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What is Electromagnetic Field & its Harmful Effects

What are electric and magnetic fields?

Electric and magnetic fields are invisible areas of energy (also called radiation) that are produced by electricity, which is the movement of electrons, or current, through a wire. Our power lines, cellphones, microwaves, Wi-Fi routers, computers, and other appliances send out a stream of these invisible energy waves.

An electric field is produced by voltage, the pressure used to push the electrons through the wire, much like water being pushed through a pipe. Electric fields are measured in volts per meter (V/m).

A magnetic field results from the flow of current through wires or electrical devices and increases in strength as the current increases. Magnetic fields are measured in microteslas (μT, or millionths of a tesla).

Electric fields are produced whether or not a device is turned on, whereas magnetic fields are produced only when current is flowing, which usually requires a device to be turned on. Power lines produce magnetic fields continuously because the current is always flowing through them. Electric fields are easily shielded or weakened by walls and other objects, whereas magnetic fields, can pass through buildings, living things, and most other materials.

Electric and magnetic fields together are referred to as electromagnetic fields (EMFs). The electric and magnetic forces in EMFs are caused by electromagnetic radiation. There are two main categories of EMFs (1):

  • Higher-frequency EMFs, which include x-rays, CT, MRI, and gamma rays. These EMFs are in the ionizing radiation part of the electromagnetic spectrum and can damage DNA or cells directly. These EMFs are usually measured in exahertz (EHz) equal to 10 to the 18th power.
  • Low- to mid-frequency EMFs range from electric power lines and appliances, radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, and visible light. These EMFs are in the non-ionizing radiation part of the electromagnetic spectrum and are not known to damage DNA or cells directly.

There are both natural and human-made sources of non-ionizing EMFs. The earth’s magnetic field, which causes the needle on a compass to point North, is one example of a naturally occurring EMF.

Ionizing radiation 

Ionizing radiation can be harmful because it can break chemical bonds and change the molecular and chemical structures of various substances, including human tissue.

Overall, a person is more likely to experience damage if exposed to high levels of radiation over a more extended period. This could occur, for example, if a person undergoes numerous X-rays without protection or cancer treatments leading to damage such as; burns, hair loss, skin damage, tissue damage, damage to bone marrow, etc.

Studies linking EMF to damage?

Regarding human studies, due to evident technical and ethical problems, most of the research work was based on epidemiological research and observation. Such discrepancies hamper an unbiased evaluation of the consequences of exposure to EMF for health.

It should be also noted that in the real situation humans are often being simultaneously subjected to EMF from different sources. So the biological effects of multi-source and multi-frequency EMFs have yet to be explored and fully understood. Up to date, there is no available information on the accumulative effect of such combined exposure.

According to cancer.gov, several studies have analyzed the combined data from multiple studies of power line exposure and childhood leukemia from 2000:

  • A pooled analysis of nine studies reported a twofold increase in the risk of childhood leukemia among children with exposures of 0.4 μT or higher. Less than 1 percent of the children in the studies experienced this level of exposure (2).
  • A meta-analysis of 15 studies observed a 1.7-fold increase in childhood leukemia among children with exposures of 0.3 μT or higher. A little more than 3 percent of children in the studies experienced this level of exposure (3).

The epidemiological studies measured the background field in the home (often in the child’s bedroom). That is, they deliberately measured the field away from any domestic appliances. It is easy to find fields of greater than 0.4 µT close to appliances, we are interested here in homes where the field is greater than 0.4 µT even away from appliances.

They also measured the field for 24 hours or longer (often 48 hours). Fields vary over time. The field can go above 0.4 µT for short periods in quite a lot of homes. We are interested here only in homes where the 24-hour average is above 0.4 µT.

Random facts from the internet potentially linking EMFs to disease 

  • EMFs have been reported to suppress melatonin production by the pineal gland. Reduced melatonin concentrations can result in increased prolactin release by the pituitary and increased estrogen and testosterone release by the gonads. Based on these findings, it may be hypothesized that magnetic fields may increase the risk of certain hormone-dependent cancers, i.e. breast and prostatic carcinomas.
  • The movement of electrons in DNA might be induced, which may, in turn, produce guanine radicals, which, upon reaction with water, cause oxidative DNA damage.
  • Exposure of human primary fibroblasts to a 50 Hz EMF at 1.0 mT caused a slight, but significant increase in DNA fragmentation.
  • In 2017 Lai and Singh observed genotoxic effects of these fields, finding that exposure of rats for 2 h to a 60 Hz magnetic field (0.1, 0.25, and 0.5 mT) increased DNA strand breaks in brain cells in a dose-dependent fashion, indicating a clastogenic effect. (4)
    • Clastrogen is a substance that causes breaks in chromosomes that result in the gain, loss, or rearrangements of chromosomal segments.
  • Overall, there was an increase in cancer incidence of almost 30% between 1973 and 2015. According to this research, colorectal, thyroid, and testicular cancers along with melanoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma are most responsible for this increase in cancers among adolescents and young adults. Researchers suggest that the increase is likely due to a combination of environmental and lifestyle factors, and changes in screening and diagnosis.

In August 2009, a paper by Columbia University described how EMFs activate a cellular stress response. EMFs can penetrate a cell’s nucleus and interact with its DNA, bypassing a cell’s defense mechanisms. (5)

How EMFs Cause Oxidative Damage in a Cell:

  • EMFs enter cells.
  • Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) are generated.
  • Anti-oxidative mechanisms try to regulate ROS and protect the cell membrane.
  • Too much ROS is generated, which impairs anti-oxidative mechanisms (which can lead to many other diseases).
  • The membrane is compromised, EMFs can now enter the cell nucleus.
  • EMFs break DNA strands, which damages cell (and can lead to cancerous tumors).
  • The stress response increases Heat Shock stress proteins.

EMFs and voltage-gated Calcium channels (VGCCs) 

Another effect of EMFs interaction with our cells is the increase of calcium ions in our cells. More than 20 years ago, a study found that EMF exposure could produce changes in calcium signaling in the membranes surrounding each of our cells. (6)

It is voltage-gated because EMFs can force the voltage sensor (which detects electrical changes) to open the gate to the cell membrane, immediately allowing a ton of calcium ions, called intracellular Ca2+ and nitric oxide (NO), into the cells.

Nitric oxide has some beneficial health effects, like stimulating bone growth coupled with increased calcium. But too much of it will make it react with superoxide to form peroxynitrite. This is a big-time potent non-radical oxidant, which breaks down to form many different free radicals, which damages cells and may lead to many chronic diseases.

Not a correlation but Autism has been connected with excessive amounts of intercellular calcium.

What are the current guidelines for EMFs?

There’s disagreement in the scientific literature over whether EMFs pose a danger to human health and, if so, how much.

The current International Agency for Research on Cancer IARC evaluation from 2011 pointed to a possible link between RF radiation and cancer in people, particularly glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer.

This conclusion means that there could be some risk. The report emphasized that the link between cellphone use and cancer risk needs to be carefully monitored by the scientific community. It said more research was needed into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones.

The Building Biology Institute recommends 1 mG (0.1 μT) maximum exposure to AC magnetic fields for sleeping areas. Also, a scientific panel in Norway recommended a 1mG exposure limit based on risk for leukemia, brain tumors, Alzheimer‘s, ALS, sperm damage, and DNA strand breaks [1mG = 0.1uT].  These recommendations are for continued long-term exposure for many hours and days, not to brief exposures like driving under power lines. 

The USA has no federal legal limits for exposure to 60 Hz magnetic fields. Two US states limit public exposure near overhead power lines to 150 mG (Florida) or 200 mG (NY)   

Standards from The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Program  ICNIRP allow 830 mG exposure of the public.  

How can you protect yourself? For mobile phone conversations, you can use wired headphones or speakers so the phone is not next to your head.  You can place the WiFi router away from where you spend a lot of time. You can use the RF Meter to measure RF exposure in areas you spend a lot of time: if it is below 5V/m most of the time, and you don’t live near any TV or radio towers, then you should have low EMF exposure. Some other researchers recommend 10-20 V/m max in homes and offices, and 5 V/m max for sleeping areas.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on EMF radiation exposure

1996 FCC standards did not address the full scope of radiation dangers coming from our electronic devices. It wasn’t sufficient back in 1996—nor 2011—and with all the technological advances since then, we have now reached far beyond the appropriate point of revision.

On August 13, 2021, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit ruled against the FCC and favored Children’s Health Defense (CHD) in a two-to-one panel decision, calling for the FCC to reevaluate its wireless radiation exposure standards.

Why Are The FCC Standards Inadequate?

  • The FCC only took into consideration measurements of thermal effects from EMFs. 
  • The measurement standards did not consider chronic direct contact with the body, which they usually test sources two or more inches away from the body.
  • They don’t consider all types of people, for example, a 200-pound man vs. a small child. 

 

SHOW NOTES:

0:00 Cup of Nurses Introduction
1:56 Episode Introduction
2:43 What are electric and magnetic fields?
4:28 Electric Field
4:55 Magnetic Field
10:58 Ionizing Radiation
15:25 Studies linking EMF to damage
20:28 Random facts from the internet potentially linking EMFs to disease

 

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