Ann Louise Gittleman is a nutritionist and long-time advocate for integrated medicine—her book Zapped is the most comprehensive guide to electromagnetic radiation we’ve come across. Below, she explains some easy steps for limiting exposure via cellphones and WiFi signals.
A Q&A with Ann Louise Gittleman
What are the possible health effects of cell phones after continued use?
The simple truth is that talking or texting on a cell phone uses the same kind of radiofrequency radiation you would find in a microwave. Think of electromagnetic radiation as packets of energy that can carry information, such as a phone call or other communications. It is comprised of frequencies, modulation patterns, and other characteristics that make it biologically disruptive.
Granted, the power level with a phone is considerably less than with a microwave oven, but the frequencies are in the same part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The bad news, unfortunately, is that cell phone radiation has been associated with many types of cancer, the best known being brain tumors. The longer the hours of use, and years of use, the greater the risk. In addition, certain effects, like neuron death in the brain, and blood brain barrier permeability, from radiofrequency radiation, have been shown to be even greater, the lower the power. Such risk is increased for those who began cell phone use as a teenager or younger, as children have been shown to be at almost 4x the risk for brain tumors compared to adults.
A growing number of independent, non-industry funded scientists are legitimately concerned about long-term exposure to low-level microwave/cell phone radiation. The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified the radiation as a “Possible Carcinogen.” It turns out that our DNA is exquisitely sensitive to even the most minute amount of non-ionizing (non-heating) electromagnetic radiation, which can penetrate deep inside your head if using a cell phone, or into your body if you’re texting. The radiation will even impact your biological functioning, particularly your circulation, if you are simply carrying a wireless device in your pocket or backpack while the device is turned “On.” These are some of the reasons why this issue should clearly be on everybody’s personal radar (if you will)—especially pregnant women, children, and immuno-suppressed individuals.
Our smartphones, tablets, cordless phones, routers, smart meters, and even baby monitors can all emit electropollution. This biologically active, disruptive manmade radiation that surrounds us 24/7 in a sea of invisible energy is a major stressor to the autonomic nervous system—and more. You can’t touch it or see it, but it’s there, and our bodies are responding to it.
Although the topic is admittedly controversial—due to the high stakes of the trillion dollar telecom industry—exposure levels of microwave or radiofrequency radiation at levels 1000 times lower than current standards have been proven to have detrimental biological effects, including increasing the risk of cancer within a few hundred meters of a cell tower. Many individuals are also now being diagnosed with electrosensitivity. They exhibit a wide range of seemingly unrelated symptoms: facial flushing, burning skin, erratic sleep, low energy levels, headaches, dizziness, cardiac arrhythmia, rashes, chronic fatigue, anxiety, tinnitus, infertility, impaired memory, inability to concentrate and agitation in the presence of devices and infrastructure emitting this radiation. “Electromagnetic Sensitivity and Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity, A Summary” by Michael Bevington is an excellent review of the literature on electrosensitivity with 1,800 references.
No wonder the director of the Environmental Health Center in Dallas, William Rae, MD, has written, “Sensitivity to electromagnetic radiation is the emerging health problem of the 21st century.”
Some of the more profound physiological effects of frequent, prolonged, and cumulative use from electromagnetic exposure include extensive free radical damage, the production of stress or heat-shock proteins, a marked depletion of melatonin, elevated intracellular calcium, inflammation, and a disorganizing effect on the ability to learn and remember. Even more serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s, breast cancer, brain cancer, and ALS have been linked to extensive exposure from wireless and electronic devices according to the BioInitiative Report of 2012.
And a new condition is emerging in children called “digital dementia” from overuse of RF-emitting technologies.
Perhaps most alarming of all is the observation that exposure to cell phone radiation can actually break DNA and create leaks in the blood-brain barrier. See Columbia University researcher Martin Blank’s compelling presentation.
Since the time that WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified EMFs as a “Possible Carcinogen” in 2011, numerous scientific papers have built the case that the classification should be upgraded to a “Probable Carcinogen” or even “Carcinogen.”
Does the government regulate radiation in cell phones? Are other countries regulating radiation?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issues guidelines for radiofrequency radiation emissions, but they are outdated and antiquated, with the last review in the mid-1990s. When safety guidelines were developed, they did not account for a society blanketed in wireless radiation, where people use cell phones against the brain for hours a day and constant WiFi exposure is the norm. They were initially developed for limited industry and military purposes. The long-term effects of chronic radiation exposure are of grave concern.
Electromagnetic (EMF) microwave or radio frequency (RF) radiation has very hazardous bio-effects at levels at a fraction of the current safety guidelines. Activists are calling upon the FCC to review its exposure guidelines for radiofrequency radiation based upon the findings of thousands of studies, including several thousand analyzed for the BioInititative Report (2007, 2012)—A Rationale for Biologically-based Exposure Standards for Low-Intensity Electromagnetic Radiation. This report was prepared by 29 scientists and experts from 10 countries and synthesizes the science showing biological effects of electromagnetic fields at non-heating exposures.
Other governments around the world have already begun to mandate reform. The European Parliament has even recommended that WiFi be removed from schools, daycares, retirement centers, and hospitals. Germany, Finland, the United Kingdom, and Russia have taken their own individual measures to protect children from electromagnetic risks. And, in some parts of India, cell towers are prohibited (and hundreds have been dismantled) near schools.
Most recently in January 2015, The French National Assembly adopted a new bill to limit exposure to EMFs generated by wireless technologies—cell phones, tablets, WiFi etc. Some of these specifics include the ban of wireless devices in facilities that care for children under age three, very limited WiFi use in primary schools, safety warnings on advertisements, and clear signage for WiFi networks in public places.
Scientists don’t seem completely aligned on this subject—why? Is there any data on this topic that’s undisputed?
Yes, it’s true. Scientists are not completely aligned on the dangers of electromagnetic radiation. While, for example, there is every indication from independent research that electromagnetic radiation can be linked to neurological, cardiac, respiratory, immunological and even dermatological disorders, industry affiliated parties repeatedly downplay the risks. Unfortunately, due to the pervasive use of cell phones and wireless technologies, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find a control group that has not lived in the midst of electromagnetic pollution. But there is still a large and growing body of research in controlled settings looking at cellular and molecular effects, effects on animals, as well as increasingly damning epidemiological data. Recently, in Sweden, where it has long been suspected the cancer registries are not revealing the true incidence of brain tumors, a study by Hardell et alshowed a significant increase in incidences of brain tumors when hospital data was used instead of the formal government controlled cancer registry. There is no doubt, the evidence of risk is mounting as is our understanding of the mechanism by which the harm is caused.
Here is a very compelling case in point. A recent report by Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, specifically its Research Lab on Institutional Corruption, said the wireless industry appears to be using the same playbook as big tobacco. Their report “Captured Agency: How the Federal Communications Commission is Dominated by the Industries it Presumably Regulates” specifically sheds a spotlight on many disturbing industry tactics: undermining the credibility of independent scientists, cutting funding for scientists who discover risks, publishing contradictory science, and misleading information about scientific consensus. It also points to industry control of Congressional committees and the revolving door between the industry & the FCC.
Over 200 EMF Scientists from 39 countries recently sent an Appeal to the United Nations calling for leadership on the concerns raised by the widespread proliferation of electromagnetic fields. There’s a particularly compelling talk by Martin Blank, Ph.D. of Columbia University, speaking on behalf of scientists, expressing concern about the well-documented biological and health risks society is presently taking.
Are Wifi and cellular phone signals like 4G equally dangerous? Is it more dangerous to talk on your phone when the service isn’t good?
Yes, on both fronts. The latest incarnation in cell phones, 4G, is potentially more damaging than previous versions because it requires more bandwidth for video streaming, as well as the construction of new high powered cell towers spewing out more electropollution in an already saturated landscape.
It is definitely more dangerous to talk when the service is poor, so keep your eye on those bars. When the signal is weak, the phone automatically boosts power in an attempt to connect to a remote antenna, potentially increasing not only RF exposures but also extremely low-frequency exposures (ELF) from the phone’s battery, fields that are of equal concern.
As for WiFi, the first generation WiFi (802.11) had a data rate of 2 Mbps in the late 1990s. Third generation WiFi starting circa 2002 (802.11 g/a)had a data rate of 54 Mbps, and 5th generation, introduced in 2012 (802.11 ac) has a data rate of 3 Gbps—55x faster than 3rd generation. With time, communications technologies are getting more powerful and tremendously more complex with changing patterns of biological exposures. All this is being done without any requirement for pre-market health testing or post-market surveillance.
Is WiFi in schools a bad idea? If so, what’s a practical way to address that problem?
Schools use high power transmitters that are designed to go through cement walls and reach out into large campuses. There might be dozens to hundreds of devices communicating with the transmitter, and the RF exposure from the devices is an additional consideration and just as important as the WiFi. Also, newer WiFi technology is much higher power than home routers and uses more directional beam forming technology that could expose some children to more radiation than others, depending on where they sit in the classroom.
I would encourage everyone with a child to join the Campaign for Radiation Free Schools on Facebook. You will learn about health policies, science, and ways to keep your child’s classroom (and bedroom) electromagnetically clean. Created by environmental and health advocate, Camilla Rees, you’ll also learn various elements of an electromagnetically clean and conscious school to share with school administrators and teachers (who by the way have been protesting WiFi in schools by the thousands in many locations). Some of Rees’ suggestions include workstations with Ethernet connections available throughout the school for laptop internet access; hard-wired printers, with WiFi functions disabled; and disabling iPads or other tablets for students unless they accommodate an Ethernet connection and provide the ability to disable the wireless.
It is important to have a 1,500-foot setback for any wireless structure nearby schools (see BRAG Antenna Ranking of Schools Report by Dr. Magda Havas), and to limit exposure to WiFi in schools, following the lead of France in requiring WiFi to only be turned on when used for a specific educational purpose.
The bottom line is that technology overuse puts your child at risk for distraction, hyperactivity, the inability to focus and anxiety, as well as cardiac irregularities. Child psychiatrist Dr. Victoria Dunckley, even recommends that children with psychiatric problems start treatment by going on an “electronic” fast. She categorizes six risks to children from tech overuse documented in scientific and medical literature: increased reward/addiction pathways, intense sensory stimulation, bright and blue-toned light, media multi-tasking, interactivity and rapid pace, and electromagnetic radiation. The combination of the biological effects from all of these can be profound for developing children. Other biological effects to children were described at the recent program on EMF and children at the Commonwealth Club of California, as well as a similar program held at the La Grua Center in Stonington, CT in 2013.
We’ve heard cell phones can affect sperm count in men—is moving your cell phone to your back pocket instead of your front pocket enough to protect you from those effects?
A study found that men who carried them in their pockets had 25% lower sperm count than those who didn’t carry one. This is likely because the testicular tissue is especially vulnerable, but realistically any part of your body that is near EMF is in danger. A cell phone anywhere near your body can also negatively affect bone density. If possible, you should not keep your cell phone anywhere near your body, or even hold a laptop or tablet in your lap! If you’re going to keep your phone in your pocket I would recommend using a holster designed to reflect radiation away from your body to minimize the effect or to use a shielded cell phone case that completely encloses the phone, blocking all exposures.
Should pregnant women be especially concerned?
Pregnant women need to be the most concerned about electropollution since their bodies contain a higher concentration of fluid and ions that are more conductive than a normal adult. The fetus is particularly vulnerable to the effects of electromagnetic radiation because it spends 40 weeks essentially floating in a sac of water. Also, because the baby’s nervous system is developing at the speed of light we should be especially concerned about EMFs that can impair the blood-brain barrier and result in damage to the nervous tissues from toxins at critical development junctures. A 2008 survey of over 13,000 children found that pregnant women who used their cell phone were much more likely to have children with behavioral problems later on when they entered school—as high as 80% higher behavioral problems if the child at school age also then began using a cell phone him or herself. Heavy cell phone use during pregnancy has also been linked to risk of miscarriages and birth defects. Pregnant women should definitely keep their cell phone and laptops away from their abdomen.
“Second-hand radiation,” just like second-hand smoke, should also be avoided while pregnant or trying to conceive. This means being at least 15-20 feet away from anyone talking on a cell phone or texting to avoid second-hand cell radiation.
Do corded or bluetooth headsets protect you? Are there any other devices that do? What about covers and decals that claim to block radiation?
Corded and “blue tube” headsets are some of your best forms of radiation prevention. Bluetooth headsets, however, are not recommended because they add more WiFi radiation directly to the head. Blue tube, on the other hand, utilizes a plastic, stethoscope-like tube to transmit sound in a safe manner. You can also use shielding fabric to shield radiation from routers, printer antennas, portable phone stations, or smart meters at Less EMF or EMF Safety Store. Remediating with fabrics or other reflecting material may eventually wear out some equipment faster, and they also can increase risks through reflection. Understanding of the way radiation flows, or using a building biologist consultant is essential before experimenting with shielding.
Two companies that are leading the way in EMF protection are Pong and Defender Shield. Backed by laboratory testing, they offer products such as smartphone and iPad covers that provide protection when using devices. They are distinct in that they are using conventional blocking approaches that can be measured with standard meters, not subtle energy approaches. However, use caution in the case of the Pong. Their technology reflects cell phone radiation outward from the body (so less goes into your head), but it may increase exposure for a person sitting next to you on the bus, train or subway, or in other public places.
It is it safe to talk on your phone in the car? What if you’re using your car’s built-in Bluetooth?
It’s never a good idea to use a cell phone when driving because exposure levels are that much higher because of the continuous cell tower reconnection as the car moves toward its destination. In addition, radiation from the phone will be reflected by the metal in the car, increasing exposures. It is also not a good idea to use your phone on an airplane, elevator, or train. Radio frequency reflects from metal, producing radiation hot spots.
As I mentioned above, when you’re using your car’s Bluetooth connection you are bathing your body in a sea of electromagnetic radiation which only adds insult to injury given the known cognitive impact. When I purchased a new car earlier this year, I made sure to simply disable the Bluetooth connection.
At what age is it safe for a child to start using a cell phone?
Although this may sound unrealistic, ideally, children under the age of 18 really should not use cell phones except for emergency situations. This recommendation matches that of the Russian government which has done an enormous amount of military research on EMFs since the time of the Cold War. Russia and many Eastern European countries have much stricter standards for electromagnetic radiation exposures than does the U.S.
What is an SAR rating? How can you find out what your phone’s rating is?
The “SAR” value is the Specific Absorption Rate, which estimates radiation that your head might absorb from cell phone exposure using a plastic mannequin of an adult male head filled with fluid. SAR measures only one of the phone’s dangerous components, the heating effect. Unrecognized factors include frequency, amplitude, pulsed modulation of the signals, the battery’s magnetic fields, network technical characteristics, and of course, the time spent on the actual phone.
In an ironic twist, low SAR values can produce even more extensive blood brain barrier permeability than high SAR values according to research by Swedish neurosurgeon Leif Salford. SAR is not a measure of safety, but an engineering metric, concerned only potential heating effects. Safety guidelines are also based on average exposures, but the body responds to peaks, not averages.
What are the five most important things you can do to protect yourselves and your kids?
Dedicate at least one room in the house as a “safe haven” from EMF exposure. I would suggest the bedroom where you can keep you and your family safe by unplugging and disabling all electronic and digital equipment for better sleep and regeneration. Remember the EMFs destroy melatonin—the most powerful hormone in the body. Disconnect everything including your wireless router and put your cell phone on airplane mode or better yet, turn it off completely. I even turn off the electrical breaker to my bedroom at night for the deepest rest possible.
During the day, be smart about your cell phone use. Keep it away from your body as much as possible and turn it off you when you don’t need it. Even when you’re not using it, it’s still signaling. Use a landline or a service like Skype (on a hardwired internet connection) for longer conversations. And most importantly, keep cell phones away from young children. They may be a convenient distraction or “babysitter” but the possible long-term DNA effects just aren’t worth it.
Eat to beat EMF free radical damage by including more turmeric, garlic, artichokes, blueberries, sea veggies, and tart cherries in your diet. These foods are especially high in antioxidants and minerals which are EMF protective.
For those with major sleep problems, consider a time-released melatonin supplement that supplies three specific fortifying minerals that can help repair EMF-related damage and neutralize free radicals. I like UNI KEY Health’s 3mg Melatonin formula.
If you’re really concerned about electromagnetic exposure, consider engaging the services of a professional EMF remediation expert. The individuals can be found through the Institute for Building Biology & Ecology. When I was writing Zapped, I consulted with an expert and was astonished to learn the long-distance cell phone radiation that was permeating the master bedroom from four close-by cell phone towers. Based upon the Building Biologist’s recommendations, we painted the bedroom with a special RF-proof paint!