There is no doubt that we all benefit from the electrical innovations that are all around us. From the lights above us to the convenient outlets we plug into to power everything from the blenders we use to make our daily shakes to the stoves that help us create delicious, healthy dinners to the TVs we watch (maybe too much) to the computers that keep us informed and educated about the changing world around us, we can thank inventors like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison who paved the path to us to being more productive than could have ever been imagined by past generations.
That’s not to mention the ubiquitous smart phones in virtually every hand that keep us connected to friends, family, work, and community 24/7. It’s not just our phones; our homes can also be “smart” and help deliver information faster, monitor the temperature, turn lights on and off, and connect to energy grids and solar panels to save money. We have access to improved Bluetooth technology, and virtually anything can be controlled remotely—from those ever-present cellphones.
And how many of us have added smart speakers to our homes to play music, news, or sports; tell us the weather or traffic conditions; set a timer; update a grocery list; and so much more all with a simple voice command?
Our lives can be vastly expanded and improved by the technical innovations that have been powered by electricity and delivered easily — often with no wires to trip over. Yet, is there a dark side to the electricity that powers life as we know it? Is electricity “dirty?” Is dirty electricity real? And what is it anyway? Perhaps most importantly, if there are potential dangers, are there any steps or actions we can take to protect and/or detoxify our homes and bodies to allow us to take advantage of all the benefits of the power around us with limited downside?
Without pulling out a foil hat, we wanted to see if dirty electricity is a conspiracy theory to be debunked or if there’s real science to support the need for protection. And if so, what are the most cost-effective solutions to protect and detoxify our homes and our bodies for optimal health?
What is Dirty Electricity?
The term most often associated with dirty electricity is “EMF,” short for electromagnetic field, which is a low-energy, non-ionizing radiation. This occurs when the electric and magnetic fields are joined together to act as one. Interestingly, these EMFs “have a wave character in short frequency” yet behave as a magnetic field in longer frequencies. To be clear, exposure to EMF has always existed—the sun delivers EMF, for example.
Yet, with increased demands to power our lives and advancing technologies, we’re being exposed to more and more artificial sources every single day. These man-made EMFs — often called “non-native EMFs” — are generated from everything from power cables (both industrial and household) to appliances to mobile phones to broadcasting towers (which can have frequencies of hundreds of MHz). The strength of the super low frequency EMF is, not surprisingly, highest near the power supply (such as powerlines) and then decreases as the distance increases.
Quite simply, today, we as a society are being exposed to rapidly increasing amount of EMFs from a variety sources ranging in frequencies from 3 to 3,000 Hz. And extremely low frequency (ELF) EMFs are part of everyday life.
Is Dirty Electricity Dangerous?
Studies designed to see if EMF may be a risk factor for health have led to controversial results. When it comes to the potential for DNA damage and increased cancer risk, one of the reasons for the dirty electricity controversy stems from the difficulty in controlling for the huge variabilities of exposure in these fields.
On the other hand, EMFs are also widely used in healthcare for both diagnosis (e.g., MRI and microwave imaging) and therapy (e.g., pulsed electromagnetic fields, or PEMF, which is used to increase oxygen levels in blood and reduce pain, inflammation, and fatigue and stimulate healing) for everything from psychiatry to orthopedics to dermatology. Studies have found, for example, that short-term PEMF may improve cell survival and reduce damage.
One thing that is becoming clear from preliminary in vitro (e.g., test tube) research is that exposure to EMFs does appear to change the way cells behave depending on the frequencies and amount of exposure. You see, our bodies are powered by tiny electrical currents. For one example, our nerve cells transmit signals using electrical impulses. And most of our normal biochemical reactions within are bodies—from digestion to brain activity—are due to the rearrangement of electrically charged particles. Again, we are constantly exposed to ever-increasing rates of dirty electricity from:
- Smart Meters
- Cell Towers
- Wi-Fi Routers and Devices (including household smart tech)
- Electrical Wiring
- Dimmer Switches
- Radiant Electrical Heating
- Our Neighbor’s EMF Emissions
How Dirty Electricity Can Affect Your Health
The results of the studies on EMF exposure have been contradictory and controversial, with some indicating increased health risk and others indicating no change from the controls, making it difficult for researchers as well as the average person to quantify the risks. It is believed that the potential hazards differ depending on the strength, the type of wave, and the frequency. And as we’ve said time and again, individual differences apply, as some people appear to be much more sensitive to certain types of EMFs than others.
Here are some of the potential risks that may be related to exposure to dirty electricity according to studies (although more research is needed before any definitive statements can be made, many national and international health organizations — including the World Health Organization — warn against the potential dangers of non-native EMF exposure):
- Neurodegenerative Disease (e.g., Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS). Workers with higher EMF exposure have an increased risk for neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s. According to one study in Denmark, utility workers exposed to above average levels of EMF experienced excess mortality (death) from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS/Lou Gehrig’s Disease). This increase may have been due to repeated electric shocks while working.
- Decreased Fertility. Both in vivo (i.e., inside the body) and in vitro (i.e., outside the body) studies have demonstrated that “EMF exposure can alter cellular homeostasis, endocrine function, reproductive function, and fetal development…” This is one area of research that seems to be the most conclusive, and considering that EMFs may negatively affect reproductive health (including fertility), to be safe, guys and gals, please don’t store your cell phone in your pants pockets and don’t work with your laptop on your lap.
- DNA Damage and Increased Cancer Risk. EMF exposure has been considered a possible carcinogen with links to leukemia in kids, typically associated with continued exposure to appliances that produce high electric and magnetic fields concurrently. Other research has indicated increased risks for adult workers with high levels of EMF exposure. Yet other research has indicated that the exposure EMFs did not appear to increase the risk of brain cancer.
- Depression. While a greater understanding is needed, researchers found that severe depression increased 4.7-fold for people living within 100 meters of high-voltage powerlines. Other research in parts of the midlands of England found that there’s a relationship between suicide rates and EMF from overhead powerlines.
- Decreased Attention. Though this is not a disease state, inability to focus can have negative consequences on productivity and quality of life. A study by Trimmel and Schweiger found that when exposed to ELF and EMF, immediate reductions in mental performance including attention, perception, and memory were found in all of their study subjects and especially in folks who were self-reported sensitive to EMF.
Other symptoms both researchers and advocates for more research have reported include:
- Insomnia/sleep disturbance
- Unexplained body pain
- Ringing or buzzing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Brain fog
- Weakened immunity
- Hormonal imbalances
8 Ways to Detoxify Our Homes and Bodies from Dirty Electricity
Even if we can’t feel it, science is showing that we can all be affected by dirty electricity on some level because our bodies are electric devices as well. Every cell in our bodies—including our nervous systems—operate using tiny electric signals. And we’re putting an exponential amount of invisible, odorless, and tasteless microwave radiation into our environments.
So, it may be prudent to take a few steps to protect our homes and bodies from excessive exposure to non-native EMFs, especially if you are experiencing some of the reported effects of EMF exposure mentioned above. Some of the simplest, most cost-effective ways to protect against dirty electricity include:
- Making use of electrical outlet timers. You already know how important quality sleep is, and EMFs have been shown to potentially disrupt sleep. Plus, your home Wi-Fi router is one of the biggest sources of dirty electricity in your home. One simple and inexpensive solution (with a cost of around $10 to $20) is to purchase an electric outlet timer to plug your router into. Then simply set it up to turn off the router power when you and your family go to sleep and automatically turn back on in time for your day to start. If you enjoy listening to books or podcasts before bed, just make sure you download them beforehand and then put your device on airplane mode.
- Sleeping soundly. Speaking of sleeping, you may also enhance your nighttime rest by unplugging everything (yep, everything) in the bedroom at night. That includes leaving your cellphone or tablet in another room and keeping other electronics out of the room. If you need an alarm clock, choose one that’s battery powered, and don’t leave it next to your head. Some advocates even recommend turning off the entire circuit breaker in the bedrooms at night. (Just keep a flashlight available in case of an emergency.)
- Getting wired. While going wireless is convenient, if your goal is to limit your exposure to dirty electricity, forget wireless and get plugged in. Shielded ethernet cables (Cat 6a SSTP is typically recommended) are available for just $15 to $30 and can be as long as 50 feet. Then you can easily turn off your Wi-Fi router without losing connection. If you want to invest more, you can have ethernet cables installed in any room you want to connect. In addition, avoid using a wireless keyboard or mouse. Save on batteries and EMF exposure by using wired versions. And if you can, opt out of smart homes/smart meters as they’re really not necessary.
- Unplugging. There are many appliances in our homes that get used for just a couple of minutes every day (hey there, blender), yet if they’re left plugged in throughout the day, they continue to emit low levels of EMFs even when they aren’t in use. They also continue to use energy, which you’re paying for, so unplugging limited-use appliances makes sense on more than one level.
- Changing your cellphone habits. Because the cellphone is kept close to the body and is public enemy number one for most people when it comes to dirty electricity exposure, when it’s not in use, it’s recommended to keep it in airplane mode. In addition, avoid placing your phone directly to your head—use the speaker phone or a headset (not Bluetooth) instead or just use your phone for texting rather than talking. And again, avoid carrying a cellphone in your pocket or bra when not in airplane mode.
- Generating the negative. Ions can be positively charged (more protons than electrons) or negatively charged (more electrons than protons). In nature, we see more negative ions than positive ions. So, to help our homes become more like nature, many people advocate using negative ion generators. For $20 to $30, you can purchase a negative ion generator to plug in to the wall to increase negative ions in your home.
- Getting grounded. Take regular breaks away from your computer, and if possible, go stand outside in the grass (preferably barefoot) to get grounded. In addition, you’ll enjoy more exposure to those negative ions from nature that may help increase serotonin levels, relieve stress, and boost daytime energy. Taking walks in nature is even better. Try to spend at least 20 minutes outside daily for optimal results.
- Bringing the outside in. Plants provide numerous benefits, including air purification and possibly (again, it’s controversial) helping protect against dirty electricity. Some plants to consider for their ease of care and potential protection include aloe, cactus, rubber plant, spider plant, snake plant, and stone lotus flower.
Dirty Electricity: A Recap
Is the matrix real? Will we discover our addiction to technology is damaging our bodies and our planet? Those types of questions are too difficult for us to address as we simply don’t have all the necessary information.
We do know that our exposure to non-native EMFs has gone up exponentially, we know our cells are affected by this dirty electricity, and we know there are potential, if not probable, risks, including DNA damage, sleep disruption, and fertility problems. So, while the research and education surrounding this topic is in its relative infancy, you don’t need to wear a foil hat to wonder if EMFs are safe. There’s enough evidence over the last few years to take this seriously enough to at least take precautions, especially those of us with children. At worst, we’ll save some cash by decreasing our energy consumption. At best, we may be making our homes safer and less toxic, our sleep sounder, and helping optimize our health.