By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
Some threats to your health are obvious. For example, you probably won’t find many people picnicking under the smokestacks at an industrial plant. Most everyone knows that the smoke spewed into the air contains chemicals and particle matter that could endanger health.
Other health threats, however, are far less obvious.
We live in an increasingly technological world. Today’s children and teens are exposed to smart phones, tablets, gaming systems, and other wireless electronic devices at a young age. Most of the time, these gadgets and gizmos provide fleeting moments of entertainment (and some respite for mom and dad!). But science is starting to show that constant and continued exposure could do far more harm than we ever imagined.
One of my biggest concerns has to do with the ubiquitous nature of Wifi (“wireless fidelity”). Rather than connecting to the Internet using wires or cables, Wifi uses radiofrequency signals (also referred to as electromagnetic or nonionizing radiation).
The convenience of Wifi has led to its explosive use in most homes and offices, as well as in schools, airports, restaurants, and coffee shops. Cities themselves are now wireless via “hot spots.”
All this convenience, however, may come at a cost. The more research that’s released exposing very real and very significant Wifi dangers, the less comfortable I am with going wireless. And I’m even more concerned for the most vulnerable population at stake—our babies and children.
Why Is Wifi Harmful?
With the ever-growing prevalence of Wifi, electropollution becomes a big health concern. This is the collective term for unseen, unfelt, and unnatural electromagnetic radiation. We get it from our computers, TVs, microwaves, smart meters, outside power lines, and even the wiring in the walls of our homes. The worst culprits, though, are wireless devices that we tend to carry with us at all times. Up to 90% of Americans carry cell phones everywhere they go—they are like extra appendages.
Electropollution from Wifi and other sources is especially problematic for children because they don’t have defense mechanisms to fight the effects of this constant threat. In fact, kids are more vulnerable to Wifi health effects and other electropollution than adults because they’re smaller, their skulls are thinner, and their brain tissues are far more absorbent. Research shows that children’s brains absorb twice as much electromagnetic radiation as adult brains.
Even unborn babies are prone to Wifi dangers in utero. A Yale study using mice showed that fetuses exposed to electromagnetic radiation were more hyperactive and had impaired memory due to altered neuron development.
And a study out of Korea that followed a group of 7- and 8-year-olds for five years found that those who used their cell phones for three or more minutes a day had a higher risk of ADHD.
The development of these and other neurological issues may be due to the deterioration of myelin, the insulating sheath around nerves. Myelin is vital for healthy nervous system functioning. Research suggests that overexposure to electromagnetic radiation could cause a breakdown of myelin or affect the proper firing of neurons in the brain. Fetuses and children (to at least their teen years) are most vulnerable.
In children and adolescents, constant exposure to electromagnetic radiation may also increase the risk of cancer. A Swedish study reported that when cell phone use began in the teen years or earlier, risk of brain cancer rose. Even more disturbing, these brain tumors often don’t show up until years—even decades—down the road.
Minimize Wifi Dangers
Given its questionable long-term safety, some school districts have started to forgo the use of Wifi in schools—a move I applaud. Think about it…Other than home, kids spend the majority of their time at school. That’s upwards of 30 to 40 hours a week they could potentially be exposed to unnecessary radiation!
In many other districts across the country (and even the world), parents, teachers, and other concerned administrators have called for a moratorium on Wifi. It takes time, determination, and a lot of support from the community and school boards, but this movement toward going Wifi-free is worth it to protect our children’s futures.
At home, there are several steps you can take to protect yourself from Wifi dangers.
I like to say “be productive without being self destructive.” By that, I mean that you can lessen your exposure to potential hazards without forcing yourself to live in the dark ages or “off the grid.”
Hold off giving your child a cell phone or other wireless devices as long as possible. My recommendation is around age 14. (I know this can be tough with peer pressure.) When your child does finally get that coveted phone, be sure to provide guidance on how to safely use it, and instill time limits for phone calls, games, and other apps. When not in use, have your child keep the phone in airplane mode; better yet, if he or she can keep it off most of the time.
Keep your landline. Many people are opting to ditch their landlines in favor of cell phones all the time. But old-fashioned phones with cords really are the safest bet if you plan to hold a phone to your ear for a long period of time. You can buy corded phones for as little as $6 these days! That’s what I’ve done in my own home. (Note that cordless phones emit a startling amount of radiation, so avoid them.)
Keep wireless devices away from your head. When chatting on your cell phone for more than a couple minutes, use the speaker function. If you need to hold the phone to your ear, switch sides consistently so that one side is not overexposed.
Get your computers wired. Having a bunch of Ethernet cables connected to your computer may not be the most visually appealing or convenient way to stay connected, but it’s the safer approach—and it also happens to be much faster and more secure than Wifi.
Text instead of call. Just checking in with your spouse or family member? Text rather than call for simple communications.
Keep laptops and tablets a good distance from your body. The general recommendation is about 8 inches away. This means no laptops on laps, especially for pregnant women! If you’re pregnant and have to use Wifi, I suggest using a belly blanket that protects your unborn child from the radiation – Belly Armor sells one that several members of my family have used.
To be clear, I am not shunning technology, and I don’t suggest you shun it either. I enjoy the convenience of modern devices as much as anyone, and I like being able to get in touch with my loved ones from any place and at any time. I am merely suggesting that, when it comes to the health of kids in particular, reducing exposure to electromagnetic radiation is a smart move. Until definitive science shows that wireless technology is totally safe and any published Wifi dangers have been overblown, I’d err on the side of caution.
- Morgan LL, Kesari S and Davis DL. Why children absorb more microwave radiation than adults: The consequences. J Microsc. 2014;2:197-204.
- Gandhi OP, Lazzi G and Furse CM. Electromagnetic Absorption in the Human Head and Neck for Mobile Telephones at 835 and 1900 MHz. IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory and Techniques. 1996;44:1884-1897.
- Aldad TS, et al. Fetal Radiofrequency Radiation Exposure From 800-1900 Mhz-Rated Cellular Telephones Affects Neurodevelopment and Behavior in Mice. Sci Rep. 2012;2:312.
- Byun Y-H, et al. Mobile Phone Use, Blood Lead Levels, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Symptoms in Children: A Longitudinal Study. PloS One. 2013;8(3).
- Redmayne M and Johansson O. Could myelin damage from radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure help explain the functional impairment electrohypersensitivity? A review of the evidence. J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2014;17(5):247-58.
- Hardell L and Carlberg M. Mobile phones, cordless phones and the risk for brain tumours. Int J Oncol. 2009;35:5-17.
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