We love our devices. Most people are addicted to their smartphone, laptop, or fancy watch that tracks their every move. They stay glued to these devices, whether it’s to take selfies everywhere they go, check email, post photos of what they had for lunch, or “like” their friends’ witty social media banter.
We spend more time talking to someone via text than we do interacting with the person seated directly across from us. And if we don’t post it, then we probably didn’t do, eat, experience, or see it.
Statistics suggest that most people spend five to six hours every day on their phones, and the average person checks Facebook 14 times a day. We’d be lost without our many devices, in more ways than one — we wouldn’t be able to find our friends, our destination, or random yet useful trivia in a matter of mere seconds. We currently have so many devices that they outnumber the population of the world. (1, 2, 3)
These devices provide us with companionship, entertainment, knowledge, and validation. But there’s a downside: They may be bad for our health.
What Are EMFs?
In the early days of cell phones, there was a lot of talk about how using them — and especially holding them up to your head — could cause brain damage. But then that chatter stopped, and most people chalked it up to a conspiracy theory or nasty rumor.
But it turns out that it’s neither conspiracy nor rumor; people just quit talking about it — that is, until recently. Now, more and more, people are finally acknowledging the potential dangers and negative health effects of cell phones and other devices. Essentially, anything that produces EMFs, or electromagnetic fields (sometimes electromagnetic frequencies), can put someone at risk. (4, 5, 6, 7)
EMFs can be grouped into two categories, based on how much radiation they emit. Extremely low frequency (ELF) EMFs range from above 3 hertz up to 3 kilohertz, whereas radio frequency radiation (RFR) EMFs give off between 3 kilohertz and 300 gigahertz. To give you an idea, higher-frequency bands of 5G cell phone technology may reach up to 100 gigahertz. (4, 7, 2)
EMFs are produced by such devices as: (4, 5, 6)
- Cell phone towers
- Cell phones
- Communication equipment
- Electric equipment and wiring
- High-voltage lines
- Wi-Fi systems
EMFs are an increasing problem. This is in part due to our heightened attachment to our devices. The prevalence of different forms of technology is also on the rise. Children today start using cell phones as young as elementary school age. (6)
All of this means that more people are exposed for longer periods, resulting in greater health risks. More than 3 billion people around the world are affected by EMFs daily. (6)
How Do EMFs Harm Us?
Many functional medicine practitioners see the human body as an energetic and electrical being. This includes not only our chakras, energy fields, and meridians, but also our metabolism and nerve impulses. (8)
Man-made devices and electricity collectively form what some people refer to as “electrosmog.” These gadgets emit EMFs of their own, and their electric fields compete with ours.
This energy interference is essentially toxic radiation from our machines, and it disrupts our own energy — along with damaging our enzymes, hindering cell division, impeding organ function, and messing with our chemical balance. And yes, research suggests that it can even damage our brains. This causes all kinds of adverse health conditions, including: (5, 6, 7)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Cognitive impairment
- Difficulty learning or concentrating
- Immune deficiency
- Premature aging
- Reproductive problems
- Ringing in the ear
- Sleep issues
Negative Effects of EMFs
The impact EMFs have on our bodies and our health can be grouped into two categories: thermal effects and non-thermal effects. (6, 8)
As the name suggests, thermal effects involve heat. EMFs produce heat in the form of radiofrequency fields (RFs). When these RFs contact our bodies, they transfer that heat to our tissues and organs, causing them to become warmer. This can potentially lead to trouble. (6, 8)
Non-thermal effects involve changes to our tissues beyond those produced by heat. One way that these occur is through the production of harmful free radicals in the form of reactive oxygen species (ROS). (6, 9, 8)
ROS are the potentially dangerous byproducts of our bodies metabolizing oxygen. In the proper doses and when the body is balanced, ROS help with certain cellular functions, such as cell signaling. But when toxins prevent the body from functioning as it should, excess ROS are produced. They begin to damage our cells’ lipids, proteins, and even DNA. (4, 6)
Free radicals come from a variety of sources, including: (6, 10)
- Immune responses
Usually, the body has a natural defense system in the form of antioxidants, which keep free radicals in check and prevent them from harming us. (6)
However, when this antioxidant defense system can’t sufficiently protect against the accumulation of free radicals, the result is oxidative stress. Research suggests that EMFs may promote an increased production of free radicals, causing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress can lead to cell and tissue damage and is believed to be an important factor in the onset of diseases and conditions such as: (1, 6, 7)
- Cardiovascular disease
- Disturbed sleep patterns (likely due to suppressed melatonin production)
- Loss of appetite
- Rheumatoid arthritis
This is your brain on EMFs
Certain parts of the body may be more prone to damage by EMFs than others. The brain is susceptible because of its high metabolic rate and its close proximity to EMF sources. Especially in the days before wireless headphones, people traditionally used their cell phone by holding it to their heads. This puts their brains at greater risk. (6, 7)
Studies suggest that EMFs can affect neurological function and may also compromise the blood-brain barrier (BBB), which is a protective boundary around the brain. The job of the BBB is to allow good things in, such as amino acids and nutrients, while keeping bad things, including harmful chemicals and heavy metals, safely out. (2, 6, 7)
However, when EMFs attack the BBB, your brain’s barrier has become too permeable, and even substances that shouldn’t pass through it can. When your brain’s defenses are down, it can’t be good. (6, 7)
For this reason, EMFs may be associated with cellular damage and neurological and related disorders, including: (2, 6, 7)
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease)
- Attention deficits
- Brain tumors
- Emotional/psychological issues
- Learning difficulties
- Memory problems
- Multiple sclerosis
- Spinal cord injury
For example, a study of electric utility workers who were regularly exposed to EMFs in the form of “dirty electricity” showed a greater tendency to commit suicide than in those who were not exposed to EMFs.
Another study found that the risk for tumors of the head was twice as high with long-term use of cell phones. Some forms of EMF radiation even caused seizures in lab rats. (7)
EMFs and infertility
Many men carry their cell phones in their pockets or on their belts, which means that their reproductive organs are regularly exposed to EMFs. That is likely why studies often find a correlation between EMF exposure and negative effects on the reproductive organs, including male infertility. (4, 6, 7)
EMFs have been shown to cause abnormalities in sperm formation; decrease sperm count, motility, and viability; and hinder the production of testosterone. Research also suggests a risk of testicular problems. (4, 6)
Some studies showed similar reproductive results in women, including abnormal menstruation, birth defects, and miscarriages among pregnant women who were exposed to EMFs. In addition, one study in rats found that the pregnant mothers exposed to EMFs passed evidence of oxidative stress to their unborn babies. (4, 6, 7)
These results suggest that EMFs act as endocrine disruptors and induce hormonal changes. They may also alter our genetic expression and affect future generations. (6, 7)
Eyes, ears, and EMFs
The eyes and ears can be harmed by EMFs due to certain exposure patterns. Like the brain, the ear often receives immediate and direct exposure to a phone during a call. EMFs can lead to hearing issues, inner ear problems, and tumors of the ear. (7, 11, 3)
Naturally, the light and radiation emitted from our devices can also affect our eyes. Because the lens of the eye has few arteries and veins, as well as low water content, it is more vulnerable to EMFs and the heat they produce. It takes very little heat to raise the temperature of the eyes and cause damage. This can lead to cataracts and other potential issues. (7, 12, 13)
Sensitivity to EMFs
People who are especially sensitive to the effects of EMFs are said to have electromagnetic hypersensitivity, or EHS. These people may experience adverse effects even with only minimal exposure. (3, 7, 14)
The World Health Organization says about 1% to 3% of the global population experiences EHS. In addition to all the possible symptoms already mentioned, some EHS sufferers exhibited skin disorders such as itching, pain, redness, and swelling. (7)
Children are also extremely susceptible to EMF effects, due to both their underdeveloped nervous systems and their thinner skull bones, which provide less protection when cell phones are used near their heads. (7, 15, 16)
How to Reduce the Effects of EMFs
Studies have proven that the symptoms of EMF exposure and their severity usually increase with longer exposure. It also is normally reversible, so that once exposure is eliminated, most symptoms tend to decrease in severity or stop altogether. (5, 7)
In addition, intensity of symptoms usually lessens as the distance from the EMF source increases. In one study, people who reported adverse health effects when in an area of EMF radiation felt better after leaving the same space. (5, 7)
Therefore, to avoid the effects of EMFs on your health, the best solution is to limit your exposure to them as much as possible. However, due to the world’s infatuation with gadgets and technology, they’re very prevalent. It’s hard to escape them — and most people don’t want to live without them.
Fortunately, there are ways both to reduce exposure and alleviate symptoms once exposed, so that you can stay healthy without foregoing the devices you adore. Here’s a look at some of them: (8)
- At night, completely shut off electricity at home from your fuse box. This will temporarily eliminate virtually all EMF exposure within your house.
- Don’t keep your phone or other devices near your head when charging, such as leaving them on the bedside table while sleeping.
- Get more antioxidants in your diet. Antioxidants have been shown to help fight the effects of EMFs. Especially useful antioxidants include vitamin B9 and vitamin E.
- Keep your distance from your devices as much as you can, such as not putting your laptop in your lap and keeping Wi-Fi modems across the room. Don’t carry your cell phone directly on your person, such as in your pocket.
- Put your phone in airplane mode whenever possible.
- Shut off Wi-Fi when not using it, especially at night. Putting it on a timer to switch off automatically is one way to make it easier.
- Take melatonin supplements to help reverse sleep disturbances caused by EMFs.
- Use headphones to avoid placing cell phones near your head.
Also, as a general guideline, consider how supporting your gut and immune health, as well as your natural filtration system, may bring your body into balance so you can better withstand your everyday environment, including EMFs.
Use Technology Safely
Exposure to EMFs may be dangerous, but it’s also very hard to avoid entirely. With the ever-increasing prevalence of devices and their corresponding technology, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate all EMF radiation. Most people probably won’t stop posting on Instagram, texting, microwaving their leftovers, or watching TV. EMFs are out there, and they aren’t going away.
However, with some basic precautions and cautionary measures, you can manage to reduce your exposure, protect your health, and still take advantage of the many benefits that your gadgets can offer.