Electricity is a natural force field that is defined as “the flow of electrical power or charge” (EIA, 2023). We see it in nature when there is a lightning strike, we feel it when we come into contact with static electricity, and we can hear it when we are around power lines. EMF is an acronym for electric and magnetic fields, which are “invisible areas of energy (also called radiation) that are produced by electricity, which is the movement of electrons, or current, through a wire” (NCI, 2022). There are two categories of EMF: high-frequency EMFs such as x-rays and gamma rays, and low- to mid-frequency EMFs “which include static fields (electric or magnetic fields that do not vary with time), magnetic fields from electric power lines and appliances, radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, and visible light” (NCI, 2022). We know that “X-rays and gamma rays are known human carcinogens” (ACS, 2022), which is why we are told to limit our exposure to x-rays and wear lead vests during the process, as well as use protection outside such as sunglasses and sunscreen. But extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMF) can also be harmful as well. It is hard for scientists to study the precise effects of EMS for many reasons “due to the differences in physical (frequency, field density, field direction, and exposure duration) and biological parameters (stimulus, species, cell type, and tissue type) of ELF-EMF” (Mahaki et al., 2019). As a result of clinical results being varied, the World Health Organization declared low frequency electric and magnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (WHO, 2022) pending further investigation.
Like most things in nature, it is the dose that makes the poison. That is, low EMFs that are encountered once in a while do not seem to be harmful- conversely they may actually be beneficial. There are some protective effects of ELF-EMF that have been shown in “wound repair, bone healing and neural regeneration…[however] harmful applications of ELF-EMF
(power lines and ordinary household appliances) are different in duration of exposure, field density, and frequency compared with therapeutic applications of ELF-EMF” (Mahaki et al., 2019). With all of the small appliances we have around, not to mention the 5G that blankets us, we are constantly exposed to a multiplied volume of EMFs. Things in and around our homes that emit EMFs include but are not limited to:
Cell phones seem to be one of the biggest contributors of harmful EMFs, with studies of women in the US and Taiwan showing a direct correlation between cell phone use and thyroid cancer and breast cancer, respectively (Luo, et al., 2020) (Shih et al., 2020). Since we are on our cell phones so much, whether it be to talk, text, browse the internet to play games, the low EMF (ELF-EMFs) are compounded into much higher doses. Additionally, there are some people who demonstrate a sensitivity to EMFs, which is termed electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS). Electromagnetic hypersensitivity is ”characterized by the presence of a wide spectrum of non-specific multiple organ symptoms, typically including central nervous system symptoms, that occur following the patient’s acute or chronic exposure to electromagnetic fields in the environment or in occupational settings” (Stein & Udasin, 2020). Symptoms include “headache, fatigue, stress, sleep disturbance, ‘brain fog,’ short term memory disturbances, irritability, emotional lability and anxiety…nausea, chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath, muscle aches, reduced libido, decreased appetite, and skin reactions” (Stein & Udasin, 2020).
So what can you do to limit harm from ELF-EMFs? The easiest way to protect yourself is to reduce exposure and keep your distance. If you are on the phone, you can put it on speaker and hold it away from your head. Do not keep your cell phone in your pocket or close to your body. Limit the number of tech gadgets around you and if possible, use an ethernet cable instead of wireless. You can also use the EPA’s Radiation calculator to help determine how much radiation you are being exposed to, although not all variables are taken into effect (EPA, 2023). Last but not least, maintaining optimal health can help our bodies filter out the harmful effects of EMFs.
ACS. (2022, November 10). Do X-rays and Gamma Rays cause cancer?. American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/risk-prevention/radiation-exposure/x-rays-gamma-rays/do-xrays-and-gamma-rays-cause-cancer.html
EIA. (2023). U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – independent statistics and analysis. Electricity explained – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/electricity/
EPA. (2023, March 29). EPA. https://www.epa.gov/radiation/calculate-your-radiation-dose
Luo, J., Li, H., Deziel, N. C., Huang, H., Zhao, N., Ma, S., Ni, X., Udelsman, R., & Zhang, Y. (2020). Genetic susceptibility may modify the association between cell phone use and thyroid cancer: A population-based case-control study in Connecticut. Environmental research, 182, 109013. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2019.109013
Mahaki, H., Tanzadehpanah, H., Jabarivasal, N., Sardanian, K., & Zamani, A. (2019). A review on the effects of extremely low frequency electromagnetic field (ELF-EMF) on cytokines of innate and adaptive immunity. Electromagnetic biology and medicine, 38(1), 84–95. https://doi.org/10.1080/15368378.2018.1545668
NCI. (2022, May 30). Electromagnetic fields and cancer. National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/radiation/electromagnetic-fields-fact-sheet#:~:text=Electric%20and%20magnetic%20fields%20together,x%2Drays%20and%20gamma%20rays.
Shih, Y. W., Hung, C. S., Huang, C. C., Chou, K. R., Niu, S. F., Chan, S., & Tsai, H. T. (2020). The Association Between Smartphone Use and Breast Cancer Risk Among Taiwanese Women: A Case-Control Study. Cancer management and research, 12, 10799–10807. https://doi.org/10.2147/CMAR.S267415
Stein, Y., & Udasin, I. G. (2020). Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS, microwave syndrome) – Review of mechanisms. Environmental research, 186, 109445. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envres.2020.109445
World Health Organization (WHO), International Agency for Research on Cancer. Non-ionizing radiation, Part 1: Static and extremely low-frequency (ELF) electric and magnetic fieldsExit Disclaimer. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans 2002; 80:1–395.
About the author: Mary Genevieve Carty, MS, MHEd holds Masters degrees in Complementary and Integrative Health as well as Higher Education and is currently a doctoral student in Health Science at George Washington University’s College of Medicine and Health Science. She is passionate about holistic health and wellness, and has additional training in teaching, Reiki, and Tapping/ Emotional Freedom Technique. Her research interests include resiliency, psychoneuroimmunology, neuroplastic pain, placebo/ nocebo effect, and bioenergy therapies. The views she expresses are her own, and do not reflect any affiliation.
Medically reviewed by Dr. Stephen Matta, DO, MBA CAQSM and Mary Anne Matta, MS, MA, LAC
Stay in the know and join our email list
161 Leverington Avenue, Suite 101
Philadelphia, PA 19127
On-Site Free Parking