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Electromagnetic Radiation in Our DNA

Most of us were awakened this morning by the alarm on a mobile phone sitting by the bedside. We fed microwave-heated milk to our children and rushed off to work, where we complete an eight-hour shift on a computer and spend hours on our cellphones talking to clients and colleagues.

From hairdryers to DVD players, our lives are intertwined with electromagnetic radiation. We can't see it, and we can't smell it, but it's always there. Even if we choose to live a life away from the city and not use any electrical devices, we are exposed to the electromagnetic radiation from the devices around us. There is no escape from it, yet most of us take precautions to minimize exposure to this “invisible and insidious enemy.”

How serious is the threat from electromagnetic radiation? Is it something we should all worry about, and to what extent?

According to experts, the biggest contributor to electromagnetic radiation is the radon gas present within the building blocks of our homes, such as stone and earth. Other obvious sources of radiation are the sun and water. Before you cancel your summer holiday in the Mediterranean or pour your tap water down the drain, it is important to note there are two types of electromagnetic radiation: ionizing and non-ionizing.

Ionizing radiation sources include the X-rays commonly used in medical imaging and curing cancer. This radiation is the dangerous type we should all avoid if possible. However, much of the debate on electromagnetic radiation concerns the non-ionizing type. Television sets, remote controls, wireless communication equipment, and microwave ovens are examples of sources of non-ionizing radiation. Because this type is believed not to be powerful enough to free electrons from matter, it is unlikely to cause cancer or DNA damage. There is no scientific evidence to prove otherwise.

However, it is known that non-ionizing radiation has some temporary adverse effects on the brain and sensory system. Such radiation can affect our memory and response functions and cause headaches, exhaustion, and loss of sleep.

Base stations located on roof tops and near residential areas also raise serious health concerns. Given that ionizing-radiation frequency is six orders of magnitude higher than the non-ionizing emissions of base stations, we can breathe a sigh of relief that they cannot cause much harm. Furthermore, base station antennas have high directivity, which means they are designed to not radiate behind or underneath them. Therefore, residents under the roof are safe. However, it is important to install base stations at a safe distance from people and buildings outside their emission zone. In a rural area, such safety criteria can easily be met. But within cities, where the cell sizes are small and there is a high density of base station installations, I am not sure how protected we all are.

The health effects of mobile phones will remain a popular topic until solid scientific evidence is available and widely accepted by the public. According to researchers, mobile phone radiation manifests itself in two ways: thermal and nonthermal. The thermal effect is when the radiation is absorbed by the human body and converted to heat, which causes the body temperature to rise. This is normally regulated by the circulation of blood. Statistically, an increase in temperature from mobile phone use is as low as 0.1 C and is negligible. Our body can easily regulate this. It has also been shown that the effect of radiation on the brain is 50 percent less for adults than it is for children.

Do mobile phones cause cancer? Considering the low levels of non-ionizing radiation they emit, DNA damage is unlikely to occur, so cancer cannot develop. However, despite studies conducted in Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Japan, there's no evidence to the contrary, either.

Since most men carry mobile phones in their pockets, a possible link to infertility has been raised. Though some studies have identified a 30 percent decrease in sperm count and a 40 percent reduction in sperm motility, further research is definitely needed before jumping to any conclusions. However, I am sure most men reading this will be careful not to carry their phone in their trousers anymore. It does not hurt to be safe, right?

Given our lifestyle, I think it is safe to say that eliminating electromagnetic radiation from our lives is unlikely. However, sensible use seems to be the way to minimize any potential harmful effects.

45 comments on “Electromagnetic Radiation in Our DNA

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    February 16, 2012

    Cagri–this is one of the best analyses of this dilemma I have seen. I don't think habits are going to change without compelling proof of real problems. It also occurs to me that it may be our children or grandchildren who experience the effects, if any. The pace of technology has accelerated faster than human procration. I'm not sure if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

  2. DataCrunch
    February 16, 2012

    Ill effects to humans will be very difficult to prove as each device or piece of electronics may be deemed safe on its own, although we are all bombarded with electromagnetic waves from all around us every day.  Like Barbara mentioned, if there are any side effects or mutations, they will show up generations from now.  Perhaps by then, there will be cures for whatever damage that may have been caused.

  3. Cryptoman
    February 16, 2012

    Dave, I think you have a very valid point. The cumulative effect of radiation from multiple devices are never regulated and that is where the problem is. Although a single mobile phone may be compliant to FCC and CE regulations, if you are sitting in the middle of 10 of such mobile phones (like in a meeting rooms or an office), you are exposed to 10 times the regulated emission from many directions.

    Similarly, base station antennas in cities are located very close to one another. Someone casually walking down a busy street gets exposed to cumulative radiation from tens of base stations at each step.

    Call me paranoid but I sometimes get the feeling that the true effect of mobile phone useage on health is not disclosed to public purely because of its possible adverse economical effects. For obvious reasons, the industry giants would never want conclusive scientific evidence to be known by the consumers, would they?

  4. mfbertozzi
    February 17, 2012

    Honestly, topic is very hot, there isn't any reason, in my opinion, for call you “paranoic”. GSMA has launched for example, a specific program for making green mobile networks on both side, antenna and handsets. I suggest to take a look at, it is very interesting.

  5. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 17, 2012

    If we cannot avoid all this electromagnetic radiation bombarding on our bodies almost 24 hours a day, if some kind of a wearable shield is developed which unobtrusively sucks all that radiation – or provides a short circuit path to it away from our body then it could be a Nobel-prize winning invention.

    Like those insect repllents and mosquito repellents , we may need a EM repellent.

  6. elctrnx_lyf
    February 17, 2012

    It is really difficult to understand the direct and indirect effects of the radiation. At the same it also not so easy to avoid the radiation from base stations in urban areas particulary. The mobile in pocket is again a big problem – i will take the advice of not having in pocket. 

  7. mfbertozzi
    February 17, 2012

    It is a good point electrx_lyf, the debate is in place since a long ago and several contradictory studies have been produced, past June an important position from IARC, appears as the most shared, for now.

  8. Cryptoman
    February 17, 2012

    Prabhakar, actually there is a means to minimise the penetration of electromagnetic radiation (EMR). It's called a “Faraday Cage”. Its principle is based on the fact that EMR cannot penetrate through metal objects.

    Technically, making wearable Faraday Cage is possible, however, due to practical limitations, such wearables can be effective to some extent.

    The problem with this solution is its practicality and whether people will adopt it. Making suitable headwear that people will always wear outdoors is also a challenge. Such protection will mean that before going out, we will all need to wrap up against EMR regardless of the weather, which also seems impractical.

  9. Eldredge
    February 17, 2012

    While making suitable headwear may be a challenge, it does also provide an additional benefit – it would prevent aliens from reading our minds!

    I think I have resigned myself to the fact that we are immersed in EMR – but, as someone suggested earlier, I don't carry a cell phone in my pocket!

  10. prabhakar_deosthali
    February 18, 2012

    Thanks Cryptoman.

    I remember reading about this Faraday's cage in my engineering studies.

    But ,like we are going to have  wearable computers in the near future  and also a lot is happening on having circuits on flexible materials , I thought may be one day we will have our clothes designed to act as EM shields .

    May be the Nanotechnology will help us in this matter.

     

     

  11. Cryptoman
    February 18, 2012

    Actually, one thing you mentioned made me think further on this Prabhakar. With all the wearable computer gadgets we are likely to have on our clothing, there will be a network of cables embedded into most garments. This network of cables can , to some extent, act as a 'Poor Man's' Faraday Cage. This progress may provide a small degree of immunity against EMR.

    This technological trend and the protection against EMR can be married together quite nicely. Imagine clothes that are designed with built in network of seamless cable grids. These clothes can have small junctions or ports to provide interfaces to whatever gadget you wish to use with that garment. Say you can out in your MP3 player in your pocket and plug the audio out to the junction inside the pocket (Maybe the MP3 will be built into the jacket in which case port plugging will not be required at all!). That junction routes the audio signals via the built in cable network all the way, say, from the poscket to your shoulders, where you have the (audio) output port. You connect your headphone jack into this port to listen to your music.

    You can even have a small control interface located on your sleeves, which routes control data via the internal cable grid of your jacket. That way the jacket provides immunity against EMR while simplifying the use of the most popular electronic gadgets we like to carry arround with us.

    I guess the cost of manufacturing such a jacket will be critical to how popular it may be.

  12. stochastic excursion
    February 18, 2012

    Cell phone antennas are designed taking into account the transmission impedance of the human head.  So, limiting your exposure to EM from a cellphone will definitely limit reception.

  13. Cryptoman
    February 18, 2012

    That is an interesting point. Does this also mean that when we use Bluetooth headsets and leave our handset on a table away from us, we automatically degrade the reception of the phone?

    From experience, even if there is such degadation, surely it cannot be too significant. Otherwise, my calls would be dropping frequently everytime I am on my Bluetooth headset (which is never the case). Are you able to provide some practical figures to how much this reception loss is?

    I am also wondering if the autogain controls built into the RF front end of the mobile phones are able to compensate for such reception degradations. There must be an automatic compensation for varying operation scenarios such as the impedance changes related to proximity to human head etc.

     

  14. stochastic excursion
    February 18, 2012

    I've only seen a couple of papers on the subject, a long time ago.  There probably is an effort to optimize transmission for both load conditions.

    I think it's especially risky to keep a cellphone in contact with your body due to the near-field radiation from an antenna not being well understood.  Hands-free seems to be the way to go when using a cellphone.

  15. Cryptoman
    February 19, 2012

    Hi Rich. I know we will all become energy one day but I am looking for ways in order not to speed up that process just yet ! 🙂 🙂

    By the way, can you please elaborate on the 5-hour pure energy part? Biologically are we equivalent to an average laptop battery at the end ot the day? 😀

     

  16. Taimoor Zubar
    February 19, 2012

    I remember when Bluetooth headsets first came out, people prescribed them as a great way to protect against EM radiation. Gradually the hyped decline. I wonder how effective Bluetooth headsets are. Has there been any research to prove their effectiveness?

  17. Susan Fourtané
    February 19, 2012

    “None of this will matter when we become pure energy. Five-hour pure energy.”

    Rich, 

    What do you mean by “five-hour pure energy”? Where is this coming from? 

    -Susan 

     

  18. Susan Fourtané
    February 19, 2012

    I don't see any chance of avoiding electromagnetic radiation unless we go back to the beginnig of humanity and get rid of all our devices. This is not likely to happen.

    We need to learn to live with what we have created for our comfort. Is anyone here going to throw his phone or laptop away to avoid the EMR? No. People will keep on carrying their mobiles in their pockets, microwaving everything, drying their hair, working on computers, etc. 

    Honestly, I don't worry a bit about this issue. The threat of EMR coming from our devices is less than that coming from exposure to the sun. I don't see people canceling their holidays in the Mediterranean as I don't see people reducing exposure to their multiple devices. 

    -Susan 

  19. Clairvoyant
    February 19, 2012

    I agree, Susan. Electromagnetic radiation is a concequence of advancing technology. Society will never back up and get rid of these devices.

  20. Wale Bakare
    February 19, 2012

    Clairvoyant, get rid of the devices? We can only expect exponential use of RF and microprocessor embedding devices in few years time. Take a stock of electronics devices in your home running on microprocessor or perhaps RF baseband, you might probably get many.  As technology advances we expect more to come – radio controlled wall clock, smart metering, wristwatch, dishwasher, washing machine, in-vehicle-infotainment and etc.

  21. Clairvoyant
    February 19, 2012

    Exactly, Wale. I had said that society would never get rid of these devices.

  22. Wale Bakare
    February 19, 2012

    Thanks Clairvoyant. I wanted to respond to Susan.  Yes, i agree with you in totality, we could only be thinking of an alternative scheme to RF. How possible this could be without electromagnetic radiation, achieving complex communications handshake in a jiffy without RF based technique.

  23. Cryptoman
    February 19, 2012

    TaimoorZ, I don't have any research report on this unfortunately. However, I remember reading somewhere that the Bluetooth option is preferred over the headsets that attach to the phone via cables. Apparently, the cables act as an antenna and expose the user to high levels of EMR from the mobile phone.

    Obviously, there is EMR from the Bluetooth headsets too but this seems to have small health risks due to low RF transmission power. Again, let me remind you that I do not have any quantitative analysis on this and would be very interested to have a look if anyone is able to provide a document or a link.

     

  24. stochastic excursion
    February 19, 2012

    That's why sunblock is a staple for people in the sunbelt.  Bluetooth, a high-tech option for a high-tech risk factor.  I think it's better to be mindful of risk and have a strategy to deal with it.

  25. Susan Fourtané
    February 20, 2012

    Yes, yes. Exactly, Clairvoyant. 🙂 

    -Susan 

  26. Susan Fourtané
    February 20, 2012

    Hi, Wale. 

    Did I miss a comment from you or was that a reply for me and Clairvoyant together?  

    I don't think it's possible. One of  the biggest challenges designers of electronics products usually face is to design circuits that don't produce too much EMR. I haven't heard of any reasearch being conducted about the possibility of designing circuits without any EMR. In any case, the EMR present in the circuits is not enough to affect the human health in normal conditions.

    There might be a case of accelerating a process that already exists in the human cells, though, but this doesn't mean we have to blame the EMR for that if the medical condition had not been detected beforehand and was just in a latent state. 

    I insist, we need to learn to live with the results and consequences of the technological advancements, unless we want to move to a cave far away from civilization, go fishing, hunting and eating fruit and leaves from the trees.

    Evolution has advantages and disadvantages, just like everything else. 

    -Susan 

     

  27. FLYINGSCOT
    February 20, 2012

    I reckon extensive use of mobile phones might be bad for you.  I know of people who have complained of headaches etc. after prolonged use of mobiles.  I think we will not know the answer for many years or generations to come.

  28. bolaji ojo
    February 20, 2012

    Susan, Those are my sentiments too. I don't worry about whether my phones might be hastening my death. I sure hope somebody is looking into this, though. While I don't expect to do away with my phones I know I can do without them if there's enough convincing evidence that it lops years off one's life.

    I might use them less frequently, charge them away from my desk, pack them in radiation-proof containers or join some class-action lawsuit to make sure I can live the rest of my life in relative comfort. One more reason to keep an eye on how much money manufacturers are making — just in case!

  29. Daniel
    February 21, 2012

    Cargi, many reports are coming about radiations and its hazards. Eventhough such reports are in place, so far no scientifically supported study had happens. We are very cautious about such health tips, but something's are beyond our control. Like using the microwave own for reheating and cooking, cell phone base station in populated areas, using mobile phones without hands free etc. I think after some time we may prone or resistive to such radiations, but am not sure about the biological changes it can cause.

  30. Susan Fourtané
    February 21, 2012

    Hi, Bolaji. 

    We have reached a point in communications and electronics from which is difficult to go back. In fact, the only way is to go forward, and fix and improve anything that can be improved, like EMR in our devices, for example. 

    I believe that creating chaos and panic doesn't senve anyone. We can't live in fear for something that has not really been proved and certified by serious researchers. Reserach is the source I trust, and still I have to sumbit it to my own thinking. What I definitely don't trust in these cases is those alarming headlines we frequently see.

    And yes, keeping an eye open is a good idea, just in case. 🙂

    -Susan  

     

  31. Eldredge
    February 21, 2012

    Use a wired headset, which keeps the phone, and the concentrated EM field at the antenna, farther away from the head.

  32. JADEN
    February 21, 2012

    Actually there is no clear evidence in the existing scientific literature that the use of mobile telephones poses a long-term public health hazard, altgough the possibility of a small risk cannot be ruled out.

  33. JADEN
    February 21, 2012

    @Eldredge,

    I used to have headache whenever I'm on mobile phone for long, later I realised that by limiting the duartion of mobile telephone calls expecially when the reception is good, or using of handsfree or speaker options doesn't give headache.

  34. Eldredge
    February 21, 2012

    @Jaden – Yes, speakerphone achieves the same objective, and as look as it functions well on your phone, that can be a lot more comfortable than some headsets. Sometimes the sound quality is better using a good headset.

  35. JADEN
    February 21, 2012

    @Eldredge,

    Sure, you are right for sound quality and clarity with good headset is better.

  36. Kevin Jackson
    February 21, 2012

    Barbara, there is no dilemma. At this point in time, the idea that radiation from electronic devices causes health issues is as true as the subject of this post. The author of this piece pointed out studies done in five developed nations that indicate no effect whatsoever. The very idea of a connection is a kind of urban legend, something that sounds like it makes sense for example: deodorant causes cancer in your armpits, radar speed guns cause testicular cancer and jumping up and down after sex will prevent pregnancy, all of which have been disproven. The idea, in this case, sounds so reasonable that study after study has been done trying to find any link and, so far, nothing. Yet, despite repeatedly being disproven, we still want to believe.

    I and thousands like me have spent 20+ years at a bench hunched over an electronic device. In my case relatively high powered switching power supplies. Outside of their shielded enclosures without the benefit of input/output shielding and without radiated emissions fixes those supplies generate incredibly high levels of electromagnetic radiation. Before that, years with high power down hole pulse power supplies that, outside of their steel tubular cases, transmitted electromagnet pulses so powerful any scope within a half mile was useless. Yet, despite long years of exposure to levels of electromagnet radiation no person with a cell phone will ever experience in their lifetime I, and others like me, have no unusual health issues. Again, research shows that even people that work in that kind of environment show no increase in health problems. Is the radiation actually helpful? Hey, let's start that urban legend.

    There was a time when patients at the hospital were warmed with microwave beds. Yes, microwaving a person warms the body as you would expect. Did they stop using them because of serious health effects? No, we stopped using them because the eyes and brains would sometimes be overheated because of the fluids in those structures and damage would result. That damage arising from the hot fluids, not from cancer.

    Cryptoman, what a fantastic idea! Just as people are convinced that wearing a copper bracelet will cure disease they will also believe shielded clothing will save them from the ravages of electromagnetic radiation. There is a fortune to be made! And better still, even though shielded clothing won't help your health it will actually shield the wearer from the evil radiation (making me feel like less of an ass for selling it to them).

    Reading some of these posts I am reminded of the time when microwave ovens were made available to the public. In particular I recall reports of people working at McDonald's (an early adopter of microwave ove ns) were having their hands turn black and their fingers falling off. Makes sense, those ovens had microwaves in them!

     

  37. Clairvoyant
    February 21, 2012

    Kevin, you make some good points. Perhaps society is worrying about nothing.

  38. Kevin Jackson
    February 22, 2012

    Your post referenced in “Jumping Up and Down After Sex Prevents Pregnancy “.

  39. Mr. Roques
    February 22, 2012

    Until a conclusive study is released, the debate will continue. I work a lot with this because working for the telecom regulator, many communities opose new base stations close to where they live, stating it causes cancer and other diseases. 

    We normally coordiante talks, telling them we have power limits and that those transmissions are nothing compared to other devices (microwaves, TV transmissions, etc). 

     

  40. Kevin Jackson
    February 22, 2012

    Your post referenced in “Jumping Up and Down After Sex Prevents Pregnancy “.

  41. Kevin Jackson
    February 22, 2012

    What do you mean by “conclusive”?

    We've done a lot of studies, all with the same conclusion.

    Would a study that came to a different conclusion be conclusive?

  42. Kevin Jackson
    February 22, 2012

    Touché! A well written response.

    You've given me a lot of material to review and evaluate and I can't give you a complete and proper response at this time.

    However, the first study you site “Christensen, et al., Cellular telephones and risk for brain tumors. A population-based, incident case–control study, Neurology 64 (2005)1189–1195,” says, right up front, in the Abstract: “ Conclusion: The results do not support an association between use of cellular telephones and risk for glioma or meningioma. “, find it here: http://www.altcancerweb.com/osteosarcoma/cancer-risk/cell-telephones-brain-tumor-risk.pdf

    So, it looks like I'm using your scientists.

    As about one in 4,000 people get brain cancer and considering the “conclusions” reached here http://www.ewg.org/project/2009cellphone/cellphoneradiation-fullreport.pdf , one of which indicated a doubling of risk for brain cancer due to cell phone use, I don't think there would be any doubt if one in 4,000 turned into one in 2,000. If the incidence of brain cancer doubled in the last 10 years I think that would make the 6:00 news around the world. Since that hasn't happened, it makes the claim appear unsupported in reality.

     

  43. Kevin Jackson
    February 22, 2012

    Let me translate: “Nevertheless, in all the studies the numbers of long-term users and heavy users are limited, obviating any firm conclusion.” means – Hey, we didn't get the results we were looking for but, we're sure to get those results as soon as we can study people with more exposure.

    Otherwise, I have to agree with you. I can't make heads or tails of environmental change due to CO2 emissions because it is an almost entirely political subject.

    I never said microwave radiation is good for you. Education is the real answer. We know high levels of microwave radiation will kill you in minutes yet, how much is “safe” is not so clear. Being aware of what we truthfully know and don't know prepares a consumer to make a choice that makes sense to them. An informed consumer would probably be more interested in their exposure level than to the color of the case.

     

  44. Mr. Roques
    February 29, 2012

    Who's done those studies? I look into it quite often and haven't found a study that, without a doubt, shows that cellular signals can have a big impact on humans. Not just electromagnetic waves, radiofrequency.

    This a very interesting article about it by the National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/cellphones

  45. itguyphil
    February 29, 2012

    Well, as Kevin pointed out. Alot of people will capitalize off of the hype and fear. It's probably the same fols doing the studies that are selling the anti-radiation products and warning you of hold cell phones so close to your head, etc.

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