5 Facts Every Parent Should Know About EMFs

Heather Dessinger

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Welcome to a world in which more people have cell phones than toilets. Yep, it’s weird but true. (source) If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering, “How did that happen? What is EMF? And more importantly, is it safe?”

In Overpowered: The Dangers of Electromagnetic Radiation (EMF) and What You Can Do About It, Dr. Martin Blank tackles that question with just the kind of thoroughness you’d expect from a man who holds PhD’s in physical chemistry and colloid science from Columbia University and The University of Cambridge, respectively. The self-proclaimed “unlikely activist” opens the book by saying that . . .

“You may not realize it, but you are participating in an unauthorized experiment – ‘the largest biological experiment ever.'”

He then details the very real risks associated with EMFs – especially for children. In this post I’m sharing some insights from his book – you can read more about solutions in my follow-up post here.

(No, I do not recommend that you buy a yurt and move to the desert. Sorry if that is what you were hoping for!)

electromagnetic spectrum

What Is EMF (Electromagnetic Radiation)?

Electromagnetic (EMF) radiation comes in many forms. Historically, it has been believed that only ionizing radiation – the stuff you see on the right of the spectrum above – is harmful. The theory was that only ionizing radiation is strong enough to break chemical bonds and damage DNA. However, new research supports the idea that even non-ionizing radiation can cause breaks in DNA.

How is this possible? It’s simple. DNA has more than just a chemical component – it conducts electricity.

Um, yeah, that surprised me, too. As it turns out, the fractal pattern that makes up our DNA (the double helix) is so good at conducting electricity that it operates as an antenna of sorts. “By definition, a fractal antenna can pick up and react to a wide range of frequencies of EMF, which means that many frequencies of EMF in the environment can and do react with your DNA.” (source, emphasis mine)

Should we be concerned that our DNA reacts to EMFs?

That’s a great question. To answer it, we need to revisit some fundamentals:

“Cells inside your body continually die, and new cells are created to replace them . . . For a new cell to be created, the DNA in a cell (referred to as a parent cell) has to be copied . . . The objective of DNA replication is to create exact copies of the original DNA. However, given the immense scope of the DNA replication process, it’s to be expected that mistakes will happen – and they do.” (source)

Though the error rate is estimated to be very low – about 0.001% of the time – because there is so much DNA in each cell, that means “there are approximately 120,000 mistakes in the DNA each time one of the cells in your body divides.” Whoa, right?

The good news is these mistakes – called strand breaks – are usually identified and corrected by the body’s quality assurance program. If they aren’t caught and the cell has trouble functioning, it will activate “a process named apoptosis, or programmed cell death, to kill and remove the cell. This is an optimal outcome, because once the damaged cell is dead, it cannot harm the body or pass on its defective genes.

Sometimes, however, the damaged cell with the mutated DNA survives and replicates, becoming a permanent genetic mutation in the body.” (source)

The problem with EMF exposure, according Dr. Blank and several studies like this one, is that it increases the frequency of strand breaks, which may overwhelm the body with errors and lead to mutations. Other studies have found that EMF’s increase the number of micronuclei, or fragments “of DNA with no known purpose, a byproduct of errors that occur  during cell division. The presence of micronuclei indicates a type of DNA damage so strongly associated with cancer that doctors test for them as a means of diagnosing cancer.” (source)

Do EMFs Cause Cancer?

In Overpowered, Dr. Blank devotes a whole chapter to the epidemiological evidence that suggests EMF’s from cell phones, computers, power lines and other devices may contribute to the development of cancer. However, one thing he continually stresses is that our risk reduces exponentially if we are able to put some distance between ourselves and the devices. (The amount of distance needed varies by device.)

There’s much more information available on this subject than I can cover in this post, but I want to mention one meta-analysis published in The Journal of Clinical Oncology. A team of seven scientists reviewed 23 studies and concluded that “among the 10 higher quality studies we found a harmful association between cell phone use and tumor risk.” (source)

Also, the “13 studies that investigated cell phone use for 10 or more years found a significant harmful association with tumor risk, especially for brain tumors, giving us ample reason for concern about long-term use.” (source)

Not surprisingly, Dr. Blank notes that the studies deemed to be lower quality by the researchers – the ones which “failed to meet scientific best practices” – were mostly industry funded.

He also cites several high quality studies that indicate EMFs may play a role in Alzheimers, Lou Gehrig’s Disease, male infertility and other problems. (One study he mentioned found that men who used cell phones more than 4 hours a day had a 40% lower sperm count than men who did not use cell phones. Keep in mind that they were not holding the phone against their groin – this was a whole body effect.)

Interestingly, small amounts of EMF’s may be beneficial, because like other stressors they send the body into cleanup/repair mode. It seems that the real concern comes when exposure goes over what the body can reasonably repair, which leads me to five facts about EMFs every parent should know:

A must-read if you ever use cell phones or wifi

#1: Funding Bias Is Real

Remember that time we all realized BPA was bad and started voting with our dollars, then found out some of that BPA-free stuff we were buying actually contained a form of bisphenol that’s likely to be more toxic? Yeah, this is kind of like that.

Companies know one of the best ways to win the public’s trust is to say that their products have been tested for safety. What they typically leave out is that the studies they fund are sometimes specifically designed to make their products look safe . . . even when they may not be.

This is not a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theory – this is a documented phenomenon called funding bias – aka the “tendency of outcomes from studies to align with the interests of those funding the studies.” (source)

According to this analysis published in the Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives, studies funded by the wireless industry only showed a biological effect on human beings about 28% of the time. In contrast, studies funded by other sources (that are presumably more independent) showed an effect 68% percent of the time. (source 1, source 2)

There are plenty of high-quality studies out there demonstrating real health concerns associated with EMFs, but those aren’t the ones most likely to make the evening news. As Dr. Henry Lai – who along with Dr. Narendra Singh  conducted the research I mention in the next section – explains, ” a lot of the studies that are done right now are done purely as PR tools for the industry.” (source)

In other words, before you take a study at face value, find out who funded it.

#2: Children Are More Vulnerable

“In 2009, Dr. Lennart Hardell reported that children who begin using mobile phones at ages younger than 20 have a 520% elevated risk of developing glioma – even after just one year of use (this is compared to a 140% elevated risk across all ages).” (source 1, source 2, emphasis mine)

That’s probably due to two reasons:

1. “Children’s bodies operate differently than adults,” writes Dr. Blank. “In the context of our discussion, the most important difference is that children continuously grow at a faster pace. The rate of growth in children means they undergo a much faster pace of cell division. Thus, the DNA of children is more vulnerable to the errors that occur during normal protein synthesis, and any damaged DNA is more likely to pass to more cells (through cell division as well as replication), spreading further in the body and more rapidly.” (source )

2. And second, “the bone in a child’s head is thinner, leading to less shielding of the brain’s neurons from external forces than is found in adults. Exacerbating matters further, research has shown that the amount of radiation absorbed by children from cell phones (the SAR values) is larger in children than adults, because children have higher levels of electrical conductivity than their older counterparts.” (source 1)

If you’re feeling a little freaked out right now, take a deep breath. While I do limit my children’s use of cell phones and other devices like iPads (airplane mode only), I doubt I’ll be able to continue doing that until they’re twenty. Fortunately, there are high quality shielding devices available that can help reduce our EMF exposure. I’ll be sharing some that have been independently tested in my next post.

#3: EMF Exposure Affects Sleep

Every parent I know cares deeply about sleep – both theirs and their child’s! One thing to be aware of is that too much EMF exposure can decrease melatonin production, which is associated with poor sleep quality, increased aging, and lowered immune function. (source 1, source 2)

Like the effects above, there seems to be a dose-response relationship, so the important thing is to be wise and take steps to reduce exposure from all sources – not panic and move into the aforementioned yurt.

#4: EMFs May Increase Blood-Brain Barrier Permeability

According to a study conducted by neuroscientist Dr. Allan Frey, rats who were exposed to EMF’s that mimic the equivalent of a cell phone began to show an increase in blood-brain barrier permeability almost immediately.

They tracked this by injecting a dye into the rats, where it leached into all the tissues including the brain after EMF exposure. In the control group, the dye leached into all the tissues except for the brain, demonstrating an intact blood-brain barrier.

Children already have a more permeable blood-brain barrier than adults, so this is something we really need to consider when deciding whether to let them play games on our phones or iPads. (As I mentioned earlier, when we let our kids play on our phones due to an unexpectedly long appointment or something, we always put them in airplane mode so that wifi radiation is not a concern.)

#5: There ARE Things You Can Do To Protect Your Family

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with all the health challenges we face – sometimes personally, sometimes collectively. But unlike some things which require massive shifts in our culture for change to occur, you can begin to reduce your family’s EMF exposure with just a few simple steps.

Next in this series: EMF Protection: Products and Tips for Your Home and Family.

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Heather is a holistic health educator, herbalist, DIYer, Lyme and mold warrior. Since founding Mommypotamus.com in 2009, Heather has been taking complicated health research and making it easy to understand. She shares tested natural recipes and herbal remedies with millions of naturally minded mamas around the world. 

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26 thoughts on “5 Facts Every Parent Should Know About EMFs”

  1. Thank you! I actually ordered a radiation meter that was not cheap. My husband agreed for us to buy it with the condition that I find scientific proof that EMFs are dangerous. I think this book could be a good start. I bought a basic meter that only reads electric radiation and it read high radiation from our computer. He was so shocked he said “I dont want to see Ella (our 3 year old) near this computer! We now unplug our Wifi router at night.

    • There are literally THOUSANDS of studies from the past 60 years on the dangers of electromagnetic radiation. Unfortunately, since our military likes to use the technology (the US and the Russians were the first to conduct the research) and the government gets big big bucks from Big Telecom you will not see a clear picture of the dangers. (Look up the story of the former Robert C. Kane who had been working as top engineer at Motorola for decades, developing mobile phones. He’s dead…from brain cancer.)

      The information is available for those who will look. See http://stopocsmartmeters.com/public-health-hazard.html

    • Hi I’m experienced high radiation at my house in surrey. I would feel my heart pain until I was updated by someone close

  2. Thank you for posting about this! My husband and I are in the process of purchasing some land to homestead on in middle TN and each property we find has high voltage power lines running too close for our comfort. I look forward to reading your follow up post. Finding reliable information on the safety of living near power lines has been difficult, but your blog has been a go-to resource for me for the past several years. Thanks for your commitment to helping others parent more naturally!

    • Another site to check out when purchasing land or buying a house is AntennaSearch.com. It will tell you of all the antennas and cell phone towers surround the area. You do NOT want to live next to these offending structures.

  3. Ha, and my husband works for telecommunications… I guess we won’t be having any more kids.

    What about satellites? Free wifi hot spots? It seems unavoidable.

    Maybe I’ll get some grounding shoes for my kids.

    • Public education is the first step. Speaking up against this pollution is the next step. Governments are here to serve and protect the public and it is time for them to take precautions and not cave to the money in the telecom industry, which is very rich and powerful. Should we simply ignore this and pretend all will be okay when we know it isn’t?

  4. I want to know if there are devices that I can place around my house on my electronic devices that block the EMFs. Are you going to write about that?

    • The best thing that works is blocking the signals from microwave-emitting devices. First, you need to locate the offending device by using a meter such a Cornet, Acoustimeter or Acousticom. Second, you will need to block, shut off or wire up the devices you locate.

      Stickers on cell phones do not work. It’s like trying to block out the sun, which is also electromagnetic radiation, by using tape.

  5. This is SO GOOD. Thanks, Heather, for all your diligent and detailed research. This was bounced around the BB team and we give you a big thumbs up. 🙂

    Love to the Potami!

  6. ugh! I share another readers sentiment: with all the free wifi, huge power lines, and my neighbors that all have wifi- we live in a polluted world! I am really looking forward to what we can do it mitigate the effects! Thanks heather!!

  7. Anybody know how much a neighbours wifi can affect your house? My husband figures it makes no difference whether we have it or not, because all of our neighbours do and their signals are all over our house anyway. I’m not so sure I want to add to it, but I think he’s probably right that their wifi extends to our house.

    • Distance absolutely matters! You don’t have to add to it by having it in your own home. By the way, there is a shielding paint to protect your home from everyone else’s WiFi.

  8. Ugh! This makes me want to kick myself for letting my kids sleep in the room next to my computer (totally wireless) and the wifi tower. Good grief!

    Thankfully my kids sleep fairly well, but who knows how this effects their immune function. And the fact that its thought to increase permeability in the BBB… no good! I’ll definitely have my husband read this post and the one on how to reduce EMF exposure. We definitely have some things to work on! Thanks for this!

  9. I am confused about the Brain barrier paragraph. I thought when the child develops the brain barrier at two years of age that this a good thing. My friend who vaccinates, waited until her children were two years old so that there brain barrier would be fully formed to keep out harmful side effects. I do not know much about this because at all but how I comprehended the above sprig rash is that the radiation can get stuck in the brain barrier? Please explain.

    • The blood-brain barrier is a good thing – it keeps viruses, bacteria, extra hormones etc. out of the brain. What the researchers found is that exposure to non-ionizing radiation decreased the effectiveness of the blood-brain barrier, which is not a good thing.

    • The cellular structure of the blood brain barrier as well as the intestinal tract are composed of endothelial cells which are connected by tight junctions with an extremely high electrical resistivity. In other words, pulsed microwave radiation (WIFI) causes these tight junctions to loosen and toxins can enter the brain and blood stream as a type of leak.

      An invaluable 19 min. lecture by world-renowned neurosurgeon and research scientist Dr. Lief Salford of Lund University, Switzerland, on research findings showing blood brain barrier leakage in (thousands of) rat brains leading to increased albumin (neurotoxin) uptake, memory loss and damage of up to 2% of brain cells.

  10. It’s good to be skeptical and wary of funding biased studies, but do keep in mind correlation is not causation. People try to blame everything for increases in problems because we go oh, technology goes up, health problems go up, but things we ingest are far more likely to be the cause, as well as KNOWN dangers from chemical pollution. One certainly should avoid being attached to a device 24/7, for many reasons, but radiation is everywhere and there are far more known dangers to focus on. It’s energy saving and certainly doesn’t hurt to turn off WiFi but please do not freak out people- I’d wager that being stressed from radiation paranoia will make you sicker than cell phones.

  11. Your blog consistently delivers high-quality content. It’s become one of my go-to sources for information on EMF.