5G Radiation: Are We In Danger?

The fifth generation of technology standard for cellular networks (5G) is a controversial topic in regards to human health.  In order to discuss it, there must be clarity, in regards to the technical details about radiation.

Radiation 101

Briefly, the term electromagnetic field (EMF) refers to a field produced by moving electric charges, and electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is the waves produced from them.  These waves, made up of oscillations of electric and magnetic fields, vary in their size/wavelength, forming the electromagnetic spectrum.  This spectrum begins with extremely low frequency (ELF), the largest waves, through to radio waves, then microwaves, encompassing wave lengths of a meter down to a millimetre (300MHz or 0.3GHz, to 300GHz)). Next is infrared, then the visible light spectrum, then ultraviolet, before X-rays and finally, gamma-rays. 


OSHA Safety and Health Topics / Public domain

Radiation can be categorised as either ionising or non-ionising.  Ionising radiation is strong enough to affect molecules directly by detaching electrons by way of adjusting their electrical charge, therefore their activity, or, breaking chemical bonds.  It encompasses the far side of ultraviolet and beyond: X-rays, gamma-rays and alpha-particles.  This form of radiation is undoubtedly dangerous; examples of this include uranium decay, radioactive waste, and cosmic rays [Kesari, 2018].

Non-ionising radiation encompasses the other end of the spectrum and includes the band of particular interest in regards to wireless data transfer technology, radio waves and microwaves (RF-EMF). RF-EMF radiation ranges from 3 kHz to 300 GHz, that’s kilometres long wavelengths, down to a millimetre.  Most mobile phones emit frequencies of 0.8-2.2 GHz [Smith-Roe, 2020]. Being non-ionising frequencies, there is no direct DNA damage like from ionising radiation, therefore mobile phone frequencies are generally argued to be safe.  However, the studies that support the safety of radiofrequency radiation are not adequate to declare actual safety.  With the time, quantity and quality of human exposure increasing, and with no long-term observations yet possible, science as we know it, cannot provide clarity on how our current exposure will affect us down the track, let alone with more from 5G. 

What About 5G?

Needless to say, we have seen unparalleled communication technological development in recent decades.  From the first generation of mobile phones in the 1980s, through to the fourth generation (4G) of today, wireless data transfer has evolved to a point where we have more devices than inhabitants of our planet.  Now, as we look towards further improving our mobile broadband speeds, we are beginning to make use of higher frequency bands to deliver 5G.  It is thought that 5G will see us move into all sorts of frontiers including virtual reality, autonomous vehicles, smart cities and the Internet of Things (IoT) [Simkó, 2019].

Currently, there is no exact consensus of what 5G will look like but it will involve various frequencies within the following brackets:  

  1. Low-band: <1 GHz (ultra-high frequencies (UHF), similar to 4G)
  2. Mid-band: 1-6 GHz (microwaves)
  3. High-band: >6 GHz (millimetre waves)

This includes waves in the centimetre (3-30 GHz), and the millimetre (30-300 GHz), extremely high frequency (EHF) range.  With shorter waves comes shorter range, and these millimetre waves are the reason 5G will require many small cells to make it available. They are currently employed for radar and some medical uses, so most of the literature only explores these specific pictures of exposure, leaving very little, to no data at all, for understanding how it will affect us when it is part of our daily lives [Simkó, 2019].

Despite the cries that non-ionising radiation is of no concern, some research has demonstrated dangerous effects in experiments.  This has prompted new lines of inquiry for how non-ionising radiation might contribute indirectly to health.  Various studies have indicated mobile phone use is already associated with such health decline as stress, headache, tiredness, anxiety, decreased learning potential, impairment in cognitive function and poor concentration [Kivrak 2017]. 5G will not even replace current 3G and 4G radiation, but only be added as another layer in the complex EMF soup we are already exposed to.  Many are wary of the potential for adverse health effects that this could spark; however many more are inclined to see anyone raising the alert as a conspiracy theorist. The only certainty is, no solid data exists. This is potentially, very problematic. 

What Clues Do We Have?

A recent review of the effects of wi-fi on our health attempted to raise just such an alert [Pall, 2018], but has incited some backlash [Foster, 2018; Najera, 2019] and it is evident why.  Pall’s review appears to be guilty of cherry picking data, which is, selecting research to review that supports his ideas, rather than an unbiased look at all the relevant work, and of being hypercritical toward studies that do not support his conclusion, without applying the same scrutiny to those that do. This is a weakness in his work, there is no doubt.  That said, as both sides surely agree, there is ilittle quality evidence around to draw solid conclusions from.  Rather than stick his head in the sand, Pall appears to be concerned about the red flags that have appeared, and is rightly eager to bring attention to the possibility of danger, before we become too comfortable in a false sense of safety. In agreeance, a paper specifically evaluating potential health implications of 5G technology warns that underrating the safety risk could very well lead to an increase in non-communicable disease [Di Ciaula, 2018].

Some maintain that little meaningful data regarding human health can be extrapolated from animal experiments, and this is another critique of Pall’s review [Najera, 2019].  This is not incorrect.  However, this rigid thinking is the kind that leads to a disaster when, as is the case of EMF exposure generally, the scientific understanding of adverse health effects is lagging behind the advancements in the technology, and our increasing exposure to it.  Too late, after the damage is done, we all hang our heads sorrowfully and exclaim “if only the science warned us”!  Frankly, even in its infancy of research as it is at this point, the science is already warning us of the potential for danger, and we would do well to consider it carefully before we swim too deep, so to speak.

The thing about animal studies is that they are only a clue, not a full picture.  The idea of animal studies is that we need to be able to extrapolate data to identify risks and then assess them appropriately.  As the experimental studies of EMF vary dramatically in methodology and results, no solid conclusion can yet be drawn, however when adverse effects do show up, they should be highlighted as the proverbial canary in the mines. 

No, we should not lay the burden of proof of safety on human data after the damage is caused.  If there is reason to suspect danger, the purpose of research is to avoid it before we do it!  Why do some scientists have so much difficulty with that concept?

Yes, different animals can tolerate and metabolise different substances in different ways, so can never be a perfect surrogate for humans.  That said, the vast majority, if not all cancer-causing agents identified for humans also cause cancer in rodents.  This is significant as animal studies are long regarded as the best source we have for such research [Maronpot, 2004].  The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) agrees that there is evidence that human and animal studies regarding cancer formation generally match, even if the location of the cancer varies [Pearce, 2015].

A recent update on cancer epidemiology studies from radiofrequency EMFs generally concludes that mobile phone use is associated with increased risk of brain, vestibular nerve and salivary gland tumours at least. Further, the authors express concern for various other cancers including breast, testis, leukemia and thyroid cancers, and recommend that the IARC upgrade RFR from only possibly to definitely carcinogenic to humans [Miller, 2018].

Can Non-Ionising Radiation Have an Effect?

RF-EMFs can, indeed, produce damage.  Thermal effects are commonly considered, for they are the result of releasing heat in the body. Non-thermal mechanisms do not cause temperature-based damage, so much work via other mechanisms we have yet to completely explain.  This is important because currently the safety guidelines for exposure limits are based on thermal effects and do not recognise danger from non-thermal at all [Pall, 2018].

We hear about oxidative stress, we know that it is bad news for health, but few people understand how significant it really is.  Reactive oxidative species (ROS) are molecules that are created as a normal part of converting nutrients into energy at the cellular level.  They have various important cellular functions, and in healthy tissue their levels are controlled by our antioxidant enzymes. [Kivrak, 2017] When the amount of ROS being generated exceeds the capacity of the body to quench it, it is called oxidative stress, and this leads to the development of many diseases, including cancers.  

All frequencies of EMF are reported to increase ROS in various living organisms. They do this by altering the electric charge of cellular membranes, impairing function. Oxidative stress plays a key role in DNA damage, gene expression and programmed cell death, hence it is thought that this is the indirect mechanism whereby non-ionising, non-thermal radiation can still damage DNA.  This is still not totally accepted, even though we know non-ionising radiation increases cellular markers of stress (heat shock proteins), especially noted in the brain, heart, testis and skin [Kivrak, 2017].

One rat study found that low level, sub-chronic microwave radiation reduced cognitive function, which was associated with increased DNA damage and heat shock protein makers in the brain after 90 days [Deshmukh, 2016].  Not only is oxidative stress increased, but our antioxidant enzymes are decreased in some RF-EMF studies, adding to the overall load. Further, DNA is regularly damaged and repaired as part of normal functioning, and studies suggest that microwave exposure interferes with that process [Kivrak, 2017]. Impaired DNA repair leads to changes in cellular behaviour, cell death, or cancer [Deshmukh, 2016].

The brain is a particular target of EMF effects, at least partly because it has a high metabolic rate, due to its high energy needs, so it turns over more ROS and it is easier to exceed the balance kept in check by the antioxidant system.  Excess ROS in the brain can lead to neuronal damage and various neurological disorders including Alzheimer’s disease. EMFs can disturb the brain tissue in multiple ways, including increasing the permeability of our important brain defence, the blood-brain-barrier. This means molecules that should not get into the brain, can, which has its own array of possible deleterious effects, including adding to oxidative stress [Kivrak 2017]. When mobile phone frequencies were applied to rodents in a 2-year cancer study, DNA damage was primarily observed in the brain, with clear evidence of increased brain cancer formation [Smith-Roe, 2020].

What a big oxidative mess!  Another particularly sensitive tissue is the testes; ROS are extremely damaging to sperm. Various experimental data with RF-EMFs are being collated that demonstrate damage to sperm production and health, and thereby male fertility, likely via similar mechanisms as for the brain [Kesari 2018, Fatehi, 2018, Pall, 2018].  It does not help that many men keep their phone in their hip pockets (similarly we put our phones next to our brains, sometimes for long conversations). Actually RF-EMFs may also be destructive to the female’s oocytes (eggs), and in pregnancy [Fatehi, 2018]. 

There are even more ways these frequencies are thought to affect us such as by inducing an inflammatory response, suppressing melatonin (related to sleep disorders, depression, stress, some cancers), altering hormone levels, and disrupting glucose metabolism (essential requirement for brain function!) [Warille, 2017]. It is also thought that the effects of EMF exposures are cumulative and irreversible [Pall, 2018].

A final thought to share, is one possibility for why the results of studies on EMF exposure are so inconsistent, and why rare people are acutely physically ill in the presence of high amounts of EMFs. It could be due to individual genetics.  For example, certain genetic variants have been identified in humans that increase the odds of thyroid cancer associated with mobile phone use, significantly.  This association is stronger with increased duration and frequency of phone use [Luo, 2019]. It now seems plausible that some individuals might suffer worse effects than others from RF-EMF exposure.

There are an enormous amount of factors to consider in signal research, aspects that are not always reported or controlled for, which no doubt has contributed to the ambiguous conclusions thus far. We have barely made a scratch in the proverbial surface but regardless, there should be enough of a warning bell to warrant precautions.  Most of us cannot escape our modern world of artificial EMFs.  It is reasonable that increasing amounts of exposure to more and more frequencies could affect our antioxidant system, and while it may recover after acute hits, or even adjust to low chronic exposure with upregulation, the nature of artificial EMFs is that they are pulsed, and it is the continued spikes that seem to do the most damage.  This is the time, more than ever, when we need to ensure our antioxidant defences are primed and powerful.  A diet loaded with plenty of fresh plants and fungi, with no room left for inflammatory foods, is the best foundation, but Papilio Therapeutics Hemp-C60 and Olive-60 are the ultimate antioxidant, being over 100 times more powerful than Vitamin C, not to mention the fact that the molecule made rats radiation resisant whilst expanding their lifespan by 90% {Baati, 2012].



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