Over the past decade, controversy has been building as to whether radiation from wireless devices like cellular and cordless phones can cause health problems ranging from insomnia to cancer. As a growing number of people are reporting symptoms such as dizziness, heart palpitations and digestive disturbances when exposed to various electromagnetic fields (EMFs), concerns have risen as to whether electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) is truly a hypersensitivity issue.
Researchers had hoped that the long-awaited Interphone Study results would help resolve the issue and assist authorities in determining whether current safety standards1 should be revised; however, the study results were deemed “inconclusive” due to biases and errors despite data that “heavy” cell phone use (30 minutes per day for 10 or more years) was linked to increased risk of cancer2. Other experts published the BioInitiative Report in 2007, through which evidence from a wide range of other studies was summarized to suggest that safety standards should be revised because electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from wireless technologies may cause non-thermal health effects like heart arrhythmias, insomnia, and immune system dysfunction. Most of the studies, though, have not demonstrated instantaneous or direct evidence of such negative health effects… until now, that is.
The Havas Study on EMFs and Heart Rate Variability (HRV)
In late 2010, Magda Havas, Ph.D, an electrosmog and electrosensitivity expert, published results of a groundbreaking study in the European Journal of Oncology which demonstrated that some wireless EMFs can adversely affect heart function. Using a NervExpress HRV Monitoring System and a Lifeforce UA-767 digital blood pressure monitor, Havas and her colleagues first measured baseline heart rate variability (HRV) and blood pressure in 25 generally healthy individuals. The researchers then continually monitored the subjects’ HRV and blood pressure during a series of exposures, in 3-minute intervals, to cordless phone base station emissions (2.4 GHz – which is about the same frequency as WiFi and microwave ovens).
The subjects, who had filled out wellness and EHS questionnaires prior to the physiological testing, were located approximately two feet from each base station and were unaware as to whether each base station was operative; background EMF was also carefully measured and accounted for. While 15 of the 25 did not demonstrate detectable cardiovascular changes in response to the EMF exposure, 10 of the subjects (40 percent) displayed increased heart rate, arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats, a.k.a. heart palpitations), or other disturbances in HRV. Four subjects experienced overt tachycardia, or intense and prolonged heart racing, after a second or two of exposure, with one subject’s heart almost tripling its rate. The 10 subjects with noticeable cardiovascular changes had HRV readings which evidenced strong increases in sympathetic nervous activity and decreases in parasympathetic activity.
HRV: a Diagnostic Test for EHS?
The finding that exposure to cordless phone EMF can directly impact heart rate and autonomic nervous system function may provide a groundbreaking diagnostic test for EHS. Cardiologists now use HRV to help determine whether a person is at risk of cardiovascular events due to too much stress. Chronic activation of the sympathetic nervous system branch and not enough parasympathetic activity also explains many of the symptoms EHS sufferers commonly report such as heart palpitations, dizziness, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and nausea. Until now, determining whether a person is electromagnetically hypersensitive has been a matter of speculation; use of HRV to physiologically measure stress levels brings a whole new dimension to EHS.
The Cardiologist’s Challenge
This picture, which appears at Emfnews.org, is a great example of how a myriad of stressors can impact the heart.
Wireless technology has brought a whole new set of issues to cardiology. Patient complaints of unexplained arrhythmias are usually attributed to “emotional stress,” though other behaviors or situations that can trigger or exacerbate arrhythmia include cigarette smoking, overeating, having too much caffeine, alcohol, or sugar, using stimulant or some prescription drugs, exposure to environmental toxins, magnesium deficiency, menopause, and competing in sports activities. Cardiologists now must add to this mix the possibility that overexposure to EMF is causing their patients’ hearts to go out of rhythm. In addition to conducting HRV tests, they need to ask patients about their technology usage patterns: do they use WiFi, cordless or cellular phones, or baby monitors? If so, for how long per day? Would they be willing to switch to land telephone and wired internet lines? How close do they live to cell phone towers?
As with chaotic wireless emissions, negative emotions such as panic, depression, anxiety and hostility – “bad vibes” - can negatively impact HRV. In addition to grounding, regularly practicing mind-body activities such as yoga, meditation and Tai Chi, and learning to breathe fully, can also help bring about states of greater relaxation and more variability in heart rate. Limiting exposure to wireless emissions is also advisable.
One of the simplest ways to improve HRV and increase parasympathetic nervous system activity is to ground. Making direct skin contact with the Earth’s electromagnetic field by standing barefoot on the Earth’s surface (grass, dirt, ocean, or on unpainted concrete) or use of a (professionally made) conductive device can help bring the autonomic nervous system back into balance by shifting activity in the parasympathetic direction. Through a recent study (Chevalier, et al.) of 27 subjects, researchers found that 2 hours of grounding resulted an increase in parasympathetic activity that went beyond relaxation, indicating a positive trend toward lowered stress and improved HRV.
1. The FCC established the most current safety standards limiting human exposure to RF energy in 1996. The agency adopted guidelines set forth in 1992 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE) and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP), after reviewing public comments as well as recommendations from the EPA, FDA and other federal health and safety agencies. The standards are solely based on risk of thermal health effects such as cancer, and do not account for possible non-thermal effects which may be behind the EHS phenomenon.
2. Data from the Interphone study showed that heavy cell phone use (defined as 30 minutes per day over a ten-year period) on the same side of the head is associated with increased risk of brain tumors. However, since other data showed the implausible result of reduced risk of brain cancer through some cell phone radiation exposure created, the study’s overall results were deemed biased and limited and researchers could not conclude that “heavy” cell phone use can increase a person’s risk of brain cancer.
- Goldman E. “Cordless Phone EMFs Trigger Heart Rhythm Abnormalities.” Holistic Primary Care, Winter 2010, Vol. 11 No. 4.
- Havas M, Marrongelle J, et al. Provocation study using heart rate variability shows microwave radiation from 2.4 GHz cordless phone affects autonomic nervous system. Eur. J. Oncol. Library Vol. 5, 2010.
- Sinatra J. "Cordless Phones: New Heart Risk Factor?" Blog.drsinatra.com, Mar. 3, 2011.
- Chevalier G, Sinatra ST, et. al. Emotional Stress, Heart Rate Variability, Grounding and Improved Autonomic Tone: Clinical Applications. Integr Med: A Clin. J, 2011;10(3):16-21.
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