Do EMFs Really Affect Our Health?

How Do EMFs Affect Our Health?

In the beginning, scientists assumed that EMFs could not affect our health because EMFs are not an "ionizing" type of radiation.  This means that they cannot ionize molecules in the very dangerous way that x-rays and nuclear radiation can harm us. 

Scientists were then surprised to discover that EMFs can indeed cause hazardous biological effects by another method — by heating up sensitive tissues within our bodies.  Today, most of the official EMF safety standards for the general public are designed to protect us from these potential heating effects. 

But scientists are now in the process of discovering yet another way that EMFs can affect our health.  Similar to the way that EMFs cause electromagnetic interference (EMI) problems for sensitive electronic and computer systems, a growing body of research suggests that low-level EMFs can also influence or interfere with certain sensitive "bio-electromagnetic" processes within our cells, brains and bodies.  In fact we are learning that the human body is an amazing "bio-electronic" living machine, utilizing many sensitive electromagnetic processes for the proper functioning of our brain, nervous system, immune system and other organs.  

For example, researchers have shown that our pineal gland can sense the daily rhythmic changes in the earth's natural magnetic field, and then use this information to help regulate our brain wave patterns and wake/sleep cycle.  An example of electromagnetic interference (EMI) affecting human biology is found in the fact that studies show that artificial magnetic fields (like those emitted from power lines) can suppress the secretion of melatonin from the pineal gland.  This is important because melatonin is the main hormone which regulates our sleep cycle at night.  It is also a strong antioxidant which fights cancer naturally within our bodies.

Over a Thousand Studies Have Linked EMFs to Biological Effects...

So today, over a thousand research studies have linked EMFs to important biological effects.  Yet a lot of people have a hard time believing that electromagnetic fields (EMFs) — at the common exposure levels today — can contribute to serious health conditions.  Here are some additional thoughts to consider regarding this health debate...

Consideration #1:  Who funded the study?  A very interesting recent study looked at the influence of funding sources on the outcome of the individual RF/cell phone studies.   The researchers found that approximately three quarters of the independent, non-industry funded studies reported significant health effects, while in stark contrast, only about one quarter of the industry funded studies reported any health effects.While it is true that some studies do not find observable health effects, there is vast number of research studies that have reported important biological effects related to EMFs.  Thus the present debate is not so much whether EMFs can have any biological effects, because that is that is relatively well accepted now, but whether the overall effects are really that serious at the common exposure levels we typically receive today. 

Consideration #2:  Anecdotal evidence.  Many of my clients noticed that their health symptoms began shortly after getting a new wireless router or cordless phone system, after moving to a new home near a power line, whenever they enter their office, etc.  and they could reduce their symptoms by simply getting away from the EMF source — unplugging the router or phone, sleeping in a different room or home, turning off circuits at night, etc.  They feel better, then someone turns on a cell phone or uses their I-Pad and their symptoms begin again.  Professionally, I work daily with people who report having sensitivity to electromagnetic fields and have found that EMFs are a big part of their health problems.  And when we successfully can reduce their exposures through various methods, many clients report significant and lasting reductions in their symptoms.

Consideration #3:  My personal experience.  As a child, electric blankets felt "creepy" to me.  As a young man, I noticed that I always felt much better during electrical power failures and when backpacking out in nature.   As an engineer I had difficulties with all the fluorescent lights in the offices.  And now as I get older, whenever I have to test a cell phone tower or high voltage power line for my work, I notice that I feel tense and uneasy, and often experience an unusual level of fatigue at the end of those particular work days.  Over and over again during the past twenty years, I've had experiences of feeling relatively stressed at an EMF testing site, but finding a particular spot where I would unexpectedly notice myself feeling very relaxed, calm and breathing deeply.  Then I would look down at my test meters to record the EMF measurement and discover that the EMF level was extremely low or even zero at that particular spot.

Consideration #4:  A paradigm change is coming!  The existing (old) scientific model is called the "thermal model" in which the only recognized health effects from EMFs are the ability to heat up body tissues inside us — like meat in a microwave oven!  I call this the "dead meat model" because it doesn't matter whether our bodies are dead or alive, its only about this heating effect.  The current FCC limits for human health are set up to minimize this thermal (heating) effect.  Yet the FCC has a second set of EMF limits in place that are often stricter — not to protect humans, but to protect our sensitive electronic devices and systems from EMFs that cause electromagnetic interference (EMI).  Even the biggest deniers of non-thermal effects upon humans will quickly acknowledge the hazardous effects of non-thermal EMF interference upon sensitive electronic hardware and systems.  Thus, the new and emerging paradigm is that scientists are beginning to understand how the human body is itself an amazing and sensitive electronic system — albeit a living carbon-based "bio-electronic" system rather than a man-made silicon-based one. And this newer "interference model" for EMF health effects recognizes that both types of electronic systems — whether living or man-made — can be adversely affected by electromagnetic interference at relatively low (non-thermal) levels.  The following chart summarizes some of the new thinking about EMFs and our health...

Table:  Two Possible Scientific Models for Explaining EMF Health Effects...

© 2012 and 2007, by Michael R. Neuert

    “Dead Meat” Model   “Bio-Electronics” Model
PARADIGM   Old Paradigm   Emerging Paradigm
 SAFETY GUIDELINES   Presently the accepted model used for most health guidelines   Rarely considered for human health guidelines at this time
ASSUMPTIONS   Assumes the only health effects are from heating up tissues inside the body, and ignores possibility of "non-thermal" effects   Considers possible effects other than heating, such as electromagnetic interference with subtle bio-electronic processes within the body
BODY IS MODELED AS   A lifeless hunk of flesh   A complex bio-electrical system (e.g., the brain and nervous system)
COMMON EXAMPLE   The way "dead meat" is heated in a microwave oven using a strong radio frequency (RF) signal   The way the sensitive electronics in a car radio can pick up very low-level RF signals from a far away radio station
EMF STRENGTH REQUIRED FOR HEALTH EFFECT Relatively strong EMFs required Only relatively weak EMFs needed
PHYSICS PROPERTY INVOLVED   Heat transfer via EMFs   Entrainment of EMF frequencies
HEALTH EFFECT CAUSED BECAUSE EMF CAN CARRY   Energy (Heat)   Information (Interference)
HEALTH EFFECT CAUSED BY   Excess heating of body tissues   Excess interference with the "bio-information" required for subtle biological control processes
PARADIGM CHANGE   Old Paradigm: Models the human body as passive "dead" tissue (e.g., safety guidelines for cell phones limit how much the phone heats up the head, as if it was simply a balloon filled with watery tissue)   New Paradigm: In addition to heating, consider effects upon the sensitive and complicated bio-electronic systems of the human body, brain and nervous system
NON-THERMAL EFFECTS CONSIDERED   None   Subtle changes to cells, cell membranes, the blood/brain barrier, hormone secretions, sleep patterns and circadian rhythms, etc.
SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH   In past, focused only on heating effects, ignored biological electronics of the human body   In the present, discovering extensive natural electromagnetic processes within the human body
CURRENT FCC REGULATIONS   Purpose #1:  Protect humans from biological damage due to excess EMF heating of body tissues (e.g., regulations that require shielding of RF emitted from microwave ovens)   Purpose #2:  Protect electronic systems from excess EMF interference (e.g., regulations that keep one radio station from interfering with the EMF signals from another radio station)
 EMERGING SAFETY PARADIGM   Yes, heating effects are a definite concern, but we also need to address low-level EMF interference effects   Protect humans from EMF interference with sensitive bio-electronic operations within the body, such as circadian rhythms, hormone secretions and cellular membrane changes
HUMAN PROTECTION NEEDED   Protect humans from damaging EMF heat effects plus →   Protect humans from lower level EMFs that interfere with sensitive bio-electronic processes within the body