I wrote here on what EMFs (Electromagnetic Fields) are, and here on their potential damage to mitochondria. Dr Mosley wrote here on the studies of various types of physical damage associated with EMFs, and how that translates to the current concern over 5G.

But how to you know if your EMF exposure is “high” or not? How do you minimize your exposure?

When we talk about EMF, What Do We Mean?

Let’s back up a bit and get down to the nitty gritty details. Discussions of EMF comprise three components, and you have to know a little bit about them all in order to answer this question, as they build on each other. Bear with me; there will be a little bit of physics here, but not a lot. (I’ll also include some “asides” with more detail that *I* think are so interesting I couldn’t resist throwing them in, but feel free to skip them—you should still get the gist.)

The Electric Field

An electric field is just the disparity of charge between one object and another, measured in volts (which is potential energy). When this electric field encounters a conductive material (like a copper wire, or even water with electrolytes in it), the flow of current occurs. 

Aside: The air is considered a poor conductor. And yet, lightning occurs when water droplets encounter one another via convection, high up in the atmosphere, exchanging charge. Most lightning stays up in the clouds, but when the charge disparity gets high enough, even the air becomes a good enough conductor for it to discharge to the ground. Many of us in Tucson saw this happen several weeks ago, as the inciting incident of the Bighorn fire!

Electric fields are measured in volts per meter (V/m). Physical objects block electric fields quite well, particularly metal, and the volts per meter diminish exponentially with distance from the source… so electric fields alone are not usually a big health problem.

The Current

Current is usually thought of as electrons. But in alternating current, which changes polarity (or direction) dozens of times per second at least, it’s also waves.

Aside: This is one of the bizarre tenets of quantum physics: energy behaves like particles when you’re looking at it, and like waves when you’re not. If this intrigues you (as I think it should!), I’d encourage researching the famous Double Slit Experiment.

Because of this phenomenon, frequency, which refers to how often the polarity of the current changes, is actually a description of the current itself. How fast the frequency alternates is another way to describe the strength, or energy, of the current. Waves of current in order of increasing frequency are: radiowaves, cell phones, wifi/bluetooth, microwaves, infrared (far, mid, near), visible light, UV light, x-rays, and finally gamma rays.

All of these waves are technically called “radiation,” because the wave “radiates” out from the source of the electric field (and thus, they’re all technically considered light!) But it’s only considered ionizing radiation beyond visible light. Those waves are so strong that they can actually break chemical bonds, which is why they’re dangerous in large quantities.

Aside #1: an ion is an atom or compound with an electrical charge on it, either positive or negative. Chemical bonds occur between positively and negatively charged ions so that they become electrically neutral–every atom wants to achieve neutrality. When the bond gets broken, the ions are freed, and their charges return.

Aside #2: but aren’t infrared saunas good for you? Answer: yes, there are many proven health benefits. But infrared is still an RF wave, and will therefore still produce EMF—see below. So how do you get the health benefits without significant EMF exposure? If you have an at-home infrared sauna that plugs into the outlet, you can demonstrate with a gauss meter that the EMF declines exponentially the further you move away from the source. Even though there isn’t a lot of space in there, if you just scoot the chair all the way forward, EMF exposure drops dramatically. (They also sell low-EMF personal saunas, but they are considerably pricier, and I’m not sure if they work or not. I’ve purchased some of the products marketed to block EMF and tried them with my gauss meter: no change. I can’t find an explanation of how the low-EMF saunas work, though; perhaps it’s via a different technology than the EMF blockers I’ve tried.) If you’re using a public infrared sauna, there’s usually considerably more space in there; if you’re not right next to the heating unit, EMF should not be a problem. 

Aside #3: when we say X-rays and CT scans impart “radiation”, yet MRIs do not, we’re talking about ionizing radiation. The frequency of X-rays are strong enough to ionize, or to break chemical bonds and free ions that were previously bound. MRIs run via a microwave current only, which is not strong enough to be ionizing. MRIs can get away with this because the microwave current runs through a superconductor, cooled down with liquid nitrogen. This means very low friction, making the current much more efficient at producing a massive magnetic field… see below.

Current (frequency) is measured in hertz (Hz). The number indicates how many times per second the current changes polarity, or direction. Wavelength is measured in meters, and it indicates the distance between the crests of each wave—so the higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength.

Yet another aside: In the late 19th century, Tesla and Edison fought the war of the currents. Tesla espoused alternating current, while Edison pushed for direct current. Tesla won, and alternating current is what’s used the world over. This mostly has to do with financial efficiency: alternating current is much cheaper to deliver over long distances than direct current.

The Magnetic Field (The Actual EMF)

The flow of current produces a magnetic field, perpendicular to the direction of the current’s flow.

Aside: a magnetic field is not so much about charge, as it is direction of the spin of the electrons. Electrons always like to pair off, and they specifically like to pair off in opposite spin directions, called ‘spin up’ and ‘spin down.’ This renders them magnetically neutral. But if you have a single unpaired electron, the direction of its spin indicates the direction of the magnetic field. If all unpaired electrons in an object line up in the same direction, now you have a magnet. This can happen in a natural magnet, such as iron, when exposed to a strong magnetic field that causes all the electrons to line up in a single direction… but a current flow has a similar effect on the surrounding electrons in its vicinity. Think of it sort of like the wind tunnel created by a speeding object, by way of analogy: suddenly all the surrounding air molecules want to go the same direction.)

The greater the current, the stronger the magnetic field… and therefore the higher the frequency, the stronger the magnetic field also.

This is a problem because, as I wrote in my original article on EMF, the magnetic field (which is what we technically mean when we talk about EMF), itself produced by a current, will in turn induce a current in our bodies, making the ions (charged particles) flow downward toward the negatively charged earth. This influence increases, with increasing strength of the magnetic field. Since our bodies are largely run by ionic gradients, this is potentially problematic—hence all the studies listed here on known non-thermic (non-heat related) EMF effects on the body.

Aside: the sun of course produces visible light, which is pretty high on the frequency continuum, and super enormous. What about *its* EMF? The sun does indeed produce an enormous magnetic field that reaches to the outer edges of the solar system. This would be a big problem, except that the earth also has a magnetic field that repels the sun’s “solar wind.” Since the charged particles in the sun’s magnetosphere are attracted to our magnetic poles, they accumulate in the north and south poles and when they interact with oxygen and nitrogen in our atmosphere. This interaction triggers the release of visible light in varying wavelengths, producing what we call the aurora borealis, or the Northern Lights. (Thanks, God!)

Like electric fields, the strength of magnetic fields decrease exponentially with distance from its source. But unlike electric fields, physical barriers do little to attenuate the strength of magnetic fields. Unfortunately.

Magnetic fields are measured in tesla (after the champion of alternating current), or in gauss, where 10,000 gauss = 1 tesla. Most EMF meters measure in gauss.

Measuring EMF

As I just mentioned, there is a way to measure how much EMF you’re exposed to. They’re called gauss meters, though they’re not super cheap. This is the one I have. (Disclaimer: all the links here are affiliate links.)  It measures all three: EF, RF, and EMF, and it’s very eye-opening: you can see just how rapidly both EF and EMF drop with just a little bit of distance from the source. It can encourage you to make little adjustments, such as keeping your distance from electronic objects when they’re plugged in (or at least scooting as far away from the outlet as possible), or turning off your wifi at night if the EMF is high in your home.

If you take it outside (ideally barefoot!), you should see the RF drop to zero and the EF close to zero, even if the wifi still reaches you and the EMF stays the same. Take it way out off the grid and you can see, in part, why being out in nature makes you feel so good!