Exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) is not a new phenomenon but environmental exposure to man-made electromagnetic fields has been steadily increasing during the 20th century. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the growing electricity demand, ever-advancing technologies and changes in social behaviour are accountable for this ever-increasing EMF exposure. [i]
Over the course of the past decade however, some of the common sources of EMF exposure such as power lines, microwave ovens, computer and cellular mobile phones have become the object of serious health concerns and media attention, in spite of the fact that the authorities tend to minimize their impact.
What are the possible consequences of EMFs exposure on our health, and how can we protect ourselves from this omnipresent electromagnetic pollution?
What are Electromagnetic fields?
The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)[ii] describes EMFs as invisible areas of energy – or radiation - associated with the use of electrical power and various forms of natural and man-made lighting.
There is a distinction between an electric field and a magnetic field. The electric field surrounds a charged particle, while a magnetic field is a field of force surrounding a permanent magnet, or a moving charged particle. The strength of an electric field is expressed in Newtons per Coulomb, or Volts per meter, while a magnetic field strength is expressed in Gauss or Tesla. Electromagnetic waves have both an electric field and a magnetic field that are coupled to each other.
EMFs are also typically categorized as either non-ionizing or ionizing, based on their level of radiation.
What are the common sources of EMFs?
Depending on our lifestyle and environment, we are all more or less exposed to several sources of electric and magnetic fields, at home and in our work place.
Common sources of non-ionizing EMFs include: power lines, smart meters, microwave ovens, TV and radio broadcasts, cordless telephones and cell phones, wireless routers, computers, portable GPS and fitness tracking devices. Due to their low-level radiation, they are generally perceived as harmless to humans. Ionizing radiations, on the other hand, are acknowledged as causative factors for cellular and DNA damage. Ultraviolet, x-rays and gamma rays cause by diagnostic radiation and therapeutic radiation are considered ionizing sources of radiation.
Can EMFs be harmful to my health?
The body has sophisticated ‘built-in’ mechanisms to help us adjust to the various stressors we encounter in our environment. However, on-going exposure to some of these factors may outweigh our body’s capacity to return to its state of homeostasis, causing irreversible damages that could potentially constitute a health hazard.
In spite of the public’s growing concerns surrounding electromagnetic pollution, many scientists and authorities such as the WHO and the FDA continue to argue that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields, but admits that some gaps in knowledge about biological effects exist and need further investigation.[iii]
We have to keep in mind that much of the research done in the 1990s focused on extremely low frequency exposures stemming from conventional power sources. We now live in an era where we are surrounded by cellular telephones, wireless routers, portable GPS devices and other EMFs sources whose cumulative effect is unprecedented in the history of mankind.
What about cell phones?
In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) - a committee of 27 scientists from 14 different countries working on behalf of the WHO - concluded that exposure to cell phone radiation is a "possible carcinogen" and classified it into the 2B category. The expert panel ruled that there was some evidence that cell phone use was linked to 2 types of tumors, including brain tumor.
Under the circumstances, it is advisable to apply the precautionary principle. Even conservative NIEHS recommends continued education on practical ways of reducing exposures to EMFs.
What can I do to protect myself?
Completely eliminating exposure to EMFs is close to impossible. However, there are simple measures that can reduce our electromagnetic pollution load significantly.
1- Identify and eliminate sources of electric- and/or magnetic fields in your bedroom. Make sure everything around your bed is battery powered and if you have to have something electrical, make sure to unplug it every night. Simply turning off those devices will not eliminate the electric fields as the electrical outlets always carry voltage. If you are particularly electro-sensitive and suspect that you might be reacting to the electrical fields from the wiring in your walls,
turning off the circuit breaker for your bedroom at night can increase your sleep quality and reduce or eliminate symptoms such as headaches, anxiety and depression, tingling sensation, etc.
2- Reduce Your Cell Phone Use. Reserve it for emergencies and prefer a land line for all other communications. Always keep your cell phone away from your body and use safer wired headset technologies (not wireless).
3- Reduce your computer/tablets use. Never use your computer on your lap when it is connected to a power source and take regular breaks away from the computer when working for extended periods of time.
4- Take a walk in the park or at the beach. Making direct contact with the Earth – a technique called earthing or grounding – is an excellent way to eliminate the ambient voltage from everyday electricity power sources. Walk barefoot on the grass or on the sand as often as possible.
5- Increase your dietary antioxidants intake. Antioxidants can protect our DNA from the harmful effect of electromagnetic pollution and various other toxins. Adopting a plant-based diet or increasing your consumption of colorful foods rich in protective phytonutrients such as berries, prunes, broccoli, pomegranate seeds and spirulina constitutes a good strategy. You may also want to consider adopting an antioxidant complex supplement including vitamin C, vitamin E complex – containing all 8 molecules of tocopherols and tocotrienols, coenzyme Q-10, R-lipoic acid, N-acetyl-L- cysteine (NAC), selenomethionine and resveratrol. Antioxidants always work best in synergy.
6- Increase the good fats. Unsaturated fatty acids including omega-3 from fish or vegetarian sources exert a protective effect on our cell membranes. Nuts, seeds and avocados are good sources of healthy fats.
7- Stay hydrated. Drink at least 1.5 liter of Spring water daily. Avoid fluorinated tap water and distilled water. You can start your day with a glass of water on an empty stomach and drink the rest before meals.
We love our electronic devices and we enjoy the commodities of our modern lifestyle but we have to remember that all of these exposures are cumulative—it all adds up! Whatever measure you can adopt to lessen your EMFs’ exposure can have a beneficial impact on your overall health and well-being. When it comes to health, balance is always the key!
[i] World Health Organisation (WHO) - Electromagnetic fields (EMF). http://www.who.int/peh-emf/about/WhatisEMF/en/index1.html
[ii] National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences - Electric & Magnetic Fields https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/emf/index.cfm
[iii] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Radiation-Emitting Products, Current Research Results https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emittingproducts/radiationemittingproductsandprocedures/homebusinessandentertainment/cellphones/ucm116335.htm