EMFs And Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity 

You’re likely reading this article on your cellphone or laptop. Perhaps you have a few electronic devices around you right now. I certainly do.

In 2013, there were 5.9 billion cellphone users and that number is likely even higher today. It’s been fascinating to witness how quickly technology has expanded over my lifetime and especially the last decade.  

I love the convenience of my cellphone and laptop. It’s how I connect with you, provide education and it allows me to work effectively with my patients. However, there is also a dark side to our wireless world.

As new technologies roll out, very little testing has been done on long-term and synergistic effects when it comes to health. As I caution with toxins, I also must caution with technology as the EMFs- electromagnetic fields- may cause harm to the human body.  

While it’s unlikely that most of us will opt out of technology and totally unplug, it’s worth understanding what EMFs are and the potential dangers. With this information comes empowerment. Hopefully it is possible to benefit from the convenience and connection the devices in our lives offer, and still do so safely while also protecting our families and ourselves.  

 In this article, you will learn more about: 

  • EMFs 
  • Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome 
  • Health risks of EMF exposure 
  • Easy action steps to put in place for protection

Let’s dive in!

What Are EMFs?  

You’ve likely heard the term, but what exactly is EMF? EMFs are electromagnetic fields. While some EMFs are naturally occurring from the earth, I’m mostly referring to the manmade EMFs, which are much greater in today’s modern environment, both in magnitude and abundance.  

EMFs exist on a spectrum. Some are high frequency with short wavelengths and some are lower frequency with longer wavelengths. All of these are invisible, and often seem unavoidable, so it’s easy to not give them much thought.   

Here is a list of some of the places where you’re exposed to EMFs: 

  • Microwaves 
  • Smart TVs 
  • Fitness and sleep trackers 
  • Cell phone towers 
  • Electricity towers and lines 
  • Cordless phones 
  • Cell phones 
  • Tablets 
  • Laptops 
  • Bluetooth devices 
  • Cell phone towers
  • X-rays 

X-rays are considered ionizing because they have the ability to break molecular bonds within cells. The others on the list are considered non-ionizing, but can still carry risk.  

EMFs have increased along with industrialization and first included sources like electricity, radio signals and then television signals and microwaves. Today we have even more, especially from cell phone service and Wi-Fi.  

Electronic devices – cell phones, tablets, laptops and smart TVs – are a part of our everyday lives. Some of us are even close to these devices for almost every hour of the day. These are the devices that have the largest impact in terms of EMF exposure.  

Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome (EHS) 

Our bodies create an electromagnetic field, so it only makes sense that the invisible waves in our environment impact our health. As a doctor, I’ve seen the impacts of EMFs and they are very real, as are the impacts of air pollution, water pollution and other sources of toxin exposure.  

Just like some of us are the “canaries in the coal mine” when it comes to environmental toxins, some are more sensitive to EMFs. Our bodies may be communicating an important warning that shouldn’t be ignored. 

It’s become increasingly common in medicine to see cases where symptoms don’t have an obvious cause. As a Functional Medicine doctor, it’s my nature to seek the root cause and sometimes what underlies the symptoms is a complex web including genetic, epigenetic, nutritional and environmental factors. Increasingly, EMFs are a part of the environmental piece that must be considered.  

Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome, or EHS, is the medical term given to the collection of symptoms caused by EMF exposure in those particularly sensitive.  

According to the World Health Organization and the European EMF Guidelines, symptoms of EHS may include: 

  • Redness, tingling or burning of the skin
  • Fatigue 
  • Difficulty concentrating  
  • Dizziness 
  • Nausea 
  • Heart palpitations 
  • Digestive changes 
  • Headaches 
  • Sleep disturbance 
  • Anxiety  
  • Depression  
  • Irritability 
  • Flu-like symptoms 

EHS encompasses a wide-range of non-specific symptoms.

These symptoms tend to be common in the general population and associated with other syndromes, including Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome,  or other multi-system illnesses.  

Initially, EMS may only occur occasionally, but then may increase in frequency and severity. In many cases, symptoms become a significant impact in people’s lives. Over time, some may notice that symptom severity increases as EMF exposure increases, yet others may not make that correlation. Interestingly, those with head injuries and exposure to toxic chemicals, especially mold, may be more susceptible to developing EHS.

Although recognized in the scientific literature, EHS continues to be highly controversial in medicine and patients with complaints are often dismissed (even though EHS has ICD-10 medical billing codes!) Let’s take a look at what we know from the research.  

EMFs And Health Risks 

First, we know that children are more susceptible to EMFs. Because of their small size, thinner skulls and more absorbent brain tissues, children are at a greater risk of the health effects of EMFs. Fetal exposure also presents a risk as exposures may affect the myelin sheath that surrounds the developing neurons. Babies born today will likely have more lifetime exposure than any other generation.  

Radiation from cellphones and other devices is considered a probable human carcinogen, with brain cancer being the most concerning. No other technology has shown such an increased risk with just a decade of data, considering that it often takes several decades for cancer to develop.  

We also know that EMFs impact immunity by altering the immune system. Specifically, long-term exposures decrease adaptive immunity. This is the branch of the immune system that identifies new pathogens and creates antibodies to them, which is incredibly important especially as we work as communities to navigate COVID-19.  

Trends between electromagnetic pollution and many diseases are beginning to be identified including: ADD/ADHD, Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2), Multiple Sclerosis, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and others. Although more research is likely needed to create clear connections, we can’t brush aside the impact our modern, high technology environment plays.  

Additionally, EMF exposures may play a significant role in the decline of male fertility as radiation and the heat from wireless devices affects sperm.  

A 2018 article deems Wi-Fi as a threat to human health citing that studies specific to the EMFs produced by wireless networks cause oxidative stress, damage sperm, DNA damage, hormone disruption, changes in calcium balance, cell death (apoptosis) and neuropsychiatric effects. I don’t know about you, but this list feels quite concerning considering how Wi-Fi can be hard to escape.  

EMF Health & Safety Steps  

It may seem overwhelming to address EMFs in your life since they are so widespread and pervasive, but I assure you there are some simple, concrete things you can do in your life to reduce your exposures.  

1. Measure EMF levels. Many devices and companies provide this service. While measuring levels in your home is certainly the first place to explore, don’t forget the other places where you spend a lot of time, including work and school.  

2. Hardwire the Internet. While Wi-Fi is certainly convenient, often you can easily hardwire your computer, TV and other devices and use ethernet instead of Wi-Fi. If you do use Wi-Fi, turn it off at night or anytime it isn’t in use.  

3. Limit time on your cell phone. For calls, instead of holding the phone to your head, choose to use speakerphone or a wired headset which will keep the EMFs further away from your brain. Turn your cellphone off or put it on airplane mode when possible. Consider regular breaks from it altogether.  

4. Consider where you live. Urban areas, apartment buildings, homes under large electrical wires or near cell or 5G towers may have increased exposures. While we don’t know the extent of newer technology such as 5G, it’s well documented that cancer rates are higher for people who live in close proximity to major electrical wires.  

5. Keep devices out of your bedroom. A cellphone on your night stand or wireless router in the bedroom may disrupt sleep and expose you to EMFs during nighttime, which is so important for repair and detoxification. If you use your phone for an alarm, keep it on airplane mode while you sleep.  

6. Check your distance from devices. Don’t carry your cellphone in your pocket and keep it away from your body when not in use as much as possible. Switch to airplane mode when you can. Laptops and tablets are meant to be used at least 20 centimeters away from the body so sit at a desk instead of putting them directly on your lap.  

7. Support your health and resiliency. Along with these simple lifestyle changes to reduce EMF exposures, let’s not forget the basics. Good nutrition, movement, stress management, quality sleep and reducing toxin exposures are all important for overall health and will support your resiliency when faced with EMFs or other exposures that you aren’t completely in control of.  

My goal as a Functional Medicine doctor is to help you to unlock the healthiest version of yourself. There isn’t a roadmap on this path and everyone’s health journey is quite unique.

Sometimes we have to look into places that you wouldn’t expect or even consider, such as your relationship to your cellphone or EMF levels in your home. If you’d like more support navigating this piece of your health puzzle, please don’t hesitate to reach out. In the meantime, set down your phone and step outside for some device-free time!  

 

References 

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  1. World Health Organization. Electromagnetic fields and public health. (2005). 
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