Many small companies are making claims about protective discs and pocketing more than petty cash.
The BioElectric Shield offers protection against electromagnetic radiation and “other people’s energy.” All you need to do is wear a necklace, which comes in four levels and costs from $207 to $5,227. For boys and men, there’s a wristband. How do you know if you need one? The company says you’re a candidate if you use a cell phone or laptop, live in a city of more than 35,000 or if you get headaches and have anxiety or other physical problems. Um, so that’s pretty much every American. And there are loads of companies hawking various products with similar claims. Some suggest setting your water on their patterned coaster to make it safe. Others want you to wear a bracelet. Yet another offers a tower of quartz crystals for EMF (electromagnetic fields) protection or “gridding your home.” Could this possibly be a scam?
What is EMF?
Nearly everyone is exposed to artificial electromagnetic fields. Cell phones, routers, Bluetooth devices, microwave ovens and power lines all produce electromagnetic radiation. There are two main kinds: ionizing (x-rays, radon and other high-frequency forms) and non-ionizing (radio waves and very low frequency waves). Radiation is made of light particles that travel in a wave pattern at the speed of light. You can’t hear them or see them. Your own body gives off this energy at a very low frequency.
Limiting Risk From Cell Phone Emissions
Decreasing your exposure to electromagnetic emissions is possible, and it’s not difficult. A little physics lesson is in order here, but it’s quick and easy. Radiation is exponentially reduced the farther you are from it. Its strength decreases as you move away from the source. If you are 2 inches away, you get one-fourth the amount of radiation compared to being 1 inch away. If you move the device 4 inches away from your body, then you get 1/16 the amount of radiation. It doesn’t have to be far away to dramatically reduce the radiation you receive. Knowing that, here are tips to limit your exposure:
One caveat: The specific absorption rate (SAR) of a phone is the maximum radiation a human body absorbs when it’s transmitting. Since all U.S. phones are tested and have to comply with Federal Communications Commission (FCC) SAR standards, you might think it would be easy to choose a low-emissions phone by comparing SAR ratings. However, the worst-case value doesn’t necessarily reflect absorption during actual use, so it’s not recommended to use for comparison. However, there is more information from the FCC about SAR.
We know that ionizing radiation, the kind in ultraviolet sunlight, X-rays and nuclear explosions, is dangerous. It carries enough energy to break or alter your DNA, which is one of the ways cancer can start. But what about non-ionizing radiation that is much lower in power, such as radio waves and the waves from your cell phone?
Scientists have done a lot of testing, and the results are inconclusive. Researchers have conducted experiments on lab animals and cells exposed to radiation, and they have completed observational studies in many populations. Do heavy cell phone users have more health problems, such as higher rates of brain cancer, than lighter users? There has been no definitive proof that cell phone radiation harms human health.
Three extensive studies have inspected the relationship between head and neck cancer with cell phone use. None of them could find conclusive, consistent evidence of a link, but there were slight upticks in a few cancers in certain subsets of the studies. Other research has looked to see if any of these cancers has increased since the advent of cell phone use. An analysis of the incidence of cancer in the U.S. between 1993 and 2013 found no change in the incidence of malignant central nervous system cancers among children aged 0 to 19 years.
The only biological effect of radiofrequency radiation in humans is heating (such as what happens in your microwave). Your ear and head will become warmer when you hold a cell phone up for a call, but not enough to measurably increase body temperature. That said, it doesn’t hurt to be cautious.
There is no research that defines a threshold where radiofrequency signals pose no threat, according to Jerry Phillips, Ph.D. and a professor of biochemistry at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.
When you call, text or use data, your phone sends and receives data pinging between its antenna and the closest cell towers, explains Leeka Kheifets, Ph.D. and a professor of epidemiology at the UCLA School of Public Health. Radiation from Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices is similar to that of cell phones, falling somewhere between the radiation levels from FM radios and microwave ovens. But the distance Bluetooth and Wi-Fi has to travel tends to be short, say, between your router and laptop or between your wireless speaker and your smartphone. So the radio frequency can be transmitted at a lower power than that needed for your cell phone. Lower power reduces the effect radiation might have on living tissue.
Another plus for most Bluetooth devices and routers: They aren’t held against your head while you use them. “Distance is your friend,” says Kheifets. He recommends using Bluetooth headphones rather than holding a cell phone up to your ear for calls, or turning on speakerphone to put space between your body and the phone, because Bluetooth headphones have a weaker signal.
Exposure from a single home router may be small, but the effect is less certain in places where multiple routers and dozens of laptops are on at the same time, such as in a school. Children may be more vulnerable to radiation exposure. Some U.S. schools have worked to mitigate possible effects. In 2016, the Maryland State Department of Education issued recommendations to limit exposure, and Wi-Fi is not allowed in French nursery schools.
Do Necklaces and Wristbands Work?
According to the Federal Trade Commission, there is no scientific proof that electromagnetic “shields” significantly reduce exposure. Products that block the earpiece or any part of your phone may even be harmful if they interfere with the phone’s signal, because they’ll cause the phone to draw more power to keep in touch with the base station, possibly increasing radiation. However, there are many practical things you can do to reduce radiation. We’ve made a helpful list in the sidebar, and each suggestion is free. It’s always wise to look at what the science says about possible dangers and act accordingly. Just beware of scammers who count on your ignorance to entice you to put money in their pockets.
Click below for the other articles in the September 2019 Senior Spirit
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