The exponential expansion of internet access via wireless ‘connectivity’, including on mobile phones (“smartphones”) has enabled people to communicate rapidly and to exchange information irrespective of their geographical location. For example, I received photographs of my nephew within five hours of his birth in Australia; and I cannot recall whether I was in London (where I lived) or in Brighton (where I then worked) when I received them, or possibly on the train between the two. This has opened up new possibilities for working life, especially in remote areas; for international professional collaboration or ‘remote working teams’, and for families, friends and partners to stay in touch when they are apart.
However, it has created a pressure for 24/7 availability which easily makes people feel they are never ‘off duty’, this constant availability can also at least at times be tiring and stressful. Easily one is bombarded with communications, but deprived of face to face interaction, of warmth, of human touch. Like Burberry’s famous checked lining fabric, the internet has gone from a small specialised following (technophiles and academics) to the mass market, with an accompanying downgrading of the quality of content. Unpleasant occurrences of hostility from persons unknown are now a routine feature of ‘public’ life, generating a kind of electronic mob rule, often causing severe distress to those bullied in this way.
An increasing number of people are also reporting sensitivity reactions to the electromagnetic radiations involved. There is also concern about long term risks, in particular of increased incidence of brain cancers. The World Health Organisation has classified wifi as a Class 2b carcinogen, and there are demands for this to be upgraded, most recently following a large scale study on rodents in the USA, which confirmed its carcinogenicity to be of class 1 severity. Although it remains controversial in the UK and some other countries, there are proposals that electromagnetic sensitivity (EMS) constitutes a new neurological syndrome. Sweden leads the way in recognising this condition, where those affected are considered to have a functional disability and receive various assistance in managing their condition. Unsurprisingly, some of the important research comes from that country; knowledge is also emanating from Canada and from Germany, suggesting a possibility that the condition may be more prevalent in northerly latitudes.
It is estimated that at least 35% of the population has some sensitivity to EMF; that this will rise to 50%; that 4- 10% of the population are severely affected; that at least 2,000 people in the UK are too unwell to work due to this condition; that the effects are more severe when children and young people are exposed than adults; that the brain is (much) more susceptible during sleep than in waking hours.
Typical symptoms produced include severe migraine-type headaches; electric shock like pains in brain, heart and muscles; severe fatigue; disturbed sleep, waking between 3 and 6 am; alternation between feeling ‘hyper’ and total lack of energy; feeling as of a blow or kick to the head; stupefaction; persistent severe nausea; metallic taste in the mouth (worse if metal dental fillings are present); dry,itching skin, feeling of burning heat all over (may be worse at night); disturbance of vision / eyesight; outbursts of anger/rage; inability to think coherently, difficulty speaking coherently; lack of motivation; reduced ability to solve problems or to be creative.
Above all else, the most useful diagnostic is that a multiplicity of unpleasant and potentially serious symptoms disappear within a very short time (minutes if not hours, or even instantly) upon visiting an EMF free location or if in a Faraday cage. Failing this, using screening e.g. sleeping in a protective bed canopy brings instant or near instant relief. All sources of EMF (electromagnetic fog) under one’s own control – e.g. home WiFi, mobile or cordless phones, baby alarms/monitors should be switched off. It should be remembered that many household appliances and devices may now use wireless technologies, such as thermostatic controls for central heating, doorbell extensions, burglar alarms and other security equipment. Further confirmation is that sleeping protected from/ away from EMF brings huge improvement and that after three consecutive nights in such conditions there is sustained improvement.
Estimates of incidence and prevalence are likely to be downplaying significantly the impact of this condition, as it is not always known or recognised, and several misdiagnoses are likely: fibromylagia; migraine including cluster migraine; chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), also referred to as myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME); virtually any mental health condition but especially bipolar disorder or major depression; those with less severe symptoms could be described as suffering from stress, anxiety, skin disorders or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). An older person might be considered to have early stage dementia, unaware that neurological symptoms may be reversible in a different environment. There is also evidence that EMF may contribute to or accelerate the progress of dementia. When a proportion of those with these diagnoses is added to those known explicitly to have electrosensitivity or electrostress, the prevalence of this adverse influence is thrown into starker relief.
Consideration of the biological mechanisms involved in Electrosensitivity is helpful in explaining the symptoms that can occur. Research has shown that exposure to EMF can disrupt physiology in the following ways:
i) opening of the blood / brain barrier;
ii) inflammation, with raised levels of histamine (an inflammatory marker), released from mast cells (multiple chemical allergy is a co-morbidity sometimes present, with overlapping pathophysiology);
iii) disruptive action on calcium channels in cell membranes, leading to increased intracellular calcium and disrupted metabolic pathways as a result.
iv) disrupted levels of hormones and neurotransmitters:
a) Melatonin reduction – hence disturbed sleep patterns, disturbed circadian rhythms.
Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in response to falling light levels. EMF (and blue light from mobile phones and computer screens) suppresses the production of this, making sleep more difficult. Waking between 3 and 6 AM is especially characteristic. The low levels of this then in turn trigger reduced levels of dopamine (q.v.), leading to wakefulness but stupor; high levels of serotonin (q.v.) then contribute restlessness with shooting pains to create a very unpleasant state.
b) Serotonin elevation
The effects of increased serotonin are as if the parasympathetic nervous system is overstimulated relative to the sympathetic nervous system – hence lowered blood pressure, dizziness, increased activity of gut and bladder, sleepiness/lethargy. However there are also shooting or shock-like pains in the head and in the muscles.
c) Dopamine reduction
Dopamine boosts motivation, drive, focus and concentration. Low dopamine levels can lead to lack of motivation, lethargy, stupor; difficulty with thinking clearly, solving problems, being creative, learning and memory.
The alternation or combination seen in Electrosensitivity of restlessness but lack of either focus as to how to direct action or energy to see action through may well reflect raised serotonin but depleted dopamine in the brain in response to exposure to microwave type radiations. Low dopamine levels in EMS may be the result of the opening of the blood/brain barrier with resulting loss of dopamine from the CNS.
Treatment and Management
The mainstay of alleviating this condition is avoiding further exposure to EMF by means of either spending time in an EMF free location; moving to live in such a location; or using shielding and protective measures (such as carbon- or nickel-containing paints and wallpapers; and fabrics containing metal fibres with shielding properties in bed canopies, curtains, and clothing); whilst minimising emissions produced in one’s own home environment (e.g. by avoiding the use of mobile phones or other wireless devices; by using wired internet connections not wifi). In particular, sleeping in a protected or EMF-free environment is very important; the organism has greater susceptibility to EMF during sleep. Protected night time conditions therefore have a double benefit; the body is protected when most vulnerable, and sleep should improve, leading to improved vitality and well being.
It is widely recommended that this should be combined with measures to improve health, for example with nutritional measures such as increased intake of Omega 3, 6 oils and of magnesium (the latter can be obtained from soaking in baths of magnesium salts such as Epsom salts, dead sea salts or Himalayan salts); consumption of anti-oxidants and of substances with anti-inflammatory actions. A definitive nutriceutical regime has been developed in Paris by Prof Dominique Belpomme, which uses variously ginko biloba or fermented papaya to stimulate revascularisation of the temporal lobes of the brain, alongside antihistamines and an individually prescribed programme of nutritional supplements often including B12. Its recommendations overlap with those of Prof Martin Pall of the University of Washington. Fermented papaya is in addition to the effects on vascularity a powerful anti-oxidant. Earlier approaches have advocated vitamin C as an anti-oxidant, for example immediately following exposure, but where available fermented papaya would now be considered more powerful. Green tea has also been widely used for its antioxidant effects.
However although this regime has produced clinically verified improvements in pathophysiology, at least a proportion of Electrosensitive patients continue to suffer unpleasant and even disabling symptoms despite using it. The need for EMF reduction in the environment is likely to remain, and suggestions are now emerging that certain individuals have a genetic intolerance of EMF, being susceptible to its adverse effects at a lower than average threshold. However if the dose exposure is high enough, a larger number of individuals will be harmed, raising the possibility that if EMF continues to expand the entire population may be affected adversely.
Dr Williams thanks the Society of Authors (UK) for its kind support for the writing of this article.
Copyright 2020, Dr Juliet Williams
Dr Juliet Williams qualified MB BS from Kings College London in 1989 and has taught at Bristol University’s medical school (home to leading UK experts on electromagnetic radiation Professor Dennis Henshaw and Dr Andrew Tresidder) and on many other health-related courses. She has a long standing interest in environmental influences on health and is now a specialist adviser on environmental illness. To increase her knowledge of the effects of radiation and how to help people mitigate these, she successfully completed EMF Experts’ consultancy training, winning the Blue Ribbon top in her group and becoming the first EMF Experts Consultant in Britain.
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