Scientists have found that the electromagnetic radio frequencies from cell phones and routers can harm the health of nearby plants. What does this say about the effects of EMFs upon our health?
The research on electromagnetic radiation has been all over the place, and its hard to make a clear case on safety. Research that has focused upon cancer had been difficult to nail down, though there have been some clear indications that certain types of electromagnetic radiation definitely increase the risk of cancer.
There is definite clarity with regard to ionizing radiation. But what about the supposed non-ionizing radiation, including those from cell phones and wireless routers?
Reports of fatigue and brain fog
Certainly there are many documented cases of people feeling fatigue and brain fog when they are in the midst of this type of radiation. WLAN radiation from wireless routers is real, as it transmits gigabites worth of information from the router to our laptops, pads and smartphones. This data is sneaking right by us and through our bodies as it travels on top of the radiation waves – a frequency of radiowave called microwaves.
The same goes for GSM radiation – which cell phones use to transmit voice data as well as text data.
But is there a scientific basis for adverse effects felt from cell phone and wireless router radiation? Could it be psychological – based upon the person’s understanding that the radiation is occurring around them?
At least part of this question may be answered by a recent study that was published in the science journal Plant Physiology.
Plants react to wireless radiowaves
In the study, researchers from Romania’s Estonian University of Life Sciences determined that a plant’s health and metabolism will be significantly changed by this sort of radiation – utilized by routers and cell phones.
The scientists tested three garden plants: Parsley (Petroselinum crispum), celery (Apium graveolens), and dill weed (Anethum graveolens). They exposed each plant to the microwave radiation matching the GSM from cell phones and the WLAN radiation waves (also microwaves) typically originating from wireless routers.
The researchers also set up control plants of these species – that were not exposed to the radiation. They were otherwise maintained the same as the plants exposed to the radiation.
Those plants that were exposed to the radiation turned out to have a number of differences in their physiological structure and condition compared to the plants not exposed to the radiation:
- The radiation-exposed plants had thinner cell walls
- The exposed plants had smaller photosynthesis organelles (called chloroplasts) – which allow the plant to convert sunlight into energy
- They also had smaller cell mitochondria in their cells – which produce energy.
- The radiation-exposed plants also changed the production of monoterpenes and certain other volatile oils.
WLAN responses greater than GSM responses
The researchers found that these physiological and metabolic changes were greater for plants exposed to the router WLAN radiation. The GSM cell phone radiation wasn’t as harsh on the plants.
But interestingly, the essential oil production of the plants was changed differently by the two types of radiation. The router WLAN radiation decreased essential oil production but the GSM radiation from cell phones was found to increase the essential oil production among the plants.
Because these oils are typically antifungal and antibacterial, and are produced by plants as part of their defense mechanisms, the different responses may well indicate a fine line between a plant responding to a threat and actually being damaged or weakened by that threat.
This defense mechanism – of adapting to environmental stress, has been observed in other research with plants. For example, research from the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic found that plants modulated their metabolism in order to adapt to urban stressors such as pollution and soil damage.
What about the human physiology?
Our immune systems do something similar as they respond to threats. Our immune cells will ignite an inflammatory response against an invading element – be it bacterial, viral or even a foreign type of radiation.
But then if the threat cannot be fought off and eliminated, the body will begin to adapt to the agent by changing its metabolism in some respect. This may take place in various forms, some healthy and some not – including cancer.
As this experience with plants’ response to the radiation relates to the human physiology combined with our experience – primarily with little or no obvious response to these forms of radiation in most cases: Is that our bodies have quietly adapting to these forms of radiation, perhaps with subtle changes in our metabolism.
These changes may not be super obvious to most of us, but then again they might be more obvious to a person who either has a weaker constitution or is more sensitive than others.
Ionizing versus non-ionizing radiation
There are two basic forms of radiation: Ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation.
Ionizing radiation is capable of disrupting atomic, molecular or biochemical bonds. This radiation interferes with the electromagnetic bonds that hold our body’s molecules together. This interference causes bonds to break, resulting in unstable ions or otherwise unbalanced molecules. These can become oxidative species, which can lead to cell injury and possibly mutagenic damage. Mutagenic damage can result in cancer and various other disorders if not corrected by the body’s immune system.
According to a 2005 report by the National Academy of Sciences on ionizing radiation, about 82% of ionizing radiation comes from natural sources: the earth, sun, space, fire, food and air. The rest—18%—comes from industrial origin. The bulk of industrial radiation comes from medical x-rays and CT scans. Medical radiation accounts for close to 80% of the 18%. Other sources of ionizing radiation come from appliances, toxic water, occupational exposure, and nuclear power plants.
Non-ionizing radiation also can be split into natural and synthetic versions. Natural versions include sound, light and radiowaves. Most scientists also categorize radiation from electrical power lines, electricity generating or transfer stations, appliances, cell phones, cell towers and other shielded electricity currents as non-ionizing radiation. Microwaves are also considered non-ionizing. Most medical experts assume non-ionizing radiation is not harmful. This assumption, however, has undergone debate over the past few decades.
The myth of non-ionizing radiation safety
The National Academy of Sciences, also concluded, after studying most of the available research regarding non-ionizing radiation, that even low doses below 100 millisieverts were potentially harmful to humans and could cause a number of disorders from solid cancer or leukemia. This jolted the scientific community, because for many years researchers thought that small doses of non-ionizing radiation were not that harmful.
A rem is one unit of radiation dose in roentgens. An mrem is one thousandth of a rem. One hundred rem equals one sievert. One sievert equals one thousand millisieverts. Ten sieverts (10,000 mSv) will cause immediate illness and death within a few weeks. One to ten sieverts will cause severe radiation sickness, and the possibility of death.
Exposure levels above 100 mSv have been shown to increase the probability of cancer, and 50 mSv is the lowest dose that has been established as cancer causing. 20 mSv per year has been established as an upper limit for radiological workers. About one to three mSv per year is the typical background radiation received from natural sources, depending upon location and surroundings. About .2 to .7 mSv per year comes from air. Soil sources are responsible for about .8 mSv. Cosmic rays give off about .22 mSv per year. Japanese holocaust victims received .1 Sv to 5 Sv from the hydrogen bomb.
Soran ML, Stan M, Niinemets U, Copolovici L. Influence of microwave frequency electromagnetic radiation on terpene emission and content in aromatic plants. J Plant Physiol. 2014 Sep 15;171(15):1436-43. doi: 10.1016/j.jplph.2014.06.013.
Calfapietra C, Peñuelas J, Niinemets U. Urban plant physiology: adaptation-mitigation strategies under permanent stress. Trends Plant Sci. 2014 Dec 1. pii: S1360-1385(14)00288-X. doi: 10.1016/j.tplants.2014.11.001.
Adams C. ELECTROMAGNETIC HEALTH: Making Sense of the Research and Practical Solutions for Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) and Radio Frequencies (RF). Logical Books, 2015.
Case Adams is a California Naturopath and a Board Certified Alternative Medicine Practitioner with a PhD in Natural Health Sciences, and diplomas in Homeopathy, Aromatherapy, Bach Flower Remedies, Blood Chemistry, Clinical Nutritional Counseling and Colon Hydrotherapy. He has authored 26 books on natural healing strategies.