Science

Are Cell Phones and Wifi Frying Our Brains?

Everything you need to know about devices that create electromagnetic fields and radiation

Some of the best-known ways we interact with electromagnetic fields are through cell phones, wifi, microwaves, and x-rays. Basically, we interact with them or use them do to mundane, but sort of magical, tasks every day. But, have you ever wondered if and how those things affect your health? Like is standing too close to the actually microwave bad? Is carrying your cell phone in your pocket or sports bra going to ruin your sperm or give you breast cancer? Is sleeping with your phone under your pillow really a big deal? We dug through the current research to answer exactly those questions.


What are EMFs and how do they work?

First off, let's talk about what EMF refers to. EMF is an acronym that stands for electromagnetic fields. This is kind of a fancy way of saying anything that uses electricity to do things. The way EMF works is by creating electricity, which, when it interacts with other things, changes the charges on cells to make them do different things. If that got too technical for you, basically, the thought is that electricity makes things (big and very, very small) move or react. The reason this is something we are talking about here is because as we learn new ways to harness that magical quality (think more wireless technologies like your smartwatch, Alexa, and video doorbells) we are putting more electrical charges in the environment that can interact with our bodies. A potential concern is that as those electrical impulses reach our bodies, they might be changing how our cells act and that over time that might lead to problems, like cancers or disease.

Some of the reason that EMFs can change the ways cells in our bodies work is because they encompass a whole range of different frequencies and wavelengths of energy, including radiation. We often hear about radiation and think x-rays or cancer treatment, but there is a huge spectrum of radiation. On one end, there are radio waves, in the middle is visible light (the things we can see), and the other end is x-rays and gamma rays that are sometimes used to treat cancer (10). Just because radiation is involved doesn't always mean that it is as powerful an as x-ray. The difference that people should worry about is if the radiation is ionizing or not. Things like strong UV light (like from the sun or tanning booths) and x-rays are ionizing because they have the ability to remove electrons from atoms. Non-ionizing radiation from things like radio waves, microwaves and visible light are weaker and are generally believed to only have the potential to harm people if they generate enough heat (11).

So, how worried should we be about all these new wireless technologies?

It kind of depends.

Based on the variety of research that has been done, the results are a little all over the place. This is because it depends on the technology being studied, how often it is being used, and in what situations. Also, many of these technologies are rather new (and constantly changing), meaning there just hasn't been enough time to study them to see how they affect people after a long period of use. However, in the limited research that has been done, scientists have concluded that the levels of radiofrequency that people interact with on a normal basis are low enough that they really don't pose a threat to human health(1, 11). While there is consensus that there isn't a general threat, nobody has been able to prove that constantly interacting with EMF radiation is safe either. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified EMF as a possible carcinogen (along with dozens of other things we commonly come into contact with) (20). And, there are isolated studies that have linked it to potential adverse health outcomes, like miscarriages, in certain groups of people who may be more vulnerable (21).

The bottom line is that scientists are still working on the answers. And as we use more and more types of technologies that generate non-ionizing radiation (hello wifi enabled water bottles and umbrellas?!), we can expect more scientific studies to be done on what this all means for your health. This leaves a lot of people wondering and promoting precautions. We'll go through a couple of the most common forms of EMF, lay out what the experts are saying, and give you a few suggestions for ways you can take precautions, if you're a better safe than sorry kind of a person.

Cell Phones

This is the big one here with the most research. Cell phones still fall in the category of non-ionizing radiation, but they are at a higher level on the radiation spectrum than wifi or Bluetooth (6). There are some studies that have found that prolonged use of cell phones can impact some types of functional memory (7), but everyone agrees that more research is needed to draw conclusions (1, 6). In a report from the partial findings of a study done by the National Toxicology Program using rats as subjects (which is a common way to get information on health more quickly than with humans since rats have more generations of babies in less time), researchers found that prolonged exposure to cell phone radiation for 2G and 3G signal is likely the cause of increased rates of cancer in both the brain and heart in male rats (13). They didn't find statistically significant differences for female rats who were exposed to the same amount of cell phone radiation and aren't sure why. They are hoping to do more studies to learn effects of different types of cell phone radiation, including with updated technologies like 4G and 5G, but they are pretty sure that cell phone radiation is at least linked to higher cancer rates in male rats (14). Others say that very high levels of non-ionizing EMF can hurt you (like cause a burn), but not cause cancer or tumors (8). The most recent NIH studies researching the effects of cell phone use and cancer also have not been able to show strong links between cell phone use and increased cancer risk (15).

While more research is being done, there are still recommendations of easy changes that could reduce your exposure to EMF from cell phones - because being cautious is never a bad thing. The California Department of Public Health, which issued a statement on the matter, and other groups including the FDA suggest:

  1. keeping your phone away from your body (14, 19) (men that means out of your pockets, ladies probably not the best to shove it in your sports bra). Try keeping it in your bag when you're on the move and on a table when you are working or hanging out at home.
  2. Using headphones or speakerphone when you make a call, especially if you are moving or have bad or spotty signal. Those situations cause cell phones to use more energy, which can create higher levels of EMF. Sounds like a great excuse to text more to us! (9, 14)
  3. Keeping your phone out of and away from your bed at night or in airplane mode for the night. Do you really need to sleep with your cell phone under your pillow? Try keeping it on your dresser if you use it as an alarm, or in the other room if you can.
  4. If you have kids, don't let them use your phone as a chew toy (the slobber is probably not great for the phone either). Also, if you are using your phone to entertain your child, try downloading the show and then putting it in airplane mode while they watch the show instead of streaming it (3). This means the phone doesn't have to work as hard and maintain a constant connection to service. Children with cellphones should follow the above recommendations about keeping it away from their body when possible, texting more, and using headphones or speakerphone for calls (19).

Wi-Fi

Mos of us can't even imagine a normal day without wifi, but, when you think about it, for wifi to work there has to be something getting the internet connection from the wall to your computer, phone, e-reader, streaming device, and about a million other things. So how does that work? It's not like those rays, waves, or particles of fairy dust are only reaching your devices - they are also hitting the table, the couch, and your body. While this is true, wifi is considered a form of non-ionizing, low-frequency electromagnetic radiation (as opposed to ionizing, which we know can cause harm). Remember that non-ionizing radiation, is generally recognized as "harmless to humans" (2, 3) unless it can generate enough heat to cause harm (11). While it is considered safe, in recent years there has been more research looking specifically at this kind of radiation to determine its effects because it has become such an integral part of daily life.

While this is widely accepted, you can still reduce your exposure a couple of ways.

  1. If you can, place your wifi router on a higher shelf or away from where people often sit and work.
  2. Try to keep your laptop off your lap or stomach when you work (or watch your favorite show). Put it on a table or even just next to you on the bed instead. This is a good thing to do anyways if your laptop battery is hot because heat in extreme amounts can damage semen quality.
  3. Turn your wifi router off at night when you go to sleep. You are sleeping anyway, you don't need wifi. And, many people say turning off screens half an hour before you go to bed is good for you anyway. If you aren't sure you can commit to not scrolling in bed, you can get a timer for the outlet your router is plugged into and automatically set it to turn off from midnight to 6 am (or whatever hours feel right for you).

Bluetooth

There has been less research done on Bluetooth because Bluetooth is essentially a weaker form of wifi, which is why it doesn't reach as far. But, since many studies have determined that wifi is generally safe, most assume the same is true of Bluetooth (4). Much of this is based on the science of how both wifi and Bluetooth work (5).

Because Bluetooth is so weak, there are very few recommendations about it. In fact, many organizations suggest using headphones (including Bluetooth headphones) instead of holding the phone to your ear when on a call.

Microwaves

So, let's just get right to it - are microwave ovens safe or should you stand far away when they're on? The answer is that as long as your microwave closes properly and doesn't weirdly stay on when you open the door, you are safe (16, 17). Microwaves are designed to protect the user. There are regulations on the way they are constructed, and they have to have safety measures built in. All of these things mean that you won't be exposed to any sneaky radiation that would try to escape the inside of the oven. Also, you will be reassured to know that the FDA tests microwaves in their own laboratories to ensure safety (16).

While you shouldn't worry about any radiation coming from your microwave, you can do a couple of things to be extra cautious.

  1. Keep your microwave clean and make sure that the door shuts properly every time. Chances are it won't turn on if the door isn't shut correctly, but it's still a good check.
  2. Don't stand with your face peering into the door. And don't let your kids get that close either. While microwave radiation can't get through the metal in the body of the machine, it is well known that radiation becomes much weaker the further away from the source you are. Being 20 inches away would have one 100th the amount of radiation as being two inches away (16).

Smart Meters

First off, what are smart meters? They are installed on homes to automatically report your power or water usage back to the company without them having to have a real human being come to read the meters that are on your home tracking how much of a utility you use. People worry about smart meters when it comes to EMF because it is another source of wifi or cell phone radiation to interact with on a regular basis. It's important to understand how these meters work though. Often, these meters only emit a signal when they report back to the company, which typically isn't often. Additionally, they are almost always placed on the outside of your home, meaning that there is at least one wall between your family and the signal at all times, which lowers how much is reaching you.

While this may be a small source of added EMF, if you have no choice about it being added to your home (which is often the case), there is little science pointing to a smart meter being able to greatly increase your exposure to EMFs or pose a heightened risk to your health because it emits less EMF than a cell phone or wifi (18). So, yes, they use EMF to send signals, but this is one we say to take with a grain of salt. If you truly want to lower your exposure, focus on making some of the other small changes we already suggested.


Overall, because everyone agrees we need more research, the best thing you can do is just be smart about the way you use all of these technologies. We aren't saying give up your phone, or even reduce the amount of time you spend on the internet (although you might want to do that for mental health reasons) (12), but we think adding some distance when you can can't hurt. The best thing to remember about all of these things that produce EMF is that the amount of EMF signal you are interacting with is dramatically reduced with any amount of distance (6, 16, 17). So, when you aren't using your phone try to keep it off your body. Move your router to a higher shelf, and find a pair of headphones you like to make calls with. And maybe, be thoughtful about the number of wi-fi enabled gadgets you have on your body and in your home. Even just making one of these changes can quickly reduce the amount of EMF you get on a daily basis.


Resources

  1. http://www.who.int/peh-emf/about/WhatisEMF/en/index1.html
  2. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/emf/index.cfm
  3. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-pre...
  4. https://www.livescience.com/56027-bluetooth-headphone-safety-concerns-with-iphone-7.html
  5. https://www.consumerreports.org/radiation/do-i-need-to-worry-about-radiation-from-wifi-and-bluetooth-devices/
  6. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/emf/index.cfm
  7. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/ehp2427/
  8. http://time.com/4508432/what-is-wifi-radiation-cancer/
  9. https://static.ewg.org/ewg-tip-sheets/EWG-CellPhoneGuide.pdf?_ga=2.258947587.865200574.1532365333-723583559.1510852026&_gac=1.3394052.1532641336.EAIaIQobChMI_vX77N293AIVGLvsCh2IYw-gEAAYASAAEgISHvD_BwE
  10. https://www.britannica.com/science/electromagnetic-spectrum
  11. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/radiation/nonionizing_radiation.html
  12. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/da.22466
  13. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2016/05/26/055699.full.pdf
  14. https://factor.niehs.nih.gov/2018/11/feature/1-feature-radiation/index.htm?WT.mc_id=efactoremail_redesign
  15. https://dceg.cancer.gov/research/how-we-study/exposure-assessment/cellular-telephones-brain-tumors
  16. https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emittingproducts/resourcesforyouradiationemittingproducts/ucm252762.htm
  17. http://www.who.int/peh-emf/publications/facts/info_microwaves/en/
  18. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/radiation-exposure/smart-meters.html
  19. http://www.releasewire.com/press-releases/american-academy-of-pediatrics-issues-new-recommendations-to-reduce-exposure-to-cell-phones-726805.htm
  20. International Agency for Research on Cancer . Non-Ionizing Radiation, Part 2: Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields. WHO Press; Lyon, France: 2013. http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol102/mono102.pdf.
  21. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-16623-8
Roundups

The 13 Best Non-Toxic Baby Sunscreens

Well reviewed, easy to find, and super safe for your little one

It's finally here! We've rounded up the best 13 non-toxic sunscreens baby sunscreens just in time for all your outdoor adventures. We took into account ingredient safety, as well as reviews from parents, and availability at major retailers. Trust us that these options will not result in a goopy disappointment. All 13 of these non-toxic baby sunscreens are safe for baby, toddlers, kids (and you!) and are free from harmful chemicals. They are all reef safe too! Many of these brands also make a stick that can be a lot easier for face application if your baby is extra squirmy, so make sure to check those out too. Hope this makes your summer to-do list just a bit easier!

a) Adorable Baby SPF 30 Sunscreen, b) All Good Kid's Sunscreen SPF 30, c) Aveeno Baby Continuous Protection Sensitive Skin Sunscreen SPF 50 d) Babo Botanicals Baby Skin Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, e) Badger Baby Natural Mineral Sunscreen Cream SPF 30, f) Bare Republic Baby Mineral Sunscreen Lotion SPF 50, g) California Baby Super Sensitive Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30, h) Coola Baby Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50, i) Made Of Baby Sunscreen SPF 30, j) Sunblocz Baby and Kids Sunscreen SPF 50, k) Thinkbaby Safe Sunscreen SPF 50, l) Tom's of Maine Baby Sunscreen Lotion SPF 30, m) Totlogic Mineral Sunscreen SPF 30


Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

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Food

Endless Ideas for Healthy Homemade Popsicles (No Recipe Needed!)

A refreshing family friendly treat, without added food colorings, cane sugar, or plastic packaging.

Popsicles are such a fun treat for adults and kids whenever it gets hot outside! We put together a fun graphic where you can make your own recipe for a healthy homemade popsicle, using whatever you have on hand. We make all sorts of popsicles from leftover fruit, veggies, juices that we have laying around. It's a great way to use up that half of a banana or browning avocado that your kid didn't eat. And instead of becoming food waste (which is a huge contributor to climate change), it gets new life as an amazing treat. We like these silicone or stainless steel popsicle molds, cause they are super durable and we generally try to avoid plastics and food. Making your own popsicles is a great way to have fun, while being non-toxic. Many store bought popsicles contain load of cane sugar, food colorings, other additives, and plastic packaging. So pick one up a popsicle mold, choose a combination of tasty ingredients, blend, freeze, and enjoy!

In case you need some ideas to get started, here are some of our favorites:

Chocolate Fudge: Cocoa powder, avocado (or banana), coconut milk, and honey/maple syrup

Watermelon Strawberry Mint: Watermelon, Strawberries, Coconut water, and Mint

Spinach Blueberry Yogurt: Spinach, Blueberry, Banana, and Yogurt

Creamy Zucchini Pineapple: Zucchini, Pineapple, and Coconut milk

*A special tip on mixing colors. Mixing leafy greens with red or orange fruits/veggies (like carrot juice or strawberries) makes for a pretty brown popsicle. It will still taste good, but might not look as appetizing!


Roundups

Non-Toxic Aftershaves

Cause who wants questionable chemicals on a freshly shaven face?

Whether aftershave is part of your shaving routine for the manly (and fabulous!) scents or to help your skin recover, you probably don't want an aftershave with questionable ingredients or preservatives. This is especially true because the main purpose of aftershave is to calm down any skin irritation and disinfect any small nicks (oops!) you accidentally gave yourself. We also included two options for witch hazel toners that are an all natural, affordable option that calms inflammation and disinfects. We found 7 non-toxic aftershaves and witch hazel toners that have good ingredients, good reviews, and are easy to buy at major retailers. So pick up one up and incorporate it into your morning routine and your skin will thank you!

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5 Easy Changes to Protect Your Sperm from Harmful Chemicals

Keep your swimmers safe with these science-based tips

Hey, guys, yeah all you sperm producing humans out there. Hate to break it to you, but when it comes to different chemicals in our world, your little swimmers might not be as safe as you think. While it's true that you continually are creating new sperm, if you are exposed to some of these nasty things on a regular basis, chances are high that they are affecting both the quality and quantity of your sperm. Even if you aren't planning to have a kid right now, these things could make it harder for you to conceive a kid in the future and research has linked sperm health to overall health. But, hang tight. We have some super simple suggestions for ways to change up your routine that can protect your sperm for years to come.

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Home

What to Know Before Your Next Big DIY Project

Protect your health without sacrificing creativity!

Whether you're inspired by a recent Etsy binge or are a Weekend Warrior who practically lives at Home Depot, DIY projects can be super fun and fulfilling. Before you get started on your next project, we have some tips on what chemicals to avoid, the safety hazards they pose, and ways to keep yourself safe.




Avoid Methylene chloride

It's always fun to spruce up furniture with a new coat of paint but methylene chloride, a seriously dangerous chemical, is found in paint stripping products. In the body methylene chloride turns into carbon monoxide (1), and too much carbon monoxide can cause dizziness, confusion, and asphyxia. Methylene chloride fumes quickly accumulate and are heavier than air, which means workers bending down over projects in poorly ventilated areas are easily susceptible to the dangers of this chemical (2). There have been many accidental deaths from Methylene chloride, so you should completely avoid paint strippers that use it. Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families has created a great reference on safer alternative for paint strippers.

Paint

Before you pick up your paint brush to tackle that dresser revamp, make sure the paint you're using is low VOCs. VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are chemicals that are emitted as gasses from products like paint and can cause headaches, eye irritation, and nausea (3). VOCs are part of the reason paint can be so smelly when it's drying! Look for a paint that says low or no VOCs on the packaging and make sure to keep the windows open while the paint is drying!

Wood Stains

Updating your wood table or decking? Reach for a water-based wood stain or finish! Traditional wood stains can contain harsh chemicals and emit a ton of VOCs. Luckily a lot of brands have a VOC rating on their label, which makes choosing a product a lot easier. We recommend choosing a stain with low VOCs (under 250 g/l) that is also Green Seal 11 (GS-11) certified (4).

Always Have Proper Ventilation

This is key for any DIY project. Chances are, you'll probably use some chemicals that are not great for you during your project. The best place to work on your project is outside but if you have to work indoor, make sure to open windows and doors, and use a fan to ventilate the area.

Wear a Protective Mask

DIY projects can expose you to a TON of dust, which is why it's a good idea to always wear a protective mask. Dust is bad for you in general, and can also contain particles containing toxic chemicals, which is why we recommend using an N95 mask while working. Normal masks can help protect you, but they don't protect you from all dust. N95 masks filter even the tiniest particles (0.3 microns) (5), which can keep you safe during those extremely messy projects.




  1. https://saferchemicals.org/get-the-facts/chemicals-of-concern/methylene-chloride/
  2. https://prheucsf.blog/2017/11/14/risky-paint-stripper-will-continue-to-kill-while-epa-delays/
  3. https://www.epa.gov/indoor-air-quality-iaq/volatile-organic-compounds-impact-indoor-air-quality#Levels
  4. https://www.ewg.org/healthyhomeguide/wood-stains-a...
  5. https://www.fda.gov/medical-devices/personal-protective-equipment-infection-control/masks-and-n95-respirators

Now that you've invested in some glass and stainless steel food storage containers, maybe you're wondering if you should Marie Kondo all the plastic ones you used to use? Instead adding them to the landfill, what if we told you that all those plastic containers can help you achieve a new level of organization zen? While we don't recommend storing food in them anymore (for those of you who haven't heard: these plastic food storage containers often have BPA or phthalates in them, which can leach into your food over time and cause all sorts of health problems), we also don't think you have to throw them away.

So, what can you do? We have 6 great suggestions for you to repurpose those containers throughout your home.



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Roundups

6 Non-Toxic and Plastic-Free Shampoos

We found 5 shampoo bars and 1 refillable option

We've had a lot of asks for products with sustainable packaging. We heard you! Sustainable, non-toxic, well-reviewed products are actually harder to find than you think. Who knew? But we did a ton of research and found some great options! We searched high and wide and found these 5 non-toxic shampoo bars and one refillable shampoo that comes in an aluminum bottle. These shampoo products are a great way to reduce your plastic consumption without compromising on safe ingredients. A win-win in our book for the planet and your health!

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