Subscribe to blog updates via email »

Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs Summary – Love Your Work, Episode 206

November 28 2019 – 07:30am

cell phone emfsIn the 1840’s Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis noticed a pattern. He noticed that too many new mothers were dying of a fever. And it didn’t seem like a coincidence to him that many of these women who were dying shortly after childbirth had something in common. The doctors who delivered their babies had just performed autopsies.

The death rate – by this fever – of new mothers, whose babies were delivered by doctors who had just handled dead bodies, was sometimes over thirty percent! That’s incredibly high, even by the standards of the 1840’s.

Listen to the Podcast

The death rate of this clinic, where doctors performed autopsies and delivered babies, was so high that some women gave birth on the street, rather than go to this clinic.

So Dr. Semmelweis performed an experiment. He tried one simple thing. This one simple thing dropped the death rate from this fever from the double digits to the single digits. Some months the death rate was zero!

The one simple thing Dr. Semmelweis did: After doctors were done performing autopsies, before they delivered babies – he had them wash their hands.

Today, Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis is recognized as a pioneer in antiseptic procedures. I wish I could tell you the same was true during his lifetime.

Instead, he was ridiculed. He lost his job. He eventually moved away.

Nearly twenty years after his experiment, Dr. Semmelweis still couldn’t convince most of the medical community to wash their hands. He was committed to a mental institution, where he died fourteen days later, after being beaten by guards.

The guards didn’t beat Dr. Semmelweis to death, though. You can’t make up cruel irony like this. He died from an infection in his wounds – an infection which could have been prevented with antiseptic treatment. The antiseptic treatment for which he is now known as a pioneer.

What you can’t see can still hurt you

I tell you this story because what I’m about to tell you triggers a knee-jerk reaction in some people. I know it did for me when I first heard about it.

In fact, this knee jerk reaction is known as the Semmelweis reflex. Named after Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis. It’s the reaction we have when information contradicts our understanding of the world.

This thing I want to tell you is that your cell phone may make you sick. I’m not here to convince you that this is true. I simply want your mind to be open to the possibility that it may be true.

And that even if it may be true, we should handle our relationships with our cell phones and other electronics differently.

The medical community didn’t believe Dr. Semmelweis’s theory, in part, because they couldn’t see what caused the fever. It wasn’t until Louis Pasteur confirmed the germ theory of disease, shortly after Dr. Semmelweis’s death, that the medical community accepted that Dr. Semmelweis had been right all along.

We can’t see what it is about our cell phones that might be making us sick. But fortunately, we don’t have to rely upon theories about evil spirits or humors or “bad air.”

There is a scientific basis to this. There is scientific evidence. In order to stop it, all we have to do is pay attention.

A book I enjoyed: The Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs

I recently read a book called The Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs, by Nicolas Pineault. The “Non-Tinfoil” portion of that title is of course in defense of that knee-jerk reaction people tend to have to this topic.

The Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs really opened my eyes to how this invisible force from my cell phone and other electronics was making me feel bad – and how it may be damaging my long-term health. I want to share with you today some of what I learned, and what you can do to protect yourself, if you decide this is something you want to worry about.

Now, I’m not a doctor, nor am I an engineer. Most of what I’m going to share with you today is from the book, The Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs. It cites hundreds of studies. I’ve followed up on some of them, but I can’t follow up on all of them. I’ve seen enough to change the way I use technology. If you want to dig deeper on any of this, I highly recommend picking up the book. It’s available at

What are EMFs and where do they come from?

The invisible force from your cell phone that might make you sick is radiation. Some people’s first reaction to that is that the radiation from cell phones is not like the radiation from, say, nuclear waste.

They’re right about that. The type of radiation we worry about are gamma rays, x-rays, and some portions of ultraviolet rays. They damage our cells, and directly cause cancer. Our cell phones and electronics do not emit radiation in this spectrum.

Radiation outside of this range is everywhere. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll hereby collectively refer to these other types of radiation as EMFs, which stands for Electromagnetic Fields. The light that allows us to see is an EMF. Which means the sun emits EMFs. The sensation of heat is caused by EMFs. Even the earth itself has an Electromagnetic Field.

And, all of your electronics emit EMFs: Your WiFi, your bluetooth speakers, your computer, your television, your cell phone, and any electrical wires you use to hook these things up – they all emit EMFs.

These EMFs are outside of the spectrum of what’s called “ionizing radiation,” – those gamma rays, x-rays, and ultraviolet rays that we worry about. Scientists generally believe non-ionizing radiation doesn’t directly cause cancer in cells.

That does not mean that EMFs can’t cause cancer indirectly, and it does not mean that they can’t have other health effects.

The ways EMFs affect your health

If the EMFs from your cell phone don’t directly cause cancer what can they do? There’s a few different mechanisms by which these EMFs can affect your health:

EMFs may cause DNA damage, EMFs interfere with Voltage-Gated Calcium Channels, and EMFs disrupt the blood/brain barrier. Let me go further into each of those.

EMFs may cause DNA damage

EMFs may cause DNA damage. Some studies indicate that EMFs cause DNA damage. It’s true, many things cause DNA damage, such as spending too much time in the sun. This might not directly cause cancer, but it could lead to cancer, as well as other effects like premature aging, neurodegenerative disease, fertility issues, and more.

EMFs interfere with Voltage-Gated Calcium Channels

EMFs interfere with what’s called Voltage-Gated Calcium Channels. These are like little gates that regulate the flow of calcium into and out of cells in your body. As the name Voltage-Gated Calcium Channels implies, these little gates are controlled by electrical activity.

EMFs can cause these gates to open up, sometimes for hours after initial exposure to the EMF. This causes excessive calcium to flow into your cells. This excess calcium can have negative effects, and it can have positive effects.

On the positive side, it can cause bone regrowth, it may be useful for treating neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease or strokes, or it may be effective in treating depression, and many other potential therapeutic benefits.

On the negative side, excessive calcium in your cells may cause heart problems, disrupt communication in the nervous system, cause oxidative stress, infertility, and maybe even cancer. Excess calcium in the cells may be useful not only for treating depression, but it may also cause depression. There are a whole host of other effects that may be caused by excess calcium in the cells. Consult the book for the whole list.

EMFs disrupt the blood/brain barrier

EMFs disrupt the blood/brain barrier. The blood/brain barrier protects your brain from substances that are in your blood, as the name would imply. Those substances may include substances that you would like to get into your brain, such as a medication or supplement, or those substances may be things that you don’t want in your brain, such as heavy metals or viruses. Exposure to EMFs makes the blood/brain barrier more permeable, so these substances are able to make it through.

In one study, a researcher injected rats with dye. One group of rats was not exposed to EMFs, and the second group of rats was exposed to EMFs in the 1.9 GHz range – which is comparable to a cell phone. When they later dissected the rats, they found that the dye had spread all over the rats’ systems, in both groups. Except the rats who had not been exposed to EMFs still had normal-looking brains. And the rats who had been exposed to EMFs – their brains were dyed. The dye had crossed the blood-brain barrier.

When this study was replicated, they found that with just two hours of exposure to EMFs, rats still showed permeable blood-brain barriers eight weeks later.

EMFs affect humans (& animals) in other ways

In addition to causing DNA damage, disrupting the Voltage-Gated Calcium Channels, and causing a leaky blood-brain barrier, EMFs have been linked with other health effects, such as reducing melatonin production – which disrupts sleep – and increasing cortisol levels. Cortisol is a stress hormone.

These mechanisms with which EMFs interact with our bodies mean they could plausibly cause a huge number of symptoms or disorders, including autism and digestive disorders, both of which have been on the rise. Does that mean these conditions are caused by EMFs? No, but the link is plausible.

Not only do EMFs affect humans, they also affect animals. Birds and bees use magnetic fields to navigate. So, some researchers believe that EMFs are to blame for the mysterious “colony collapse disorder” that bees are experiencing.

Do governments do enough to protect us from EMFs?

If EMFs are unsafe or may be unsafe, surely governments are on top of it, right? It turns out that regulations that limit the EMFs emitted by devices are thousands of times above the levels at which EMFs have been shown to have health effects.

According to the book, if you look closely at the safety guidelines included with your cell phone, they will tell you to never operate it while in contact with your body. According to the book, the iPhone 7 says to keep it 5mm from your head, the Samsung Galaxy S8 at least 15mm. You’re usually at least holding it in your hand, so – don’t know if that helps.

The U.S. government is very lax with their regulations on EMFs. Some governments are more careful. China and Russia’s guidelines for what they deem safe exposure are one 100th those of the United States.

In Vancouver, British Columbia, cell antennas can’t be installed within 1,000 feet of schools. Similar regulations are in place in India, Chile, Greece, and New Zealand.

There are also policies limiting WiFi usage in schools or nurseries in Finland, France, and Israel.

In the United States, The American Academy of Pediatrics wrote a memo to the FCC and FDA urging them to do more to protect children and pregnant women from EMFs, and to better disclose the risks associated with them.

A quote from the memo:

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the United Nations’ World Health Organization, said in June 2011 that a family of frequencies that includes mobile-phone emissions is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” The National Cancer Institute has stated that although studies have not demonstrated that RF energy from cell phones definitively causes cancer, more research is needed because cell phone technology and cell phone use are changing rapidly.

That memo from The American Academy of Pediatrics was sent to the FCC and FDA in 2013. It’s unclear from what I’ve seen if that prompted any action.

How to reduce your EMF exposure

EMFs are being emitted all around you, so it might seem pointless to even try to reduce your exposure. The good news is that as you distance yourself from the source of an EMF, your level of exposure drops dramatically. Something like a 10% drop for each extra millimeter of distance.

The Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs provides exposure measurement for a variety of situations, such as how much exposure you get when your phone is next to your head, or when your laptop is in your lap.

Some people are sensitive enough that they notice the effect of EMFs on their bodies. I became especially interested during a recent trip to the countryside. There was no cell reception, and no WiFi, and I wondered to myself, why is it that immediately when I get to a place like this, I feel like I need a nap. Also, why do I sleep better?

So I started to experiment, with the help of information from the book. Here are some of the ways that I reduce my EMF exposure (Before I get into this, keep in mind that I do have some [chronic health issues] that make me more sensitive to a lot of things. Your Mileage May Vary.):

These are just from some of the recommendations from the book. At first it seems overwhelming the number of ways you’re exposed to EMFs, but if you take some time to think it through, you can develop some habits and ways of operating that you don’t even think about.

Our EMF exposure is increasing. Are we asking the right questions?

Our exposure to EMFs has increased thousands of times over the past few decades, and that growth is not slowing down. This is a place where we can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. We don’t have enough information to tell us that it’s safe – in fact, we have a lot of information to the contrary. And, always a bad combination – we have a lot of people and companies who stand to make a lot of money in ignoring or suppressing that information.

There are signs of biases in the research on EMF exposure. Only 27% of industry-funded studies found health effects. While 68% of independently-funded studies did find health effects.

Even if EMFs do cause harm, telecom companies are granted immunity. Thanks to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, they can’t be held responsible even if it’s proven signals from their antennas cause health problems.

Whether you’re convinced that EMFs cause harm, or you simply believe it’s possible they cause harm, this is worth thinking about and being careful about. There’s a lot of talk about blanketing the entire globe with EMFs with balloons from Google and Facebook. There’s a lot of excitement going on about 5G cell technology, which will yet again greatly increase our exposure. But who is asking whether it’s worth it?

Vote with your dollars to reduce EMF exposure

The only way we can have a safe relationship with technology is if we’re intentional about it. We have a lot of power as consumers to shape the way companies and governments address EMF exposure. One way is simply voting with our dollars.

I mentioned earlier that I certainly don’t need to use Bluetooth to connect a keyboard to my iPad when it’s literally touching the iPad. Why does it need to emit a signal that travels thirty feet?

I recently bought a wired keyboard for my iPad. It was hard to find, and I still needed to use an adapter. I shudder to think of a world where I don’t have that choice at all. What’s wrong with wires? Wires are fine.

Companies are starting to listen to our concerns about privacy. Look at how Apple started blocking tracking scripts on Safari. If we make it clear that we’re concerned about EMF exposure from our devices, companies have no choice but to listen.

I hope I was able to present this without you thinking that I’m completely nuts for believing that invisible waves that manage to emit signals that carry voices and images also can affect biological creatures. If you’re curious, I highly recommend the book, The Non-Tinfoil Guide to EMFs. I have to say, it’s one of the best-organized, thoroughly-researched, and easy-to-read books I’ve read in recent memory.

New Weekly Newsletter: Love Mondays

Start off each week with a dose of inspiration to help you make it as a creative. Sign up at:

Join the Patreon for (new) bonus content!

I've been adding lots of new content to Patreon. Join the Patreon »


Offgrid Mindfulness: Get 10% off the The Awake Mindfulness Clock when you use the code LOVEYOURWORK at Purchase by December 16th, and get a free travel case.

Subscribe to Love Your Work

Overcast Apple Stitcher RSS

Listen to the Podcast

Theme music: Dorena “At Sea”, from the album About Everything And More. By Arrangement with Deep Elm Records. Listen on Spotify »

Thinking of
writing a book?

How to Write a Book cover
Download your FREE copy of How to Write a Book »

(for a limited time)

This post is filed under Love Your Work Podcast.