When we think about radiation, we often think of significant exposures such as a nuclear fallout. However, there are much smaller levels of radiation that most people are exposed to on a regular basis and these exposures may lead to health problems in some individuals. Over the past few decades in fact, several studies have looked into the potential problems caused by the low levels of radiation emitted by electromagnetic, microwave, and radio waves, all of which stem from everyday devices. The results from these studies are worrying and suggest that as societal reliance on electrical devices increases, it’s important to understand the potential risks of these devices as well as ways to protect yourself.
The Lowdown on Radiation
Radiation fallsinto two categories: electromagnetic waves (non-ionising) and particle (ionising). Electromagnetic waves(aka EMF) produce radiation at low or high levels. Low energy electromagnetic examples include electrical, infrared, visible light, and ultraviolet light. Higher levels include x-rays and gamma rays. Particle radiationis the type of radiation emitted from nuclear reactors or nuclear bombs. This is the most dangerous form of radiation, and most people are relatively safe from it unless you live or work in or near a nuclear reactor site, there is a nuclear meltdown, or you live in an area where an atomic bomb explodes.
The primary radiation threat to most people in society today actually comes from the small amounts of radiation we are exposed to every day from electronic devices as well as routine dental and medical procedures. Additionally, minerals in the earth and the sun’s UV rays also emit small amounts of radiation, with some areas of the world having a higher level than others. Some of the common contributors to daily radiation exposure include:
- Air travel
- Bluetooth devices
- Mobile phones
- Cordless phones
- Powerlines and cell phone towers
- Smart devices (meters, security systems, speakers, etc.)
- X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, etc.
Risks of Low-Level, Chronic Radiation Exposure
Whilst the risk associated with particle radiation is generally accepted, the view on the risk of EMF, especially low-frequency EMF, is more controversial. However, studies have started to demonstrate the potential to cause harm. Whilst most of the studies remain at the animal model and cellular model level, enough evidence has accumulated for the International Agency for Research on Cancer to list electromagnetic radiation from radiofrequency range (including Bluetooth and cell phones) to be listed as potentially carcinogenic in humans.
One thing to remember when considering the evidence available to date is that our reliance on electricity, (especially WiFi, computers, tablets, and smartphones) is still relatively new. Studies on the long-term effects do not exist as it has only been just over a decade since we have used technology in this way. The literature that does exist points to a need to be aware and potentially take protective action in case there are long-term consequences we have yet to discover.
Potential Harm Caused by EMF Radiation
Even though the literature has limited studies detailing possible health problems associated with EMF radiation exposure, some of the health problems that have been suggested as being to linked to EMF include:
- Anxiety and mood disorders
- Increased risk of cancer
- Alterations in cognitive function
- Developmental problems
- Neurological disorders
- Increased oxidative stress
Numerous studies have highlighted the potential oxidative damage caused by EMF radiation. Given that oxidative stress is linked to many chronic diseases, the list above could likely be extended. Although some studies do not demonstrate that the increased oxidative stress would overwhelm the body’s antioxidant capacity and create damage, it still remains another stressor that may become the tipping point in those susceptible or who do not have sufficient antioxidant capabilities. Additionally, the effect may come from a long-term, additive effect for which we do not yet have studies.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
In 21st century life, it can be hard to completely live without some of these conveniences, especially cell phones and WiFi. You may also not be able to avoid certain medical or dental imaging, or you may need/want to fly frequently. Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself besides completely avoiding activities and devices associated with radiation emission. Some simple strategies you can use to protect yourself include:
- Avoid having electronic devices in your bedroom, including your cell phone
- Unplug electronic devices, especially TVs, computers, and microwaves, when not in use
- Turn your WiFi off at night or when you are not using it
- Avoid carrying your cell phone on your body (i.e. pockets or in a bra) when possible
- Keep your cell phone and tablets at a distance when you are not using them
- Use the speakerphone function to talk on your phone (remember that Bluetooth devices also emit EMF radiation, so use them sparingly on your body)
- Avoid placing laptops and tablets on your body while in use
- Take some time away from electricity and devices on a regular basis
In addition to reducing your exposure to devices, you can also strengthen your antioxidant capacity so you can naturally protect yourself against the irradiation that occurs and the resulting oxidative stress. This is especially important for preparing for the situations where you are exposed to higher levels of radiation in unavoidable circumstances, such as for work, when you fly, or as part of a medical or dental procedure. Diet plays a key role in this respect so making sure you are eating a diet rich in organic colourful vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices is essential.
It is essentially impossible to avoid EMF radiation in society today. However, by making a concerted effort to reduce your exposure and enhance your body’s ability to cope with EMF radiation, you will reduce your susceptibility to the potential harm caused by low-level, chronic exposure.