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The dangers of EMFs and how to protect yourself

Reading time: 13 minutes

Electromagnetic radiation could be behind rising rates of breast cancer, brain tumors and more, says Dr Jenny Goodman. Here’s what you need to know about this pervasive pollutant and how to protect yourself for better health

All of us are being bombarded with increasing amounts of electromagnetic radiation (EMR)—from our phones, laptops, “smart meters,” headphones, microwaves and more—and it could be having a devastating effect on our health. Here are some of the key conditions and diseases being linked to exposure to EMR, also known as electromagnetic fields (EMFs), and what you can do to protect yourself.

Infertility

Fertility is falling rapidly everywhere, and the effect of mobile-phone radiation on sperm quality is a major factor in this trend.1

The human ovum (egg) is harder to study than sperm, but we can reasonably assume that similar damage—fragmentation of the DNA2—is occurring there too, if a switched-on mobile phone is carried in the pocket or if a laptop is used on the lap, connected to Wi-Fi.

When women exposed to mobile-phone radiation do manage to conceive, they have a significantly greater risk of miscarriage than women less exposed. At levels above 16 milligauss (mG; or 1.6 microtesla, mT), the risk is much higher, especially in women at less than 10 weeks gestation and those with previous miscarriage or infertility.3

For context, a typical electrical power line connecting to a home in the US emits 10–30 mG (1–3 mT), and one in the UK emits 70 mG (7 mT), when standing directly below it. The greater your distance from the source, the lower your EMF exposure.

Neurodegeneration

Brain cells (neurons) are directly damaged by EMFs. Studies find that just a couple of hours of mobile-phone exposure causes brain damage in rats that looks, under the microscope, exactly like Alzheimer’s disease.4

It seems that in rats, EMR encourages the production of beta-amyloid protein in the brain, a sticky, unnatural, distorted form of protein that is found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.5

A study in Switzerland found that people who lived very close to electric power lines had greater mortality from Alzheimer’s, and the longer they had lived there, the higher the risk. People who lived more than 600 meters away were a lot safer.6

EMR disrupts the blood-brain barrier, an important set of specialized blood vessels that blocks access to the brain by any substances that shouldn’t get in. EMR increases the barrier’s permeability so that it leaks (leaky brain, like leaky gut). This means any toxins in the body will have full access to the brain.7

Damage to the blood-brain barrier is apparent even when—as is usually the case—the EMR causes no heating effect in the body’s tissues. This is crucial because the telecom industry’s main argument for the alleged safety of EMR is its claim that damage can result only when/if the body is heated by the radiation.

Countless studies show that heating effects are irrelevant; the blood-brain barrier, along with other parts of our anatomy, sustains damage from the nonthermal effects of EMR.8

We know the blood-brain barrier is disrupted in other neurological diseases too, such as Parkinson’s disease.9 Could mobile-phone radiation be one of the contributing factors here, too?

Mental health problems

Mental health can also be impacted by the damaging effects of EMR on the blood-brain barrier. Depression and other psychiatric problems are linked with exposure to EMR,10 as is impaired cognitive function in children.11 Time spent on electronic devices seems to increase the rate of both depression and suicide among teenagers.12

Children are not just smaller overall. They also have thinner skulls, and their brains and bone marrow absorb more electromagnetic radiation than those of adults.13

Leukemia

The EMFs generated by high-voltage power lines increase the risk of childhood leukemia.14 Exposure to EMR via mobile phones can have the same effect, as can proximity to a mobile phone mast.15 The BioInitiative Report has gathered hundreds of studies confirming this link and other damage done to us by EMR.16

Among adults, occupational exposure to high EMR levels has also been found to increase the risk of developing leukemia.17

Health problems in children

Asthma. If a mother is exposed to EMFs while her child is in the womb, that child has an increased risk of developing asthma. Every 1-mG increase in exposure led to a 15 percent higher risk, researchers found.18

Autism. Babies exposed to EMR in the womb, from their mother’s mobile phone or other sources, may be at a higher risk of autism, which is vastly commoner than it was even a generation ago.19

We are beginning to understand how EMR may contribute to autism, including through oxidative stress, with associated damage to mitochondria (organelles that produce energy in our cells), cell membranes and more.20

EMR also interferes with the body’s ability to rid itself of toxic heavy metals, it seems,21 and these have been linked to autism.22

ADHD. Hyperactivity and other behavioral difficulties in children may be linked to both prenatal and postnatal exposure to EMFs.23 In my own practice, I’ve seen the beneficial effects of removing children with ADHD or autism from an EMF-filled environment. When parents take their children out into the countryside, especially in the woods, as far as possible from EMR, they do calm down.

Obesity. Obesity at any age has many contributory causes, of course, including bad diet, lack of exercise and toxic chemicals like those in pesticides and plastics. But here again it seems that EMR makes a contribution, even before birth. The more EMFs a pregnant woman is exposed to, the greater the chance that the child will suffer from obesity.24

Brain tumors

There has been a substantial rise in the incidence of brain tumors in recent years,25 and there is a lot of evidence to suggest that exposure to mobile phone radiation is why.26 You can find hundreds of published papers on this in the 2012 BioInitiative Working Group Report, compiled by a hardworking group of concerned scientists, at bioinitiative.org.

Some of the studies show that the tumors grow on the same side of the head where the person holds their phone. Some show effects from cordless landlines as well as mobiles. Most show worse effects in heavy users of mobile phones, especially in those who have been using them heavily for 10 years or more.

A Swedish review showed that those who began using a mobile phone before the age of 20 were five times more likely to develop a brain tumor later on than those who hadn’t.27

Depending on where the EMR comes out of the phone, it may target the brain, the throat or the parotid salivary gland in the cheek; studies have found an increase in parotid gland tumors on the side of the face where users hold their mobile phone.28

They have also found, associated with long-term (over 10 years’) use of mobile and cordless phones, an increase in acoustic neuroma, a tumor of the eighth cranial nerve, which transmits messages between the ear and the brain, enabling us to hear and to keep our balance.29

That’s in addition to the increase in glioma, a tumor of the “supporting cells” in the brain.30

There is also evidence that people living close to mobile phone masts are suffering increased risks of brain tumors.31

Breast cancer

Radiation from mobile phones and masts could be one factor contributing to the explosive rise of breast cancer in the past few decades.32 Women who work in electrical industries are especially likely to get breast cancer,33 but men are not immune to it, either; a cluster of men with breast cancer has been found among electrical workers.34

The most likely mechanism is that EMR suppresses production of the hormone melatonin by the pineal gland in the brain. Melatonin is vital not just for helping us get to sleep at night but also for protecting the reproductive system. It prevents early puberty and all sorts of cancers in the reproductive organs, including the breasts.

Not only does the blue light coming from mobile phone screens suppress melatonin, so does the EMR. Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant that turns out to prevent (and slow down the growth of) all tumors, not just reproductive ones. Suppressing its production by our addiction to mobile phones seems like a very bad idea.

No doubt yet other mechanisms will also be discovered by which EMR causes (or speeds up the progression of) cancer, but the experimental and epidemiological evidence is very clear that it does so.35

Electrosensitivity

Electrosensitivity has been known of for some decades, but it’s becoming both more common and more severe as the density of the “electro-smog” surrounding us increases. As with many new illnesses, patients are not always believed; their symptoms are dismissed as a “nocebo” effect. They are viewed as imagining the symptoms and/or imagining that EMR is causing them (nocebo means an imagined harm).

But plenty of controlled studies have shown that for the people who suffer from it, electrosensitivity is all too real,36 and more and more medical scientists internationally are acknowledging this.37 Symptoms of electrosensitivity vary widely but can include headaches, dizziness, brain fog and fatigue (see Jeremy’s story, below).

How does EMR damage the body?

One biological mechanism for all these health problems is thought to be oxidative stress. When the blood of people living near mobile phone masts is analyzed, it shows an increase in toxic free radicals, a decrease in the healthy antioxidants we depend on to defend us from those free radicals, and increased lipid peroxidation (which means our fat becomes oxidized in precisely the way that leads to heart disease) as well as damage to our genes.38

EMR causes breaks in the strands of our DNA,39 leading to cell death or to mutations that, as we’ve seen, result in cancer, birth defects and infertility.

EMF expert Martin Blank, PhD, author of Overpowered (Seven Stories Press, 2014), points out that the DNA molecule, extraordinary structure that it is, has the form of a coil and thus acts as a fractal antenna—it picks up most wavelengths of EMFs, which may partly explain why EMFs seem to target DNA.40

And the technology is changing all the time; when 2G was upgraded to 3G, the rate of resultant breaks in DNA increased tenfold.41 That was 15 years ago; by the time equivalent studies on 5G and 6G are published—if they ever see the light of day—what new horrors will they show?

The role of calcium

What we do know is that there seems to be one underlying mechanism in our cells that explains oxidative stress, DNA strand breaks and all the other biological problems resulting from EMF exposure. It concerns calcium, an important mineral that we need not only for making bones but also for “cell signaling,” the way our cells send messages to each other.

Normally there is vastly more calcium in our bodily fluids than inside our cells; calcium is primarily an extracellular mineral. However, such minerals can enter and exit our cells through the cell membrane.

Our cell membranes do not let ions (charged atoms) like calcium into the cell freely but only via very specific channels. These channels are made of protein molecules folded into the shape of pores, occurring at intervals along the cell membrane.

Think of the wall around a medieval city, with guarded gates at intervals. The guard at the gate for some of these cell membrane ion channels is electrical; a slight change in electrical charge, which in nature would be occasional, subtle and for a purpose related to cell signaling, is the password that allows a few calcium ions in. These channels are called voltage-gated ion channels (VGICs), and the calcium ones (VGCCs) can allow calcium both into and out of the cell.

In the presence of microwaves, Wi-Fi and mobile-phone radiation, these channels are forced wide open, and calcium floods in. Calcium flooding into cells is a bad thing; remember, calcium should be primarily outside the cell.

Numerous scientists have now documented the many and varied biochemical catastrophes that result from all this calcium getting inside cells, where it doesn’t belong.42

Preeminent among them is Dr Martin Pall, who says “oxidative stress, single and double stranded breaks in DNA, blood-brain barrier breakdown, depressed melatonin levels and sleep disruption, cancer, male and female infertility, immune and neurological and cardiac dysfunction . . . including sudden cardiac death” can all be fully explained by the action of EMR on those vital VGCCs.43

VGICs also exist for potassium and sodium ions. All three play important roles in cell metabolism and neural communications in the brain and central nervous system.44

Sources of EMR

Electromagnetic radiation (EMR), also known as electromagnetic fields (EMFs), is a form of radiation that has low frequencies and long wavelengths—at the opposite end of the EM spectrum from nuclear radiation. These are some common sources:

Mobile phones

Digital enhanced cordless telecommunications (DECT) phones

Wi-Fi routers1

Tablets, like the iPad

Laptop computers when connected to Wi-Fi

Bluetooth earbuds and headphones2

Induction cooktops,3 microwave ovens and all other home appliances

Fluorescent lights

Fitness trackers and watches

Wireless computer mice

Gaming consoles

“Smart” meters and “smart” TVs

All devices enabling the internet

DECT and Wi-Fi electronic baby monitors

Mobile phone masts (cell phone towers / base stations)

Power lines

Symptoms linked to EMR

Nosebleeds

Tinnitus

Insomnia

Abnormal heart rhythms

Accelerated aging

Raised blood pressure

Headaches

Skin rashes

Sleep disturbances

Depression

Decreased libido

Increased rates of suicide

Concentration problems

Dizziness

Memory changes

Tremors1

How to protect yourself from EMFs

Although EMFs are everywhere, here are several steps you can take to minimize your exposure.

Use your phone less. It’s hard—this tech has been designed to be addictive—but we have to find other, safer ways to connect.

Use airplane mode when your phone is idle. Otherwise, it’s continually in touch with the nearest masts and irradiating you just as if you were making a call. Disable all unnecessary apps too. Keeping it in a Faraday bag can provide further protection.

Use the speakerphone. Never hold the phone to your ear, and text instead of calling whenever possible.

Get non-metal air-tube earphones. Headphones help to keep the phone at a safe distance from your body, which makes a big difference in the amount of EMR you absorb.

Use ethernet cables, not Wi-Fi. Hardwired internet connections work just as well, and often better. To get the connections around the house, you can use dLAN plug-in units, which send the ethernet signal around the house wiring at very low field levels. Then you can get an ethernet connection in every room that has a dLAN box plugged in.

Educate teachers. If you have a child at a school that uses Wi-Fi, start a campaign to get the school to replace it with hardwired internet. They will find the kids’ health, happiness, concentration and academic performance improve.

Put your laptop on a desk. The same applies to tablets, iPads and similar devices. If you don’t have a desk, use a protective tray or pad under it. Better still, plug in an ethernet cable and disable Wi-Fi (and Bluetooth). Or just use an old-fashioned desktop PC.

Find the mobile phone masts. Make sure you’re not going to be living right next to one.

Measure EMFs in your home. Do this before you buy any protective, EMF-shielding clothing, which you might or might not need. The simplest and cheapest meter is the Acousticom 2 by EMFields (US: lessemf.com, UK: livevitae.com). Safe and Sound meters by Safe Living Technologies (US: safelivingtechnologies.com, UK: beneficialenvironments.co.uk) are another good option.

You can also get an EMF surveyor to come to your home, for a fee, to measure EMF levels and suggest solutions. If they are doing the job properly, they should spend at least a couple of hours with you.

Consider EMF-blocking paint. If you’ve reduced your EMF exposure, as above, but the meter shows high EMFs in your home, it’s probably coming from your neighbor’s home. EMF-blocking paint could help.

You can confirm whether it works by measuring with your meter before and after painting. One or two coats will suffice. But it’s usually black, so you’ll probably then want to paint over it in another color.

Try EMF-protective clothing. You can buy protective hats, T-shirts and other clothing to reduce your EMF exposure. Most of my electrosensitive patients find these clothes make a big difference in how they feel.

Try an EMR-protective phone case. Opinions vary on how much they help, though. It may depend on the angle at which you hold your phone and which part of the phone (the antenna) emits the EMR. One advantage for electrosensitive people is they can tell, simply by how they feel, whether the protective equipment is working or not. The rest of us can’t, but it may be best to err on the side of caution.

Get rid of your microwave oven. If you want to reheat something from the freezer—anticipate. Take it out the night before. Leave yourself a note. It can be done.

Where to buy EMF protection products.

Jeremy’s story

Jeremy, a 29-year-old entrepreneur, came to me with a constant headache, specifically “unbearable pressure inside the head,” dizziness, fatigue and a worrying cognitive decline. “It’s like my brain is full of cotton wool and my thoughts don’t make it through,” he said.

Jeremy was fit, and his diet was excellent. Still, I measured all his nutrient levels and checked for chemical toxins in his system. All clear. Physical examination was normal.

So, what was going on?

I asked if anything had changed in his lifestyle in the preceding year. He couldn’t think of anything.

Then I began asking questions like, Do you have a Wi-Fi router? Do you hold your phone next to your head? How many hours a day do you spend on it? Do you carry it in your pocket when you’re out and about? On airplane mode or just on? Do you use a laptop computer on your lap or on a desk?

It turned out that Jeremy’s office was in his bedroom, so his devices were pulsing EMR at him all night long as well as during the day. He held the phone to his head for his business six or seven hours a day. He also had a Wi-Fi router on his desk only a foot or two from his body. He sat with his laptop on his lap, and he traveled with his phone in his pocket, fully turned on.

After more questions I discovered that Jeremy had poor sperm quality and had been trying for a baby, unsuccessfully, with his girlfriend for nearly two years. I suspected that EMR was behind his symptoms and suggested time away from his devices.

Jeremy booked a two-week adventure holiday in the woods, far from all electronic devices.

On his return he reported that within two or three days of leaving, his brain had begun to clear; he could think straight again. By the end of the first week, his energy was back, and his headaches and dizziness were gone. During the second week, he felt better than he had for a long time—back to normal.

But within 24 hours of his return home, his symptoms were back. He unplugged everything, and within 48 hours he was better again.

At our second consultation, Jeremy complained, not unreasonably, that a person couldn’t live like that, cut off from friends and work contacts. Luckily, he didn’t have to. I gave him several strategies to protect himself from EMFs while remaining online and in touch with friends, family and colleagues (see above).

Jeremy tried them, and some years later his business is booming, he remains well and he has become a father. He uses his phone more safely now, but he also uses it less. His work colleagues know to leave a message if he’s not answering.

Jeremy’s symptoms are called “electrosensitivity,” which an estimated 4 percent of the population self-reports. He had a milder case—away from the source of the problem, he recovered. But many people, those with electrohypersensitivity, don’t really recover and continue to react badly to even tiny electromagnetic inputs, such as a simple electric current.

Adapted from Dr Jenny Goodman’s new book Getting Healthy in Toxic Times (Chelsea Green, 2024). For 30 percent off the book, visit chelseagreen.co.uk and enter the code WDDTY30 at checkout.

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