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EMF Exposure: How Bad Is It & How to Protect Yourself

What does a shoe measuring machine from the 1900s and your WiFi router have in common? More than you’d think!

Andri

Written by Andri

20 min read

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Sign saying that there is no Wifi in the forest, but you will find a better connection
Do you know what this is? 

It’s a shoe-fitting fluoroscope. 

This device was built during World War 1 by Dr. Jacob Lowe to scan soldiers’ feet through their boots. The idea behind it was either to speed up the process of picking out the right-sized shoes for soldiers or to x-ray the feet of wounded soldiers without having to remove their boots. The reports are mixed, and its history is a bit hazy.

However, what started as a war-time invention soon became a patented x-ray machine for high-end shoe stores. It was a great novelty in the early 1900s to have a machine tell you your shoe size, so it was widely used.

The dark side of the fluoroscope

Little did anyone know that this machine was emitting harmful radiation in all directions. It wasn’t just those using the machine who were being harmed, but also bystanders just browsing in the store.

After nuclear bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a series of scientific studies were conducted to understand the effects of radiation, assess exposures and develop reasonable exposure limits. Thanks to these studies, we learned exactly how harmful these fancy shoe-fitting machines and the radiation emitted from them really were. However, it still took almost 30 years before they became fully extinct.

Even though we knew these machines were emitting harmful radiation (and causing adverse health effects), they were still used for multiple decades because they helped shoe stores get more customers and sell them more expensive, supposedly scientifically verified shoes.

Even after a lot of damning scientific evidence came to light, representatives of the retail shoe industry (I like to imagine they were called “Big Shoe”) denied the science in newspaper articles and opinion pieces.

The dark side of ionizing radiation—and all of the associated health effects, like the increased risk of brain cancer, childhood leukemia, and other cancer risks—were exposed, but their laughable defense was that these devices prevented harm to customers’ feet as a result of poorly-fitted shoes.

As you can see, back then, profits were far more important than human health.

We’re very lucky that this isn’t the case anymore.

Sarcasm aside, we’re exposed to more harmful radiation today than ever before. It’s all around us. Yet, we still prioritize convenience and profit over human health.  Human exposure is at an all-time high as we find ourselves surrounded by power lines, microwave ovens, electrical devices, household appliances, cell phones, and radio and television signals.

So, let’s take a closer look at EMF exposure, including the major culprits and potential corrective actions.

What are electric and magnetic fields?

Let’s start with the basics. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are “invisible areas of energy, often referred to as radiation, that are associated with the use of electrical power.”

EMFs are not inherently good or bad.

However, some electric and magnetic fields do have harmful biological effects and can cause adverse health effects. For example, excessive gamma radiation from x-rays (gamma rays) and shoe-fitting fluoroscopes is possibly carcinogenic, increasing our cancer risk substantially. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the World Health Organization are two excellent sources of further information on this topic.

Ionizing electromagnetic radiation is the scary type

A fence with signs warning against radioactivity

An electromagnetic field can be either natural or man-made.

A natural (or native) magnetic field is produced by nature. These can be found all around us.

In fact, every atom has its own electric field. So, what’s fascinating is that you are not just producing your own electric field, but you actually are a giant living electric field.

Then there are the unnatural, man-made (or non-native) electric and magnetic fields, which, with the help of electrical and electronics engineers, are produced by electrical devices, like microwave ovens and other electrical appliances.

You might assume that all unnatural fields are bad and that all the natural ones are good. Well, yes and no. There’s nuance.

EMFs are typically classified into two major groups:

  1. Ionizing radiation
  2. Non-ionizing radiation

From a conventional perspective, as long as you are exposed to frequencies on the non-ionizing side of the electromagnetic spectrum, there shouldn’t be any risk of adverse health effects.

Everyone agrees, however, that ionizing radiation is harmful.

When you have an x-ray taken, you’re covered with a lead apron and the technician hides behind a wall. This is because an x-ray emits ionizing radiation, just like the shoe-fitting machine we talked about earlier in this article.

Ionizing simply means that the magnetic field has the potential to affect the atoms in your body and damage your DNA. It will literally disrupt the structure of an atom and remove one or more of its electrons. This transforms the previously neutral atom into an ion with a positive charge.

Ions are problematic because they can produce free radicals, which cause all sorts of chaos in your body if you have too many. So, that’s bad.

Coming back to the shoe-fitting fluoroscope, concern initially rose when a woman complained of skin burns and pain in both of her feet. She was continuously exposed to the shoe-fitting machine every day and, over time, developed serious long-term symptoms.

However, non-ionizing radiation is a trickier subject. It’s been a long-held belief that radiation from wireless devices is harmless because it doesn’t have enough energy to create ions and produces no thermal effects. But more research has revealed that there are other biological mechanisms by which non-ionizing radiation can cause damage to human health. For example, cell phones have been shown to create literal hot spots in your brain.

How are we exposed to EMFs?

Now that you have a pretty solid understanding of what these invisible fields are and how they affect us, we’re going to do a little switcheroo.

From this point on, when we talk about EMFs, we’re actually talking about these three types of non-ionizing radiation:

  1. RF Radiation
  2. Magnetic Fields
  3. Electric Fields

So, conventionally, electromagnetic radiation also includes the more dangerous types of ionizing radiation we talked about before. But now, in our context, when talking about EMF exposure, we’re mostly addressing everyday sources like WiFi and cellular signals, Bluetooth, smartphones, wireless devices, smart devices, cell phones, etc.

Everything that has a battery emits its own electromagnetic field—and they’re all different.

But it’s not just your own appliances that emit EMFs. You’re also exposed to the outside environment. For instance, cell towers, power lines, electric trams, and radars all emit EMF radiation.

Distance has a big impact on how EMFs affect you. For instance, people who live close to an electric train’s high-voltage power lines have way higher exposure to EMF radiation than someone who lives farther from those high-voltage power lines.

What are the possible health risks of electromagnetic radiation?

Man in a dim room experiencing a headache

For most people, the possible risks are a hard pill to swallow since the problems with EMF exposure are broad and can’t be easily fixed.

Artificial lighting and the flickering blue light emitted by the liquid crystal displays of cell phone/mobile phone screens will disrupt your biological rhythms, while non-native electromagnetic fields affect your metabolism and flood your cells with calcium. The most commonly reported symptoms of surpassing the exposure limits of electromagnetic fields are tinnitus, tiredness, fatigue, sleeping problems, increased stress, fertility issues, headaches, and brain fog.

Biological harm from non-ionizing radiation is a controversial topic because there’s not much expert agreement about the possible risks to public health. However, this lack of agreement should not be confused with a lack of research. There is plenty of research that has been done on EMF exposure by a range of bodies (the World Health Organization, the National Cancer Institute, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Health Protection Agency, the National Toxicology Program, etc.) that report possible adverse health effects.

Even after the scientific community became fairly confident that shoe-fitting fluoroscopes were bombarding shoppers with harmful ionizing radiation, it still took time for regulation to catch up, and upward of thirty years for all the devices to disappear. And just for reference, our modern wireless technologies have been around for less than twenty.

It’s a repeating theme throughout modern history that big corporations push back on adverse health claims to protect their profits. Doubt was and still is their product.

Fortunately, it seems that regulations are finally catching up. Just recently, there was a historic win in a landmark case against the Federal Communications Commission. The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that the FCC’s decades-old guidelines were capricious, arbitrary, and not evidence-based regarding non-cancer health concerns.

This win also demonstrated that current guidelines regarding wireless technology do not protect public health.

In science, there is a thing called the precautionary principle.

A comic stirp about the precautionary principle

It’s a way of approaching new, in this case, technologies that have the potential to cause harm, especially when extensive scientific evidence is lacking or there’s some reasonable doubt.

So, even without unanimous agreement and regulation, we can be fairly certain that there’s some associated harm and increased risks for serious conditions. It’s better to take protective steps for yourself and your family, even if it’s inconvenient to do so.

Distance and time are the two factors you need to control for.

Children are at greater risk from EMFs

A boy playing with an ipad wearing wireless headphones

Kids these days grow up surrounded by technology. They have phones from a very young age. They learn on laptops and play on iPads or with digital video games. All of these appliances emit different kinds of EMF radiation through radio frequency electromagnetic fields.

Children are much more sensitive to this radiofrequency radiation because their bones are softer and skulls are thinner, which means radiation from a phone or an iPad can actually reach their brain. We understand that you cannot keep them away from digital devices completely, but limiting exposure is a top priority.

Limiting your EMF exposure

Some of the obvious steps would be to always keep your distance from sources, limit the duration of your exposure, and unplug appliances when you’re not using them.

We can’t go on a complete digital detox forever. We have to find a way to co-exist with our devices. Here are some more specific tips to reduce your radiation dose.

We’ve put together some basic and more advanced steps you can take to protect yourself from excessive harm. However, you shouldn’t feel guilty about not implementing all of them. Just try the low-effort ones. You can always implement more protective measures in the future. Don’t go too extreme right away and lose all sense of proportion.

Smartphones and cellular networks

A group of people playing with their smartphones

Smartphones are a major source of EMF exposure. Did you know that phone manufacturers don’t even have to test for EMF safety? The reality is that phones emit a lot of harmful radiation.

You have the phone, its battery, cellular network, Bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, and more. Some modern phones even have an option for dual sims. But wait, there’s more! Your phone emits the highest levels of EMF radiation when it’s searching for a network.

So, imagine that you’ve dual sims and you’ve everything switched on when you’re driving. You’re going 50 mph, and your phone is working hard, constantly switching between cell towers and bouncing radiofrequency signals around your car’s metal chassis, creating a kind of microwave effect with the radiofrequency radiation. Now imagine you have a car full of people with cell phones.

Those are not low levels of EMF radiation. Assuming that just because these signals are non-ionizing they won’t affect you is wishful thinking. Especially when you know that electric and magnetic fields are the fundamentals of your biology.

So, what can you do about it?

  1. Well, when you’re driving your car, switch off your mobile phone or switch on airplane mode. You don’t need it anyway. Focus on driving. Podcasts, music, and maps can be downloaded. If you can, ask your passengers to do the same with their cell phones.
  2. Switch off Bluetooth, WiFi, and cellular when you’re not using them. I actually keep my phone in airplane mode if I know I’m not going to use it. However, this does annoy my friends when they can’t instantly reach me. But hey, it’s called being healthy (not antisocial).
  3. Use your smartphone on speaker mode when possible to increase the distance between your brain and the device.
  4. Don’t wear your cell phone around your neck or close to your heart. Instead, keep your wireless devices in a bag far away from your body.
  5. Switch off your cell phone at night, or at least keep it in another room. Do NOT put it under your pillow. It’s also a bad idea to use it as an alarm clock, but if you do, at least keep it in another room.
  6. Go old school. Use a landline when you’re at home or the office. Opt out of wireless devices as much as possible.
  7. There are several items available that act as non-ionizing radiation protection, so our final recommendation would be to purchase an EMF-shielded Faraday phone case or bag.

Personal gadgets and smart devices

Photo of wireless headphones and keyboard

By being mindful with your smartphone, you’ve already eliminated a lot of unnecessary EMF exposure. Next, we’ll take a look at what else you’re wearing on your person.

When it comes to EMFs, distance is your friend. The strength of an electromagnetic field (and all magnetic fields) will decrease disproportionally with distance. So, just a foot away, you’re exposed to only one-fourth to one-eighth of the radiation you would experience if the device was pressed against your head. Two feet away will lower it to one-sixteenth of its full strength. And magnetic fields drop off even more quickly, depending on the source.

So, when you can’t entirely avoid an EMF-emitting device, find ways to create some distance from it.

So, what can you do about it?

  1. For extremely low-frequency radiation (ELF radiation), ditch the wireless headphones. If you measure them with an EMF meter, the popular white ones put out higher levels of EMF than your WiFi router. And you wouldn’t sleep with a WiFi router next to your head, would you? Wired ones are good enough, but if you want to go crazy, you can get an air tube headset. From what I’ve heard, though, the quality just isn’t there yet.
  2. Get a mechanical watch instead of a smart one.
  3. In fact, don’t use any Bluetooth or wireless devices that you would wear on your body. Or at least keep them on airplane mode.
  4. I wear glasses. And when doing my research for this article, I discovered that metal-framed glasses can sometimes enhance electromagnetic field levels tenfold.
  5. Unplug chargers and appliances from the wall outlet when you’re not using them. And also keep them away from your bed at night.

Your home, wireless networks, and outside sources

A roof covered with cell towers

It’s important to prioritize addressing the environments where you have the most control. Understanding what’s happening in the environment where you spend most of your time is a really strong case for purchasing a meter that measures EMFs. You can actually see the effectiveness of each step you take, which will inspire you to make further changes.

Now, let’s take a look at what’s happening inside your own home and how you can reduce EMFs emitted by your internet connection.

So, what can you do about it?

  1. Opt for a dumb home as opposed to a smart home.
  2. Unplug your WiFi router at night or when you’re not using it.
  3. The next step would be to connect your computers, smart TVs and everything else with ethernet cables for internet instead of WiFi. Also, switch off your router’s radio network. To have the least EMFs, you should use grounded Cat7 Ethernet cables.
  4. Hire a professional to check your home for EMFs, dirty electricity, and indoor sources of magnetic fields. Then take that expert’s advice on how to remediate your environment.
  5. Get rid of all fluorescent bulbs and fixtures. These visible light sources produce tons of dirty electricity and contain mercury, so if you break one, it’s a huge problem. Another problem with fluorescent bulbs and LEDs is that they flicker, which impairs your biology.
  6. Toss your microwave oven (or switch off the fuse).
  7. Decrease the amount of EMF exposure coming into your house from external sources. Do you have a cell tower or power lines right outside your window? Do you see thirty hotspots when you’re looking for a wifi network in your bedroom? Then it’s time for some shielding. There are EMF-shielding paints and curtains available that will turn your home into the sanctuary it should be. Your body does most of its repair and regeneration at night, and research shows that these radiation safety measures can undo a lot of the damage caused to your body during the day because it’s not being bombarded with EMF radiation at night.
  8. If you have a cell tower on your roof or your neighbor has some really strong WiFi routers, then good luck negotiating or trying to educate people on the harmful effects of electromagnetic fields. It might be time to consider moving.
  9. Before renting or buying a home, measure the EMFs. Look for static electric fields, visible light sources, power lines in your garden, sources of radiofrequency radiation, and even sources of extremely low-frequency radiation. Individually, they may be non-harmful, but when put together, the total radiation exposure could shock you.

Protect yourself from EMF damage 

Image from the movie Signs of the family wearing tinfoil hats
Not really an effective protective measure

Aside from good sleep, food and nutrients play a big role in giving us immunity against radiation and helping our bodies fight the damage.

  1. Take Magnesium — Magnesium is a natural calcium channel blocker, which means it helps reduce the effects of EMF.
  2. Molecular hydrogen — When you are flying or going on a long road trip, you can use molecular hydrogen in tablet form to protect yourself and heal the damage.
  3. Spices — Spices like cinnamon, clove, ginger, and rosemary help protect against the damaging effects of excessive peroxynitrite, which is one of the most damaging molecules in your body and a downstream effect of a dysfunctional calcium metabolism.

Be smart about EMF exposure

We do not have enough specialists and experts producing scientific literature on the topic of EMF, so it’s an underestimated health concern. Further research on the topic of EMF exposure and its potential health hazards is underway.

But for now, let’s learn from the shoe-fitting machine debacle and not wait for serious damage to happen before we practice caution.

We already know enough to start being proactive about it. Whether it is extremely low-frequency exposures or high radiofrequency exposure, limit your exposure. Better safe than sorry!