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Unseen threats: understanding the health risks of EMF exposure

Chronic illnesses associated with non-specific symptoms are on the rise (GBD, 2019). In addition to chronic stress and nutritional deficiencies, environmental pollutants are one of the major contributors. In our technologically advanced world, we are constantly surrounded by electromagnetic fields (EMFs) emitted from various devices like cell phones, Wi-Fi routers, and electronic appliances. New wireless technologies and applications have been introduced without any certainty about their health effects, but increasing number of people reports symptoms after expose to EMFs (Tseng et al., 2011).


TYPES OF EMFs RADIATIONS


EMFs are invisible areas of energy that are associated with the use of electrical power and various forms of natural and man-made lighting. They are produced by both natural sources, such as the Earth's magnetic field, and artificial sources, including electronic devices and power lines. EMFs are typically grouped into one of two categories by their frequency (Genuis and Lipp, 2012):


  • ionizing radiation - a type of radiation that carries enough energy to penetrate deeply into the matter and remove electrons from atoms, creating charged particles (ions). These ions cause significant biological consequences on living organisms including DNA mutations, tissue damage, and increased cancer incidence. Examples of ionizing radiation include gamma rays, X-rays, and high-energy ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Ionizing radiation is commonly used in medical imaging, cancer therapy, and industrial applications.

  • non-ionizing radiation - a type of radiation that does not carry enough energy to remove electrons from atoms, and thus does not produce charged particles (ions). Instead, it typically manifests as oscillating electric and magnetic fields, propagating through space as waves. Examples of non-ionizing radiation include radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, and low-energy ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Non-ionizing radiation is widely used in communication technologies (e.g., radio and television broadcasting, Wi-Fi), medical devices (e.g., MRI, ultrasound), and everyday appliances (e.g., microwave ovens).




SYMPTOMS OF EMFs EXPOSURE


For some individuals, exposure to these fields can lead to a condition known as Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS) or an idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF), characterized by symptoms such as:


  • skin redness, tingling, and burning sensations

  • tiredness, fatigue

  • headaches

  • dizziness

  • sleep disturbance

  • brain fog

  • anxiety

  • depression

  • heart palpitation

  • nausea

  • digestive disturbances

  • muscle and joint pain.



PREVALENCE AND ROOT CAUSES OF THE EHS


EHS is not yet officially recognized as a medical condition. The low-frequency EMFs is currently not considered by the World Health Organization (WHO) as being cause of EHS as the number of experimental studies in humans continues to be very low (WHO, 2010). However, available epidemiological data points to a relatively high prevalence of perceived EHS in the general population, reaching 1.6% in Finland, 2.7% in Sweden, 3.5% in Austria, 4.6% in Taiwan, 5% in Switzerland and 10.3% in Germany (Schreier et al., 2006; Schröttner and Leitgeb, 2008; Blettner et al., 2009; Huang et al., 2018; Karvala et al., 2018). 


EHS shares clinical similarities and frequent comorbidity with other medically unexplained multisystem conditions of environmental origin, like multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), fibromyalgia (FM), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), sick building syndrome, Persian Gulf War veteran syndrome, and amalgam disease (Korkina et al., 2009; Palmquist et al., 2013). This suggests that environmental sensitivities may share common root cause, genetic and/or metabolic molecular factors and are based on aberrant responses to physic, chemical and/or biochemical stressors (de Luca et al., 2010; de Luca et al., 2014). While exact etiological factor of EHS is not well recognised, it has been suggested than exposure to mold in water-damaged houses and chronic infections can be one of the major factors of developing and/or aggravating EHS. Unpublished study showed that mold exposed to EMF produced 600 times more mold bio-toxins than non-exposed mold (Klinghardt, 2012).

 

NEGATIVE HEALTH EFFECTS OF EMF EXPOSURE


Animal studies report that exposure to EMFs causes (Alkis et al., 2019; Houston et al., 2019; Ismaiil et al., 2019; Okatan et al., 2019; Sharma et al., 2019; Smith-Roe et al., 2020):


  • increased oxidative stress

  • DNA damage

  • anxiety decreased learning ability

  • lower sperm quality.

 

In humans, radiation exposure from mobile phones has been also linked with (Hardell et al., 2003; Hardell et al., 2005; Hardell et al., 2007; Hardell and Carlberg, 2009; Singh and Kapoo, 2014):


  • cytotoxicity

  • genotoxicity

  • increased inflammation

  • increased coenzyme Q10 oxidation

  • acoustic neuroma

  • brain tumour

  • tinnitus

  • metabolic changes

  • disruption of the hormonal balance

  • disruption of the gut microbiome.


Unfortunately, the regulatory landscape surrounding electromagnetic fields (EMF) and 5G technology is characterized by a notable degree of ignorance regarding negative health effects. Despite growing scientific data, regulatory bodies have often failed to adequately address these concerns due to various factors. Many regulations are based on research conducted decades ago and fail to account for the rapid technological advancements and changes in exposure levels brought about by the proliferation of wireless devices and infrastructure. Additionally, regulatory agencies have been criticized for relying heavily on industry-funded studies and assessments, which may introduce conflicts of interest and bias into the regulatory process. Furthermore, the complexity of the science surrounding EMF and 5G presents challenges for regulators in effectively evaluating and addressing potential health risks. Understanding the biological mechanisms of EMF exposure and its long-term effects requires expertise across multiple disciplines, including physics, biology, and epidemiology. It is therefore essential that each of us to stay informed and take proactive measures to reduce exposure.

 

 

REFERENCES


Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network, Global Burden of Disease Study (2019). Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation – IHME.


Tseng, M.C.M., Yi-Ping Lin, Y.P. and Cheng, T.J. (2011). Prevalence and psychiatric comorbidity of self-reported electromagnetic field sensitivity in Taiwan: a population-based study. J Formos Med Assoc. 110:634-641.


Genuis, S. J., & Lipp, C. T. (2012).  Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: fact or fiction? Science of the Total Environment. 414: 103-112.


World Health Organization (2010). WHO research agenda for radiofrequency fields. ISBN: 9789241599948.


Schreier, N., Huss, A. and Röösli, M. (2006). The prevalence of symptoms attributed to electromagnetic field exposure: a cross-sectional representative survey in Switzerland. Soz Praventiv Med. 51:202–209.


Schröttner, J. and Leitgeb, N. (2008). Sensitivity to electricity – temporal changes in Austria. BMC Public Health. 8:310.


Blettner, M., Schlehofer, B., Breckenkamp, J., Kowall, B., Schmiedel, S., Reis, U., et al. (2009). Mobile phone base stations and adverse health effects: phase 1 of a population-based, cross-sectional study in Germany. Occup Environ Med. 66:118–123.


Huang, P-C., Cheng, M-T., Guo, H-R. (2018). Representative survey on idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields in Taiwan and comparison with the international literature. Environ Health. 17:5.


Karvala, K., Sainio, M., Palmquist, E., Nyback, M-H., Nordin, S. (2018).  Prevalence of various environmental intolerances in a Swedish and Finnish general population. Environ Res. 61:220-228.


Alkis, M.E., Bildin, H.M., Akpolat, V., Dasdag, S., Yegin, K., Yavas, K. and Akdag, M.Z. (2019).  Effect of 900-, 1800-, and 2100-MHz radiofrequency radiation on DNA and oxidative stress in brain. Electromagn Biol Med. 38:32-47.


Ismaiil, L.A., Joumaa, W.H. and Moustafa, M.E. (2019). The impact of exposure of diabetic rats to 900 MHz electromagnetic radiation emitted from mobile phone antenna on hepatic oxidative stress. Electromagn Biol Med. 38: 287-296.


Okatan, D.O., Kulaber, A., Kerimoglu, G. and Odaci, E. (2019). Altered morphology and biochemistry of the female rat liver following 900 megahertz electromagnetic field exposure during mid to late adolescence. Biotech Histochem. 94:420-428.


Smith-Roe, S.L., Wyda, M.E., Stout, M.D., Winters, J.W., Hobbs, C.A. (2020). Evaluation of the genotoxicity of cell phone radiofrequency radiation in male and female rats and mice following subchronic exposure. Environ Mol Mutagen. 61: 276-290.


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Houston, B.J., Nixon, B., McEwan, K.E., Martin, J.H., King, B.V., Aitken, R.J. and De Iuliis, G.N. (2019). Whole-body exposures to radiofrequency-electromagnetic energy can cause DNA damage in mouse spermatozoa via an oxidative mechanism. Sci Rep. 9:17478.


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Palmquist, E., Claeson, A.S., Neely, G., Stenberg, B. and Nordin, S. (2013). Overlap in prevalence between various types of environmental intolerance. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. 217(4-5):427-434.


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Klinghardt, D. (2012). Advancing Medicine with Food and Nutrients. (2nd edn). In: Ingrid Kohlstadt (Ed) CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.

 

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