- As societal reliance on electrical devices increases, it becomes important to understand the potential risk as well as ways to protect yourself.
- Enough evidence has accumulated for the International Agency for Research on Cancer to list electromagnetic radiation from radiofrequency range (including Bluetooth and cell phones) to be listed as potentially carcinogenic in humans.
- Many studies point to the potential oxidative damage caused by EMF radiation, and oxidative stress is linked to many chronic diseases.
- There are a few things you can do to protect yourself besides completely avoiding activities and devices associated with radiation emission, such as: minimizing the amount of time you spend exposed to radiation and putting as much distance between yourself and the source.
- You can also strengthen your antioxidant capacity so you can naturally protect yourself against the irradiation that occurs and the resulting oxidative stress.
- Diet plays a key role in strengthening your antioxidant capacity, especially a diet rich in colorful vegetables and fruit. (See the table below for specific recommendations.)
The Deeper Dive:
When you think of radiation, you might just think about nuclear fallout. However, there are small levels of radiation most people are exposed to on a regular basis that may lead to health problems in some individuals.
In a previous blog post, I discussed the potential health problems of “dirty electricity,” the electromagnetic pollution electrical wires emit. Over the past few decades, several studies have also looked into the potential problems caused by the low levels of radiation emitted by electromagnetic, microwave, and radio waves, all of which stem from everyday devices.
As societal reliance on electrical devices increases, as well as continual advances made in technology, it becomes important to understand the potential risk of these devices, especially from chronic use, as well as ways to protect yourself.
Radiation falls into two categories: electromagnetic waves (non-ionizing) and particle (ionizing). Electromagnetic waves produce radiation at low or high levels. Low energy electromagnetic examples include electrical, infrared, visible light, and ultraviolet light. Higher levels include x-rays and gamma rays.
Particle radiation is what you think about when you think about nuclear reactors or nuclear bombs. This is the most dangerous form of radiation, and most people are relatively safe from it unless you live or work in or near a nuclear reactor site, there is a nuclear meltdown (such as what occurred at the Fukushima plant in Japan and at the plant in Chernobyl), or you live in an area where an atomic bomb explodes.
The bigger radiation threat to most people may actually come from the small amounts of radiation we are exposed to every day from electronic devices as well as routine dental and medical procedures. Additionally, minerals in the earth and the sun’s UV rays also emit small amounts of radiation, with some areas of the world having a higher level than others.
Some of the common contributors to daily or routine radiation exposure include:
- Air travel
- Bluetooth devices
- Cell phones
- Cordless phones
- Powerlines and cell phone towers (also known as base stations)
- Smart devices (meters, security systems, speakers, etc.)
- X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, etc.
People in some specific careers also are exposed to radiation at higher doses, such as electronic equipment repairers. A recent study found that flight attendants had a higher risk of certain diseases, including reproductive cancers and all cancers, with at least some of the contributing factors stemming from the cosmic radiation to which one is exposed when in the air.
Risks of Routine Radiation Exposure
There is an acceptable amount of exposure for one person to radiation. The average exposure in America is about 6.2 millisieverts per year from a variety of sources, including from natural background sources such as cosmic and terrestrial radiation as well as medical sources. Many of the estimates do not include EMF radiation. To put this in perspective, 10 Sieverts, or 10,000 mSv, is the amount that can be fatal within weeks of exposure. Chernobyl workers who died were exposed to 6 Sv, or 6,000 mSv.
Although the risk to ionized or particle radiation is generally accepted, the view on the risk of EMF, especially low-frequency EMF, is more controversial. However, studies have started to demonstrate the potential to cause harm. Many of the studies remain at the animal model and cellular model (in vitro studies) level. However, enough evidence has accumulated for the International Agency for Research on Cancer to list electromagnetic radiation from radiofrequency range (including Bluetooth and cell phones) to be listed as potentially carcinogenic in humans despite the limited evidence.
One thing to also bear in mind is that our reliance on electricity, especially on WiFi, computers, tablets, and smartphones, is still relatively new. Studies on the long-term effects do not exist as not enough time has passed since it has only been just over a decade that we have used technology in this way. The literature that does exist points to a need to be aware and potentially take protective action in case there are long-term consequences we have yet to discover.
As I mentioned, the literature has limited studies detailing possible health problems and EMF radiation exposure. Much of the evidence is from animal studies or mechanistic studies at the cellular level. A few health problems with some evidence pointing to a possible link include:
- Anxiety and behavior changes
- Increased cancer risk, including male and female breast cancer
- Changes to cognitive function, including to attention and concentration
- Developmental problems, especially in the brain
- Increased release of mercury from dental amalgams
- Increased stress response and impact on the adrenal gland
- Infertility, negative impact on sperm quality, hormonal imbalances, or reproductive problems
- Neurological disorders, including dementia and ALS
- Obesity and diabetes
- Oxidative stress and lipid peroxidation
- Potential problems with fetus development in pregnant women
- Lower levels of nutrients and trace elements
Many studies point to the potential oxidative damage caused by EMF radiation, and oxidative stress is linked to many chronic diseases. Although some studies do not demonstrate a significant change to the oxidative stress that would overwhelm the antioxidant capacity and create damage, it is another stressor that may become the tipping point in those susceptible or who do not have sufficient antioxidant capabilities due to poor intake of antioxidants or other factors. Additionally, the effect may come from a long-term, additive effect for which we do not yet have studies.
Some people are more susceptible to issues with EMF exposure, a condition termed electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) or idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to EMF (IEI-EMF). Children are at a higher risk as well.
Ways to Protect Yourself
In 21st century life, it can be hard to completely live without some of these conveniences, especially cell phones and WiFi. You may also not be able to avoid certain medical or dental imaging, or you may need to (or want to!) fly frequently. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself besides completely avoiding activities and devices associated with radiation emission.
One of the first ways to protect yourself is to reduce your exposure to radiation. The EPA sets advice based on higher risk radiation exposure, such as an increase in natural radiation or a nuclear situation. However, the concepts can still be applied to working with low levels of radiation.
The three concepts they discuss are:
- Time and Duration—minimize the amount of time you spend exposed to radiation. In a rat study, 50 days was enough to impact the oxidative stress due to EMF exposure. Another study found that 50 minutes a day may be enough to increase the risk of developing dementia or brain damage
- Distance—Put as much distance between yourself and the source.
- Shielding—Use protective shielding when necessary (such as using the lead blanket when you get x-rays at the dentist).
So, how can you apply these concepts to help you reduce your exposure to EMF and other low-level radiation? Some common-sense changes to your routine may help, such as:
- Avoid having electronic devices in your bedroom, including your cell phone
- Unplug electronic devices, especially TVs, computers, and microwaves, when not in use
- Turn your WiFi off at night or when you are not using it
- Avoid carrying your cell phone on your body (i.e., pockets or in a bra) when possible. One study found a significant difference in sperm quality between men who carried their phones in their pockets and those who carried them on their belts.
- Keep your cell phone and tablets at a distance when you are not using them
- Use the speakerphone function to talk on your phone (remember that Bluetooth devices also emit EMF radiation, so use them sparingly on your body)
- Avoid placing laptops and tablets on your body while in use
- Take some time away from electricity and devices, and enjoy the outdoors!
In addition to reducing your exposure to devices, you can also strengthen your antioxidant capacity so you can naturally protect yourself against the irradiation that occurs and the resulting oxidative stress. This is especially important for preparing for the situations where you are exposed to higher levels of radiation in unavoidable circumstances, such as for work, when you fly, or as part of a medical or dental procedure.
Build Your Antioxidant Capacity with Nutrition
- Melatonin, another important antioxidant shown to protect against oxidative stress
- NAC (n-acetylcysteine)
- Omega-3 fatty acids, including EPA and DHA
- Resveratrol, gallic acid, rosmarinic acid, and other phytonutrients
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin E—especially when combined with vitamin C
- Zinc, another antioxidant
Most of the nutrients listed above are antioxidants, so it comes as no surprise that studies have demonstrated their capacity to protect against EMF radiation. An easy way to ensure you consume all of these nutrients is to eat a colorful diet filled with whole plant foods.
To get you started, here are some foods rich in the above nutrients.
|Food||Cysteine (NAC)||Melatonin||Omega-3||Selenium||Vitamin C||Vitamin E||Zinc|
Additional herbs, spices, and foods that have been shown to help protect against EMF radiation include:
- Gingko Biloba
- Green Tea
- Lotus Seeds
- Olive Leaf
Eating a colorful, antioxidant-rich diet not only protects you from the oxidative stress from EMF exposure, but it also has the potential to enhance other aspects of health thanks to the general benefits of antioxidants and the additional vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals found in plant food.
While these foods and nutrients can be helpful in many situations, please consult with your doctor or healthcare practitioner before making changes to your diet or supplementing with any of the above nutrients or herbs, especially if you are on medication or have a health condition.