Wireless and Health Issues: The Case for Minimizing Wireless Exposure
I never paid attention to the issue of cell phones and cancer or any wireless technology leading to any health issue. Like the majority of the population, I used my cell phone and wireless headphones throughout the day, sometimes falling asleep with one or both of them in my bed. It just wasn’t on my radar. Everyone used their wireless headphones and cell phones all of the time, so clearly they were safe, right? My attitude abruptly changed when I was about to make a Bluetooth version of the ZENBand.
The ZENBand is a very simple relaxation tool that I make and sell. It’s a soft headband, that comes in a variety of colors and fun designs, made to be wide enough to pull over one’s eyes, with removable flat, custom-made speakers that make it easier for someone to rest on his/her side or sleep while traveling. Nothing fancy. It’s a side business, nothing glorious, and I’ll probably not do it for much longer. But at some point my customers requested I make a Bluetooth version, since the phone companies were dropping the headphone jack. I was fine with it. Bluetooth is incredibly cheap to make ( in China), and wires started to feel retro, even antiquated. But I was still interested in any potential health risks attributed to EMF radiation exposure, especially since the ZENBand goes around someone’s head. EMF stands for electro-magnetic field. It’s non-ionizing radiation, and how things like our cell phones, microwaves, Wifi and Bluetooth operate. I began casually searching studies and contacting researchers so I could pick their brains. One doctor I came across was Dr. Joel Moskowitz, director of community health at the University of California, Berkeley. I sent him an email inquiring about Bluetooth and health risks. He didn’t mince words in his reply. He wrote me, “Wireless headphones are the opposite of wellness.”
I was a bit stunned, given the ubiquitous nature of wireless technology. I mean, it’s literally everywhere. Still, I put the wireless production on hold and began to dig deeper. The tedious systematic literature review and search for experts ensued. For my initial literature search, I used ResearchGate and Google Scholar and typed in search words such as “cell phones and cancer,” “EMF radiation and cancer,” “EMF radiation and health risks,” and “Bluetooth and health risks.” To my surprise, a lot came up.
Trying to make a health assessment on a “new” exposure is tricky. When a new tech product comes to market, no robust studies are required to prove that it’s safe for our health. It’s not like a drug that requires several levels of testing. A randomized controlled trial involving humans, the gold standard of evidence, would be unethical. This means that when assessing the safety of an exposure like EMF radiation, we can’t ethically achieve the gold standard of evidence from the get-go. Hence, we have to rely on randomized controlled trials in animals, epidemiological data in humans and analyze trends. Essentially, is the epidemiological data trending with the results of controlled animal studies?
My search uncovered that 250 scientists and doctors from around the world had sent a petition to the World Health Organization warning about the potential health problems from wireless technology. The petition was signed prior to the rise of wireless headphones and earbuds, and mostly focused on cell phones. Cell phones emit more EMF radiation than Bluetooth, but my concern with Bluetooth devices was their proximity to the head and brain, and how often people wear them.
That was just one petition, and I wasn’t convinced. Plus, everyone I talked to about cell phones and cancer usually called me a “Quack” for even expressing concern. I was the object of numerous eye-rolls. Clearly, if there were no stark, widespread warnings, and wireless was everywhere, there couldn’t be any deleterious health effects. Right….RIGHT?!?
My mom always taught me to get information “straight from the horse’s mouth,” so that was my next step. I contacted some of the signers of the petition in hopes of setting up interviews or at least an email correspondence. My hope was to have them on my Causes Or Cures podcast. Several agreed, and so far, four podcasts related to EMF exposure and health problems are posted. I plan on posting more.
The first person I interviewed on the topic of wireless and health was Dr. Fiorella Belpoggi. She is the head of research at the Ramazinni Institute in Italy and director of the Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center. She has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers and has conducted the largest animal study to date on EMF exposure and cancer. Her study found that EMF exposure increased the risk of gliomas, a type of brain tumor and schwannomas, a type of heart and ear tumor. The results of her study were consistent with the results of a 30 million-dollar study conducted by the U.S. Health and Human Services’ Department of Toxicology. I want to emphasize that both studies showed an increase in the same type of rare tumors. ( The Dept of Toxicology also found a link to pheochromocytomas, tumors of the adrenal gland.) So, the two largest animal studies on EMF exposure and cancer showed consistent results, although one was not statistically significant. During my interview with Dr. Belpoggi, she stated that there is no question that EMF radiation affects mammalian cells. When I asked her about potential mechanisms of action, given that EMF radiation was non-ionizing, she told me that the fact that it is non-ionizing is “nonsense” when studies clearly show it affects mammalian cells. To listen to her podcast, click here. For those who’d rather read, I wrote a separate blog post summarizing her points and recommendations for mitigating risk from exposure.
I want to comment on the Department of Toxicology’s study. The Department of Toxicology is part of the US Dept of Health and Human Services. It’s a government organization. It took 10 years and cost 30 million dollars. In addition to linking cell phone exposure to cancer and posting those results on their website, they also did a secondary analysis to see if EMF exposure led to DNA damage. They found that EMF exposure was significantly linked to DNA damge in the frontal cortex of male mice, the blood cells of female mice, and the hippocampus of male rats. They also have a FAQ section on their webpage. One of the questions is: “Have NTP scientists changed their cell phone use or what they recommend to their families?”
The answer given is:
“NTP believes that the public and its scientists should be aware of their exposures to cell phone RFR, and that they should be aware of FDA’s tips for reducing exposure:
- Reduce the amount of time spent using your cell phone, and
- Use the speaker mode or a headset to place more distance between your head and the cell phone.”
That’s a department of our OWN government telling us to minimize exposure. Remember that next time someone calls you a “Quack” for cutting back on your cell phone use. Why don’t we hear about the NTP’s recommendation more? Because industry is powerful. Because industry keeps popular media alive with a lot of ad money. Because industry has its own scientists who advocate for them in the media and consumers read what they write or hear what they say and are duped into believing they are the scientific authority on the subject.
Next, I interviewed Dr. Anthony Miller, a trained medical doctor and Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto’s Dall Lana School of Public Health. He is a longtime advisor to the World Health Organization and was the Senior Epidemiologist for the International Agency for Research on Cancer. He’s published numerous studies on the epidemiology of cancer and environmental causes of cancer, so I wanted to ask him about cell phones and cancer, or more generally, wireless exposure and health. When I asked him to rate the evidence for potential harm from wireless technology, he unequivocally told me that it was robust. He said that he expected an epidemic of pediatric brain tumors related to EMF exposure. I then asked him how it was possible to make such a strong statement against wireless technology, when it’s used everywhere and people are either listening with their wireless headphones or on their cell phones most of the day. He told me that tech and phone companies are extremely powerful enterprises with a lot of ad money. In short, money talks, but, well, we know that already. On a promising note, he said that the World Health Organization will most likely reopen the analysis of EMF radiation and its current carcinogenic ( cancer-causing) ranking, though there are a lot of questions on how biased that process will be. You can listen to my podcast with Dr. Miller here. (A great update on that review process can be found here. )
I also interviewed Dr. David Carpenter via Skype audio, but sadly my recording didn’t record. (I am not the best with technology.) Dr. Carpenter is a public health physician and director of the Institute for Health and the Environment, a collaborating center of the World Health Organization. He’s a professor at the University of Albany’s School of Public Health, where he previously served as Dean. Dr. Carpenter received his medical training at Harvard medical school, has over 400 peer-reviewed publications and wrote 6 books. He echoed what the other researchers/doctors told me: that there is significant evidence that EMF radiation causes harm and that the World Health Organization has a duty to address it. I remember him telling me that his daughter is a veterinarian and when she ran around seeing animals, she’d put her cell phone in her bra, because it was a convenient place to put it. He scolded her, told her to never do that, because he was worried about the increasing rates of breast cancer. I related to that story, because when I’m running around without a purse, etc., I’m always wondering where to stick my cell phone. It’s ended up in my sports bra a few times- but I’ll never do that again! Dr. Carpenter also said there is zero proof that any of the EMF shields/ protection devices now flooding the market truly work. That’s worth digesting, because a person might feel protected with a “shield” and not cut back on their use of EMF-emitting devices, when there’s no solid evidence to suggest they are even remotely effective.
Prior to these interviews and even my notion of creating a wireless ZENBand, I had interviewed Dr. Hugh Taylor, the chief of Ob/Gyn at Yale New Haven Hospital. He is the editor-in-chief of Reproductive Science and editor of Endocrinology. Dr. Taylor published a randomized controlled trial showing that cell phone exposure in pregnant mice led to offspring that exhibited symptoms that would be classified as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ( ADHD). You’re probably saying to yourself, “But those are mice. And how in the world does one identify ADHD in mice?” Fair question, and I’m linking to the interview here. The most compelling finding of Taylor’s study is that he also had objective evidence to support the observed behavioral changes. He and his team took pathological samples, or sections of the fetal mice brain, and analyzed them for differences. The pathological specimens between the fetal group exposed to cell phone radiation were different than the pathological specimens of the group not exposed to cell phone radiation. That’s a compelling objective finding. Several other researchers have observed decreased fertility in men when exposed to cell phone radiation, and I plan on exploring these areas more in the future. (I also plan on exploring how EMF affects the microbiome, our memory and our cognitive ability overtime.)
Next, I interviewed Dr. Paul Heroux. He has his PhD in physics and runs InVitro Plus, a toxicology laboratory out of McGill University Health Center, dedicated to studying the therapeutic and pathological effects of electromagnetism. He, like the others, stated that exposure to EMF radiation has been shown to cause harm, and he also said that most of the popular “EMF shields” on the market don’t work. In fact, he mentioned that if they do anything at all, they might actually increase our exposure to EMF radiation by making our EMF-emitting devices work harder. This was a buzzkill for a lot of my blog readers and podcast listeners who stick those tiny EMF shields on the backs or fronts of all of their devices, thinking they are protecting themselves from exposure. They’re not.
Many times, when I bring up the issue of cell phones and cancer and why folks may want to consider minimizing their use of wireless headphones, people respond with, “It’s not ionizing radiation, so it’s not harmful.” If I got a dollar every time I heard that, I’d be rich. I brought this up with Dr. Belpoggi, Dr. Heroux and Dr. Miller in my correspondences with them. As mentioned above, Dr. Belpoggi called it “nonsense,” and Dr. Miller stated that there are several proposed mechanisms of action for harm that do not involve ionization. I asked Dr. Heroux over email and he responded with the following, that I think is worth posting here:
If you believe that explanation of theirs, I have another one for you:
“Bacteria and viruses cannot harm you, because they are much too small.”
Industry has created Mickey Mouse science, falsehoods that can be easily
communicated to an uninformed public, that has little time to think about the question,
to gain masses to their cause. Since they should know better, their actions are morally reprehensible.
On a more technical level, there is no need for radiation to ionize anything for an effect to exist on biological systems.
Biological systems have delicate processes of charge transfers (electrons and protons, ie oxydative phosphorylation,
among others) that are easily influenced by very small fields. Industry knows this, but prefer to look the other way.
I want to note that everyone I spoke to did not mention ditching our phones and wireless devices and going back to the Stone Age. They all were advocating for additional safety measures, that’s it. All of them mentioned that the distance between the EMF-emitting device and one’s head/body is highly significant. Specifically if you increase the distance between your body and your EMF-emitting device, your exposure decreases by the square of the distance. That’s a lot, and in our tech-infested lives, it’s good news. It means I can put my phone on speaker if I need to make a call, use wired headphones, not sleep with my gadgets and keep all EMF-emitting devices off of my body.
The studies above are a mere sliver of the expanding body of evidence showing that EMF radiation can be hazardous to our health. The researchers mentioned above are a small proportion of the growing number of doctors and laypeople interested in this topic and sounding the alarm. Heck, France has an entire movement called Phonegate , run by a doctor, dedicated to informing the public about health issues related to EMF radiation. That’s why, when I see the media running headlines like “There is no evidence that Cell Phones Cause Cancer” after the FDA posts another “systematic review,” I quiver with frustration. First, they’re wrong. There IS evidence. Secondly, the FDA’s most recent report dealt only with the outcome of “cancer” and no other health effects, such as cognitive issues in kids exposed in utero and infertility in men. Thirdly, the FDA was NOT conclusive, stated that more research is needed, and mostly discussed their inability to come to a decisive conclusion because of the inaccuracies and variances in the animal studies they analyzed. I also have to comment on the timing of their review: They published it at a time when big tech and phone companies want to roll out 5G as fast as possible yet are receiving a lot of pushback from concerned citizens. I also want to point out that there are no studies on 5G, at least none that have been published yet. Whether you’re for it or against it, I certainly wouldn’t call it safe when it hasn’t been studied.
We should be even more concerned when we consider our increasing reliance on technology in every aspect of our lives, our kids’ increasing use of wireless, and the time we spend on wireless devices. We are swimming in this stuff. We should be concerned about exposure in vulnerable groups, such as children, who have thinner skulls than adults, and pregnant people. In the spirit of the oath I took in medical school, “First Do No Harm,” we shouldn’t choose to do anything with the potential for great harm if it’s not necessary, and we should uphold the Precautionary Principle. For those unfamiliar with the Precautionary Principle, it’s this: “The principle that the introduction of a new product or process whose ultimate effects are disputed or unknown should be resisted.”
Not making a Bluetooth ZENBand was a horrible marketing decision for me, but it’s the one most consistent with my ethos as a doctor turned owner of a small business and proponent of public health. Just like I won’t fry my brain and walk around with two microwaves in my ears, I won’t wear Bluetooth or wireless headphones, so I won’t sell them to you. If I sold them to you, I’d be a hypocrite. Nowadays, I rarely use my phone, often use an old MP3 player, turn my phone and wireless off at night and keep it out of my bedroom when I’m sleeping. Am I a quack? Maybe. Sure, call me one. But I’m confident in the homework I’ve done.
Finally, for the wireless-and-health-risks dedicated doubters, I hear you. But remember the story of cigarettes. Cigarettes were immensely popular and mainstream for years and years. It took a very long time for the giant health risks of cigarettes to catch up with the popularity and profitability of smoking and the formidable power of the tobacco industry. Think about Roundup, the world’s most popular pesticide. These exposure stories usually follow a similar plot, and luckily for us, the truth eventually comes out.
For an EASY Graphic on how to minimize your exposure but not become Amish, see here:
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(Not for the easily offended, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.)
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