antibiotics, EMFs may also activate latent infections. A study published in The Journal of Environmental Pathology, Toxicology, and Oncology found that EMFs at 50 Hz, the frequency emitted by many household appliances and electronic devices, activates latent Epstein Barr virus!
If you work in a hospital where exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria is likely or have battled Epstein Barr virus in the past, then reducing your exposure to EMFs should be a priority.
Your skeletal system may not be the first thing you think of when worrying about the health effects of EMFs. However, there is evidence that chronic exposure to man-made EMFs increases bone breakdown and reduces bone density. Over time, these processes may lead to the development of osteoporosis.
Stress is a significant problem in our society, with 79 percent of Americans reporting that they feel stressed “sometimes or frequently” during their day. Interestingly, EMFs may be partly to blame for escalating stress levels! Animals exposed to EMFs from cell phones demonstrate increased cortisol, one of the body’s primary stress hormones. This may explain why people with electrohypersensitivity, high sensitivity to EMFs, often report feeling agitated in the presence of WiFi, cell phones, and other EMF-emitting devices.
Scientists have been investigating the relationship between man-made EMFs and cancer for decades. While industry-funded studies have tried to discredit this relationship, an overwhelming body of evidence indicates that EMF exposure does indeed increase the risk of certain cancers. In fact, EMFs emitted from cell phones, Bluetooth, WiFi and cell towers was declared a Class 2B “possible” carcinogen in 2011. Several researchers think this classification is too generous and think it should be reclassified as a Class 2A “probable” or Class 1 “definite” carcinogen.
A recent study made headlines when it revealed that rats and mice exposed to cellphone radiation equivalent to the average human’s exposure experienced significant increases in the incidence of glioma (a type of brain cancer) and a rare tumor of the heart called a schwannoma. The conclusions of this study – that cell phone use increases the risk of brain cancer is supported by many other studies that have found similar relationships.
Man-made EMFs may also increase the risk of female breast cancer. Scientists have even urged women with breast cancer susceptibility genes, such as the BRCA gene, to avoid using electronic devices at night because the combination of blue light and radiofrequency EMF disrupts circadian rhythms and amplifies the risk of cancer.
EMFs pose a threat to the health of your heart. Exposure to radiofrequency radiation in the range emitted by typical cell phones increases blood pressure by as much as 5 to 10 mm Hg; this spells trouble for people already struggling with prehypertension or hypertension.
Since electrical potentials are used to govern the contractility of the heart, EMF exposure may also lead to abnormal heart rhythms, such as arrhythmias.
Your liver and kidneys are your body’s primary organs of detoxification. EMFs reduce levels of essential detoxifying hormones in these organs, such as superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase, and may thereby impair detoxification processes.
EMFs inhibit the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. (14) When we combine this effect with the potential for EMFs to promote antibiotic-resistant infections (mentioned above), we run into some serious problems! If you struggle with digestive system issues such as dysbiosis or SIBO, you may want to pay extra attention to reducing your EMF exposure.
Headaches are one of the most frequent symptoms of man-made EMF exposure mentioned in the scientific literature. Scientists have gone so far as to recommend that migraine headache sufferers “limit mobile phone use and instead, use the fixed-line telephone for their daily communications.”
Fascinatingly, EMFs appear to increase the toxicity of certain heavy metals! Wi-Fi exposure has been found to increase mercury release from dental amalgams; this vaporized mercury can then travel to the brain and other organs, where it wreaks havoc on our health.
In one study, scientists exposed human lymphocytes, critical immune cells, to an EMF frequency in the range used for wireless devices. They found that the frequency “enlarged and deformed” the cells; over time, this may result in impaired immune function in the body.
A growing body of evidence indicates that electromagnetic fields adversely impact metabolic health. One study published in Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine found that when Type 1 and 2 diabetics were exposed to dirty electricity, their blood sugar levels rose. Conversely, when these individuals were exposed to a “clean” electromagnetic environment, their insulin needs and plasma glucose levels, respectively, were significantly reduced! Exposure to radiofrequency EMF also raises hemoglobin A1c, a risk factor for diabetes. These findings suggest that avoiding dirty electricity and high-radiofrequency EMF environments may help people better manage their blood sugar and metabolic health.
Neurological development and function
Electromagnetic fields pose a severe risk to the brain. EMFs open the blood-brain barrier, the structure that protects the brain from toxins and pathogens, thus allowing harmful substances to enter the brain. They also promote neuronal hyperactivity, demyelination, and brain oxidative stress. These adverse physiological effects translate into increased risks of Alzheimer’s disease, impaired learning and memory, depression, and anxiety.
The impact of man-made EMFs on reproductive function has been extensively investigated. In males, EMFs impair testicular function and damage sperm at the cell membrane, mitochondrial, and DNA levels. In fact, using your laptop on your lap for just four hours can make 25% of your sperm completely nonviable! Heavy use of a cell phone also lowers sperm count and is associated with erectile dysfunction. Even if you don’t want to reproduce, you should still be concerned about these effects because sperm quality is closely linked to overall health.
EMFs can also impair reproductive function in females. They increase the risk of miscarriage, damage the endometrium, and may trigger menorrhagia and symptoms of early menopause.
You may have heard that you should avoid blue light exposure from electronic devices before bed to optimize your sleep. Well, the same goes for EMF-emitting devices! Researchers have found that EMFs emitted from electronic devices significantly reduce melatonin, the body’s primary sleep-inducing hormone. They also prevent the body from getting deep, restorative REM sleep. Perhaps this is why, anecdotally, many people who sleep with their phones on their nightstands report restless sleep and insomnia!
While we don’t have much information available yet on this topic, preliminary research suggests that EMF exposure may decrease thyroid function.
While it is well-established that excessive blue light from electronic devices (laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc.) can damage the eyes, more recent research indicates that the electromagnetic fields emitted from such devices also have harmful effects on vision.
In 2001, scientists found a link between cell phone use and eye cancer. (34) While the mechanisms by which EMFs harm the eyes are not well-understood, it is possible that they disrupt voltage-gated calcium channels in the eyes, ultimately causing vision disorders. (35) The eye is also highly sensitive to heat, so the heat emitted from a cell phone may also induce damage.
Health effects in infants and children
Infants in utero and children are far more sensitive than adults to the adverse effects of EMFs due to their smaller body sizes, thinner skulls, and more conductive brain tissue. (36) In fact, infants and children have been found to absorb exponentially more microwave radiation than adults; this radiation alters their brain development and may increase their risk of behavioral problems, obesity, asthma, brain tumors, and childhood leukemia. Resting your iPad on your lap while pregnant and giving your baby or child a smartphone to play with is starting to sound like a not-so-great idea!
Electrohypersensitivity (EHS) is a physiological condition in which individuals experience symptoms upon exposure to man-made electromagnetic fields. While EHS continues to be ridiculed or ignored in the United States, other countries, such as Sweden, have recognized it as a legitimate functional impairment for decades.
The symptoms of EHS vary from one individual to another and also depend on the type and length of EMF exposure. According to EMF expert Nicholas Pineault, the most common symptoms of EHS are the following:
• Sleep disturbance/insomnia
• Brain fog/difficulty concentrating
• Depression or anxiety
• Memory loss
• Visual disruptions/light sensitivity
• Skin problems
• Heart palpitations
While there is no lab test specifically designed to assess electrohypersensitivity, several biomarkers of EHS have been suggested in the scientific literature, including elevated histamine and anti-myelin antibodies, decreased melatonin, and high oxidative stress.
Stay tuned for Part 4 of this blog series, in which I’ll provide you with simple, actionable strategies for reducing your exposure to harmful EMFs! Any questions? Contact us at The Pratt Clinics.