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How EMFs affect our bodies

You might be asking yourself how something that you can’t even see, hear, or smell can be affecting your body.  At least with cigarettes we can see and smell the smoke, and most people have an unpleasant reaction the first time they take a puff.


We humans are electromagnetic beings, and the electricity in our body isn’t just in our bones or a couple of organs. It’s in every single one of our 50 trillion cells, effecting us at all levels--organelle, cell and body organ.  We might not be able to sense EMFs, but they can.  As research has accumulated since the 1970s on the symptoms and diseases linked to EMF overexposure (see below), scientists have been working to understand exactly how they affect our health. They have now discovered one biological mechanism: disturbance of the levels of calcium in our cells, which is regulated by electric signals. 


Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our bodies.  Most of it is used to keep our bones and teeth strong. But it is also vitally important to the proper functioning of many body systems, from our nervous systems to our reproductive systems.


To keep these systems running smoothly, the calcium in our cells is tightly regulated by what are called “Voltage-Gated Calcium Channels” (VGCCs) embedded in each cell’s membrane.  Special voltage sensors  (electrical charge sensors) say when it’s time to open the gates and let the calcium in. 

Voltage-Gated Calcium Channels in our cells open                 and close to let calcium in and out

Source:  Adapted from OpenSTAX CNX

How overexposure to EMFs harms our health


What happens when our body is overexposed to EMFs?  The voltage sensors are very sensitive to electrical forces produced by EMFs.  Even very low levels of EMFs can keep the VGCCs open for hours after exposure, flooding them with extra calcium.  This excess calcium then leads to damage to our cells and the symptoms and diseases that have been linked to EMF overexposure.

Read more from Dr. Martin Pall, Professor of Biochemistry at Washington State University, who discovered this mechanism, here.

Studies on the health effects of EMFs:

The evidence

The Naval Medical Research Institute report

The negative health effects of EMFs have been known about for a long time.  The U.S. government was one of the first to acknowledge them, doing so in the ancient, now-famous 1971 Naval Medical Research Institute report.  This report documents a total of 132 biological effects of human exposure to radio frequency (wireless) radiation from 2,300 published studies. 

The Bioinitiative Report

Research undertaken since the NMRI report is documented in the Bioinitiative Report, first published in 2012 by the Bioinitiative Working Group. This group consists of 29 scientists from 10 countries, including 10 M.D.s, 21 PhDs, and three MsC, MA or MPHs.  These scientists are independent of governments and telecommunications industry professional societies.  As stated in the report's preface, “it presents a solid scientific and public health policy assessment that is evidence-based.”  The large majority of the studies report biological effects of the various types of EMFs.

The original report was updated in 2017 to include 1,800 new studies.  A second update in September 2020 added the latest studies.  These continue to confirm the biological effects of EMFs on human beings.  Learn more at  

The EMF Portal 

Another collection of research on the effects of EMFs can be found at which, as of December 2020, contained over 32,500 peer-reviewed studies. The EMF Portal is maintained by the Institute for Occupational, Social, and Environmental Medicine of the University Hospital Aachen in Germany.  It contains studies of EMF effects on both humans and animals.  

Important to know: Influence of the telecommunications industry on EMF health research

Despite this voluminous evidence, the telecommunications industry, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that regulates it, have continued to claim that radio frequency radiation from cell towers and wireless devices is safe.  For example, the FFC website states: 

"The available scientific evidence does not show that any health problems are associated with using wireless phones," while noting that "[t]here is no proof, however, that wireless phones are absolutely safe."


Indeed some studies show negative health effects of EMFs, and some studies do not.  However, the conclusion reached appears to be influenced greatly by the source of funding.  The large majority of independently-funded studies (70 percent) do show negative health effects.  By contrast, only a minority of industry-funded studies (32 percent) do.

In fact there is a long and well-documented history of industries strategically and proactively influencing health research not only in the case of EMFs, but also tobacco, asbestos, pesticides, and even sugar.  Lobby groups and “product defense consultants” follow similar protocols that have proven successful, at least initially, in creating public doubt about the health science and delaying safety legislation.   


While immoral, these tactics are not surprising since industries are guided by the profit motive.  It is up to our government to hold them responsible for meeting standards that protect our health. In the absence of this protection, it is up to us to protect ourselves.  More information about industry influence on EMF health research and safety regulation can be found at the websites of Physicians for Safe Technology and the Environmental Health Trust

Diseases and symptoms linked to EMFs

Since every part of our body is made up of cells, EMFs affect almost all of our body systems. But the organs that have higher concentrations of VGCCs in their cells are the brain, heart and reproductive organs, and these organs are impacted the most.

Here are some of the health effects of overexposure to EMFs that studies have found so far.


  • Cancer: glioblastoma, acoustic neuroma

  • Neurodegenerative diseases:  Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS

  • Neuropsychiatric diseases and symptoms:  anxiety, depression, dizziness,       difficulty concentrating, impaired memory, autism, child brain development


  • Cardiac arrhythmias:  bradycardia, tachycardia, atrial flutter

  • High blood pressure


  • Infertility (hormonal disruptions, sperm damage)

  • Miscarriage

  • Breast cancer


  • Childhood leukemia

  • Elevated blood sugar

Immune system

  • Suppressed immunity

  • Increased risk of autoimmune diseases


  • Breached intestinal barrier (leaky gut syndrome)

  • Disrupted microbiome

Ears and eyes  

  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)

  • Cataracts.

Studies showing neurological effects of EMFs as of 2020

                   RFR=Radio Frequency Radiation (336 studies)

              ELF-EMF=Electric and magnetic fields (238 studies)

Source:  Bioinitiative report. 

People can begin to experience numerous uncomfortable symptoms when over-exposed to EMFs, even if a serious disease does not set in.  This is well illustrated by a study conducted in France, in which researchers surveyed 530 people living near a cell tower.  They found that the closer a person lived to the tower, the more symptoms associated with overexposure to radio frequency radiation they experienced.  They concluded that people shouldn’t live within 300 meters (about 1/5 of a mile) of a cell tower.

Symptoms of radio-frequency radiation exposure experienced by people living near a cell tower 

From Santini et. al. (2002).  “Survey Study of people living in the vicinity of cellular phone base stations”.  Pathologie-Biologie.

Geek out about EMF health effects with University of Arizona Professor Russell Witte

If you want to know a lot more about the effects of wireless radiation on human health, watch this video of Dr. Russell Witte's April 2020 presentation "The Body Electric and Microwave Radiation".  Dr. Witte has appointments in four departments at the University of Arizona, including the Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Neurosurgery.  His illuminating presentation takes us on a journey from understanding the electric nature of our body, through the great depth of scientific research establishing the adverse health effects of microwave radiation, to the lack of protection of our government's current exposure limits.  Dr. Witte says there are far more peer-reviewed and government studies reporting the adverse effects of microwave radiation than those caused by smoking, lead, or asbestos.  He asks "Do we really want a  "5G Future"... in a soup of microwave radiation?" 


The diseases associated with long-term exposure to EMFs can take years to appear.  But some people are sensitive to EMFs immediately on exposure.  People who suffer from “electrohypersensitivity” experience a cluster of common symptoms when they are around EMF-emitting devices, symptoms like


When they are no longer exposed, the symptoms

typically go away within hours or days.

  • Headaches

  • Insomnia

  • Dizziness

  • Tinnitus

  • Concentration and memory problems

  • Skin rashes, and

  • Heart palpitations.

Some people with EHS are forced to live “off the grid” in remote areas and completely give up their job and lifestyle. One place they can do this is at the U.S. National Radio Quiet Zone near Greenbank, West Virginia where a community of EHS sufferers has grown.  In this zone radio frequency transmissions are heavily restricted by law to facilitate astronomy research and military intelligence.  A new EMF-free community located in a wilderness area of Arizona is being planned by The EMF Experts.  Read more about “Pueblo EMF Quieto” here.

An estimated 3 to 5 percent of Americans suffer from EHS (that would be from 16,000 to 27,000 Tucsonans), with up to 35 percent experiencing mild to moderate symptoms.  As awareness of the condition has risen, more people and health care providers are recognizing it as a disabling condition.  EHS is now recognized by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).  And official ICD-10 codes (International Classification of Diseases codes) for “Exposure to Nonionizing Radiation” are accepted by Medicare.  Some people with EHS have been able to receive accommodations at work, while others have not.  See the Environmental Health Trust EHS page for more information.

EHS commonly appears after a first exposure to an EMF-emitting device, such as a smart meter unknowingly placed on a home.  This is what happened to Tucsonan Jenny Baldwin, whose story you can read here. Jenny is the wife of neurosurgeon Dr. Hillel Baldwin at the Carondelet Neurological Institute of St. Joseph’s Hospital. (Read more about his and Jenny's efforts to raise awareness about EMF health effects on the Tucson EMF Who's Who & Happenings page).

Tucson’s Dr. Kristi Mattson specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of EHS. Read her December 2020 blog post “Wireless Microwave Radiation is Neurotoxic: Case Study,” in which she tells us about the symptoms and treatment of one of her patients.  Dr. Mattson graduated from the University of Arizona College of Medicine in 1979 and was an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in Emergency Medicine before returning to Tucson. She is now focused on Environmental Illness, concentrating on patients with Multiple Chemical Sensitivities, Mycotoxicosis, and Electromagnetic Sensitivity.

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