The boom in technology seen within the past three decades has also come with an increase in daily exposure to electric and magnetic fields (EMFs). These are streams of invisible energy waves used by universal technology, such as power lines, but also personal and household technologies, like cell phones or microwaves.
Essentially, if electricity is used, EMFs are produced.
The wireless technologies we use every day generally give off low levels of EMF radiation. However, these energy waves still have some experts worried about their potential health effects, especially when you consider how much radiation exposure you can incur on a daily basis just from using and being near standard technology. Continue reading to learn how EMF radiation is categorized, how it can impact your health, and what current research shows us.
The Electromagnetic Spectrum
In order to understand the impact of EMF radiation, it is first important to understand the electromagnetic spectrum. This spectrum is what all radiation exists across, and it ranges from high-energy radiation (also known as high-frequency) to low-energy (or low-frequency).
High-energy radiation is the more dangerous type and includes radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, and some higher-energy ultraviolet (UV) rays. This type is dangerous because the high frequency of the energy waves can impact a cell on the atomic level by removing electrons from its atoms, which “ionizes” it. Thus, high-energy radiation is also referred to as ionizing radiation.
Ionizing radiation can dramatically affect your health by damaging your cells and their DNA, which can then lead to genetic mutations and cancer.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is non-ionizing radiation, which, as the name suggests, does not affect cells on an atomic level. This includes extremely low-frequency (ELF) radiation. Other types of non-ionizing radiation include radiofrequency (RF) radiation, visible light, and infrared, which all fall between ELF and ionizing radiation.
Non-ionizing radiation can move atoms within the body and make them vibrate, and it generally does not cause damage to your body when you’re only exposed to it for a short amount of time. However, the problem with non-ionizing radiation is that we are often exposed to it all day, every day.
For example, the devices we keep within distance at all times, such as cell phones and laptops, emit radiation in the radiofrequency region while in use. This type of radiation can come from anything that uses Wi-Fi and wireless connections, meaning we often endure a lot of exposure, every day.
The Danger in Non-Ionizing EMFs
Even though ionizing EMFs are generally considered the only hazardous radiation type, there are still potential complications of non-ionizing EMFs. Currently, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies non-ionizing EMFs in the radiofrequency range (i.e., cell phones) as part of Group 2B, making them possible human carcinogens.
The IARC categorizes them in this way in response to a possible link between RF radiation and cancer, particularly glioma, which is a malignant form of brain cancer.
With the Group 2B categorization, the IARC acknowledges that there can be some risk with RF-emitting devices, and no definitive conclusion can be drawn without more long-term studies.
However, other researchers feel that enough evidence exists showcasing the harm of long-term, low-level exposure to non-ionizing radiation to warrant a classification upgrade to Group 1, which would list EMF radiation, or all types, as a known carcinogen.
In one of the most extensive studies regarding the health effects of EMF radiation, researchers followed cancer rates and cell phone use in more than 5,000 people across 13 countries. The results of this study showed a loose connection between the highest rate of exposure and glioma. Most notably, the gliomas were more often found on the side of the head that the individual used to speak on the phone.
While this connection isn’t enough to definitively say that cancer results from cellphone use, the findings are still interesting.
This impact of long-term exposure to low-level frequency radiation was also investigated in a more recent study, which found that those exposed to high amounts of ELF-EMFs over a long duration were at a higher risk of acute myeloid leukemia (AML).
Studies such as these show that, even though low-level EMF radiation is traditionally viewed as non-harmful, its consistent use for long durations, which occurs with our significant reliance on technology, can potentially lead to a greater risk of health problems.
Problems associated with low-level EMF radiation extend beyond cancer risk, as well. One review of more than two dozen studies found that EMF radiation may cause various psychiatric and neurological problems, including depression.
Another study found that a short burst of electromagnetic energy affected nerve activity in rats, suggesting that long-term electromagnetic pulses may impair cognitive ability and induce a pathology similar to that seen in Alzheimer’s disease. However, more research is needed before these theories are confirmed.
Overall, the general categorization of low-frequency EMF radiation as non-harmful may not be accurate, especially when considering that you may be exposed to a lot of this radiation every day. More research is needed to determine the effects of long-duration exposure. Still, it may increase your cancer risk, especially in brain cancers on your dominant side, increase your risk of psychiatric problems, and impair cognitive ability.
If you’re interested in limiting the amount of low-level EMF radiation you’re exposed to each day, try Spero Protection Clothing to protect your health and well-being.
INTERPHONE Study Group (2010). Brain tumour risk in relation to mobile telephone use: results of the INTERPHONE international case-control study. International journal of epidemiology, 39(3), 675–694. https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyq079
Huss, A., Spoerri, A., Egger, M., Kromhout, H., & Vermeulen, R. (2018). Occupational extremely low frequency magnetic fields (ELF-MF) exposure and hematolymphopoietic cancers – Swiss National Cohort analysis and updated meta-analysis. Environmental Research, 164, 467-474. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2018.03.022
Pall M. L. (2016). Microwave frequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs) produce widespread neuropsychiatric effects including depression. Journal of chemical neuroanatomy, 75(Pt B), 43–51. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jchemneu.2015.08.001
Jiang, D., Li, J., Zhang, J., Xu, S., Kuang, F., & Lang, H. et al. (2016). Long-term electromagnetic pulse exposure induces Abeta deposition and cognitive dysfunction through oxidative stress and overexpression of APP and BACE1. Brain Research, 1642, 10-19. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2016.02.053
IARC classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans – IARC. (2011). https://www.iarc.who.int/pressrelease/iarc-classifies-radiofrequency-electromagnetic-fields-as-possibly-carcinogenic-to-humans/