Cell phones, laptops, Wi-Fi routers, smart meters, other electronic devices, and high-voltage power lines produce waves of energy called electromagnetic fields (EMF) which are invisible to the naked eye but are almost ubiquitous in our environment.
While experts assure that EMFs aren’t harmful, a growing body of research indicates that EMFs impact human health in a number of ways, and can cause a collection of symptoms known as electrosensitivity. Read on to learn how our constant use of technology may harm our cells and possible health risks from EMF exposure.
Included are simple ways you can identify electrosensitivity, and how you can reduce your exposure to EMFs.
What Are EMFs?
Electromagnetic fields are frequencies of energy that exist on a spectrum from low to high energy. The earth and sun naturally produce EMFs, as do man-made devices like cell phones and Wi-Fi routers. Low frequency, low energy fields produce non-ionizing radiation, which is safe for human exposure, and account for the bulk of radiation people are exposed to.
Low-frequency sources of EMF include:
- Cell phones
- TV and radio
- Wi-Fi signals
- Infrared rays
- Visible light
High-frequency waves are strong enough to cause cellular damage, reduce antioxidants, and are known carcinogens. These frequencies produce ionizing radiation and can break molecular bonds and separate electrons from atoms.
High-frequency EMF sources are:
- Ultraviolet (UV) light
- Gamma rays
- Cosmic rays
Antioxidants like glutathione and vitamin C are nature’s antidotes to oxidative damage that underlines dozens of functional impairments.
How EMF Harm Cells
While more research is necessary to better understand the effects of low-frequency EMF exposure, a growing body of data suggests our ubiquitous contact with EMF may have more impact on the body than we realize.
EMFs affect cellular communication by impacting voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCC) which is a method of communication our body uses to send signals across membranes (1).
VGCCs regulate processes such as neurotransmitter function, gene expression, muscle contractions, and many more essential biologic functions.
A disruption of this pathway can be linked to:
- A change in heart rate and blood pressure (2)
- Cognitive impairment (3)
- DNA damage (4)
- Altered protein expression in the skin (5)
Wireless communications companies insist that Wi-Fi and cellular devices are safe. And the FDA states there is no causational link between EMF and negative side effects on the body.
However, a report in 2012 containing more than 2,000 studies examining the effect of EMFs on human health found that low-level radiation, such as non-ionizing radiation emitted by your cell phone, can play a role in cancer, Alzheimer’s, and other conditions (6).
As our exposure to EMFs is at an all-time high in modern culture, some claim the cumulative effect of EMFs from all sources lead to a phenomenon called electrosensitivity.
This could be due to its effect on VGCC, antioxidant status, or other cellular pathways.
Is Electrosensitivity Real?
EMFs may be invisible, but that doesn’t mean our bodies aren’t potentially affected by them. Their cumulative effect may be similar to that of pollution or toxin exposure–the body can mediate the effects up to a certain threshold, but past that, we begin to notice undesirable, confusing symptoms.
One way EMFs may harm the body is through the reduction of antioxidant status, which produces free radicals and oxidative damage.
Even though the FDA doesn’t consider EMFs to be harmful, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has deemed EMFs a “possible human carcinogen” based on both observational human data and animal research which links low-frequency EMFs to the development of tumors (7).
If you feel any of the following symptoms, an integrative medicine approach can help you address the root cause and restore balance.
Electrosensitivity can present in dozens of different signs and symptoms and can affect individuals differently, depending on their own level of sensitivity. Symptoms of EMF sensitivity include (8):
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes in heart rhythm
- Muscle aches
- Changes in mood
Children may be especially susceptible to EMF sensitivity as their skin is thinner and they generally have a higher percentage of water in their tissues, which may make them more sensitive to EMF effects than adults.
Studies have also found a troubling correlation between proximity to high-EMF locations such as radio and high-voltage power lines to childhood cancers (9).
Electrosensitivity and Sleep
Some studies have shown that exposure to EMF may negatively impact natural circadian rhythm function, interfering with quality sleep.
Whether or not EMFs impact sleep, devices are not conducive to healthy sleep due to the effect of blue light upon melatonin production at night. Blue light from electronics decreases melatonin production, reducing our capacity for restorative sleep.
EMF Sensitivity and Mood
EMF may alter one pathway via voltage-gated calcium channels which impacts neurotransmitter function–like serotonin and dopamine–which are responsible for mood, memory, attention, and focus.
Besides a disruption in VGCC, devices like smartphones, tablets, and social media are engineered to exploit our vulnerabilities and brain function, triggering an addictive dopamine release which can lead to major behavioral problems and continued device dependence.
EMFs and Attention
In one study, researchers found that prolonged exposure to EMF contributed to myelin sheath damage in mice, contributing to hyperactivity-like behavior (10).
If you are one of many pursuing ADHD symptom management free of medication, limiting screen time may help, in addition to addressing these 4 imbalances.
EMF Sensitivity and Fertility
Men are often instructed to avoid setting laptops directly on their lap, citing an increase in temperature which can harm sperm. But other research shows EMF may play a role in decreased sperm motility and viability (11).
With all the exposure to EMF we encounter in almost every activity of our lives, it can be tempting to want to seal yourself in a bubble. But don’t get discouraged, there are easy ways to reduce your exposure to EMFs–and many of these actions have other functional benefits as well!
How to Reduce EMF Exposure
While the argument against EMFs isn’t irrefutable, it’s presence shouldn’t be completely dismissed. Though it’s unlikely it is the cause of serious illness, for some, it may play a role.
Turn off devices when not in use. This goes for tablets, computer, and any other “smart” device
Turn off your Wi-Fi router at night. This can be easily accomplished by a mechanized timer, so you don’t have to remember to do this nightly.
Leave devices out of the bedroom. In addition to limiting EMF exposure which can interfere with sleep, a reduction in blue light exposure will promote normal melatonin production. Plus, couples who limit devices in the bedroom have been shown to sleep better, and even report better satisfaction with their sex life.
Be cognizant of your proximity to high-voltage power lines, radio towers, and cell towers. While this isn’t an aspect we can easily control, it’s one thing to be mindful of when buying a home–especially if you have small children.
Don’t carry your cell phone on your person. Increasing the distance between EMF and your body reduces your exposure.
Evaluate your ‘smart’ home. The more devices you have connected to Wi-Fi in the home, the more EMF your family will be exposed to. This includes refrigerators, small appliances that can be controlled through an app, and wireless devices that can lock the door remotely.
If you struggle with sleep disturbances, pain, or other troublesome symptoms, your integrative practitioner can help you optimize your environment and lifestyle to be more supportive of health and healing.
Root Cause Treatment with Integrative Medicine
Symptoms of EMF sensitivity share similarities with dozens of other chronic and acute conditions. While some people may be sensitive to increased EMF interference in their environment, it’s crucial to evaluate all symptoms with integrative medicine to determine the source of the problem.
Your integrative practitioner will help you optimize diet, lifestyle, and hormone or neurotransmitter imbalances which contribute to poor health. This is known as root cause treatment and is a safe, effective, and proven way to heal the body instead of merely managing symptoms.