ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELDS AND HEALTH PT.2: HOW THE UNSEEN AFFECTS OUR CELLS
This article covers Part 2 of this review, which describes the fundamental differences between natural and man-made EMF, before proceeding to discuss the effects of common natural EMF exposures on health.
- Part 1 briefly introduces EMF and explains its importance in our lives and how it impacts the body. General health effects of EMF are also discussed in light of their potential underlying mechanisms.
- Part 3 reviews the effects of everyday man-made EMF exposures in the context of health. Effects of EMF at the lowest end of the spectrum are discussed in this section, covering a broad range of common exposures from lightbulbs to induction cookers.
- Part 4 explores high to extremely high intensity EMF exposures, summarizing the potential risks related to cellphones, WiFi and more. Additionally, the safety of man-made EMF is discussed, alongside electromagnetic hypersensitivity (also known as microwave sickness).
- Part 5 concludes the series with tips on how we can best integrate man-made EMF into our lives while minimizing the potential risk of adverse effects.
What is the Difference Between Natural and Artificial EMF?
Despite the fact that artificial EMF is non-ionizing and operates at lower frequency bands, life on the planet has evolved to tolerate the effects of natural EMF. The significant differences in how they affect living organisms are as follows:
- Natural EMF, unlike artificial EMF, is mostly non-polarized. This means that natural EMF waveforms do not take a specific direction and do not affect the movement of electrons in living organisms. Instead, the waveforms move in random arrangements that tend to disperse and neutralize the energy they carry.
- Artificial EMF is polarized, which means that the waveforms move in a specific direction. They are very focused, fluctuating within far narrower frequency bands than the natural EMF that permeates the Earth’s environment. Polarized EMF interacts with the electrical currents in living organisms, interfering with their direction and velocity. The net result of such interference is difficult to determine, mirroring the mixed results (both positive and negative) of trials carried out on man-made EMF.
Despite this difference, natural EMF is still capable of inducing both negative and positive biological effects. While living organisms are better adapted to tolerate the effects of natural non-polarized EMF, it is still capable of increasing body temperature and causing cellular damage when encountered in the form of ionizing radiation.
The effects of both natural and artificial EMF are reviewed below in accordance with common exposures.
Natural EMF Health Effects
The Sun and the Earth both generate natural forms of EMF that are generally supportive of life on the planet.
Sunlight contains EMF in the form of ionizing UV radiation, which is required for generating heat and light necessary for sustained life on the planet. Human skin has evolved to integrate exposure to UV radiation in order to function optimally.
Skin Evolved to Safely Integrate UVR. While UVR is required for optimal skin function and metabolism, excessive UVR exposure is not desirable and is associated with inflammation of the eye and skin, sunburn, skin-aging, DNA damage and cancer  . Skin cells actively produce and/or store various antioxidants (e.g. melanin, vitamin A, vitamin D, Vitamin E, Vitamin C) in order to protect against the deleterious effects of UVR. Additionally, the outer layer of the skin comprises oils that maintain optimal skin hydration. Skin hydration also serves as a buffer against the effects of UVR, which is known to deplete the skin of moisture and antioxidants when excessive.
Types of UVR. UV radiation has been divided into three unique frequency bands: UVA, UVB and UVC. UVA penetrates to the base layers of the skin, while UVB only penetrates the skin’s surface. UVC is ordinarily blocked out by the ozone layer, except for regions where the ozone layer has been damaged, such as seen in parts of the Southern Hemisphere.
UVR as an Essential Nutrient. Both UVA and UVB are required for Vitamin D3 and melanin production, both of which are essential for the optimal health of many tissues . UVA upregulates melanin production within a matter of minutes (ending after 10-12 minutes), while taking a long time to stimulate vitamin D3 production. UVB stimulates skin vitamin D3 synthesis immediately and is able to promote melanin production after 10-30 minutes of exposure.  
UVR Could Be Beneficially Addictive. Low-dose UV exposures have been proven to elicit production of beta-endorphins in the skin. These opioid chemical compounds have pain-relieving and mood enhancing effects, as well as an “addictive” nature. This is likely to be an adaptive mechanism for ensuring we get adequate sunlight exposure every day.
Ratio of UVA to UVB. The majority of UV radiation from the sun is UVA, which forms a ratio with UVB. Depending on the time of day, UVA:UVB can resemble 20-41:1, with the ratio being the lowest at midday. This means that the concentration of UVB is highest at midday and lowest in both morning and evening. Studies reveal that short, intensive sun exposure at midday (when UVB is highest) is associated with the most optimal Vitamin D3 and melanin production.
Red Light. In the morning and evening, the concentration of red light increases. Red light is associated with health benefits that serve to mitigate the negative effects of UV radiation exposure, in both human and animal studies. 
Blue light concentrations intensify around midday, in concert with UVB. This type of light has been shown to increase inflammation and pigmentation in skin similar to UVA and UVB respectively. This is why excessive midday sun is associated with sunburn compared to other times of the day. Sunlight contains a much larger proportion of blue light than artificial light. However, artificial light often does not provide one with a balanced light spectrum as seen in sunlight, which serves to mitigate the negative effects.
Optimal Sun Exposure Times. In light of this information, sun exposure is advisable at all times of day, with longer exposures in the morning and afternoon, and limited exposure at midday.
Partial cloud cover, large bodies of water, dry or exposed ground, proximity to the equator and higher altitudes can increase the amount of ambient UVR. This may increase or decrease the time one is required to spend in the sun. Limiting exposure to blue light is advisable by avoiding the sun from 2-3pm (usually the time for a midday nap!).
The majority of natural EMF present in the Earth’s ionosphere reside within the Schumann Resonance frequency band, which spans between 0 and 60Hz. Lightning is discharged within these frequency bands (averaging 7.5-8Hz) and mirrors the same Hz value as that of neuronal activity (7-10 Hz in the brain stem), albeit at a much greater scale.
Sferic Health Effects. Atmospheric discharges like lightning are referred to as sferics and consist of partially polarized EMF pulses. They are known to excite or increase the intensity of the Schumann Resonance in the surrounding atmosphere. As a result, sferics are able to induce health effects, such as headaches, fatigue, and sleep disturbance. Slight stress responses as a result of sferic EMF have been detected in rat cardiac cells in vitro and in other similar experimental studies, the membranes of cells have been shown to become more permeable in response to sferic electrical activity.
Cosmic Interference. Other fluctuations in the Schumann Resonance can result in response to cosmic or solar radiation. On days when activity peaks, skin conductance and heart rate variability may be affected. Furthermore, bio-conductance may be affected, which can serve to promote any of the above symptoms, as well as mildly increase or decrease any pre-existing disease symptoms.
Cosmic Solar Radiation and Geomagnetic Storms
Besides the well-understood influences of UV radiation and electrical discharges in the Earth’s atmosphere, the whole planet is bombarded with additional EMF from the Sun and sometimes, other cosmic sources. This cosmic solar radiation has a huge effect on the Earth’s magnetic field, resulting in what are known as geomagnetic storms.
Geo Storms can temporarily affect the electrical grid, radio signals, spacecraft and as recently shown, organic life on the planet. Traveling by plane can increase one’s exposure to this type of radiation.
Health Effects. As explained above, geomagnetic storms temporarily increase the intensity of the Schumann Resonance. This has been shown to affect human health in a number of ways, such as:
- Mortality. Increasing the risk of strokes, heart attacks and general mortality
- Hospitalization Rate. An approximate twofold prevalence of hospitalization of those with cardiovascular and mental diseases
- Neurological Disease Risk. Precipitating seasonal depression, bipolar disorder episodes, PTSD severity, other psychiatric episodes, epileptic seizures, suicide attempts, homicides, and traffic accidents
- Antioxidant Balance. Potentially disturbing melatonin production, adrenergic system function and mitochondrial viability
- Sympathetic Flux. Vagus nerve excitation and fluctuations in sympathetic nervous system activity
- Cardiovascular Symptoms. Increases in heart rate variability, arrhythmias, blood pressure, and cardiovascular inflammation
- Dips in Immunity. Reduced immune cell count and mild immune suppression
The above effects are related to large increases in solar EMF radiation (Kp5>). Quieter periods (Kp2<) are associated with improved health outcomes and calmer nervous system activity. Nevertheless, results are likely to vary across individuals, where some may benefit from increased activity.
Solar EMF Types. There are three main types of solar radiation that pervade the Earth with noticeable effects: solar flares, coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and solar wind streams. While solar wind is a continuous stream of radiative energy, solar flares and CMEs are considered to be intense forms of pulsed EMF. The Sun goes through 22-year cycles which shape the intensity of the EMF emitted, as well as the course of life on the planet.
Measurement of Solar EMF Intensity. CMEs and solar wind streams are tracked and can be viewed on sites that report space weather. Often the Kp index (Planetary K-Index) is used to measure the intensity of EMF produced. Values less than Kp 5 are regarded as usual, whereas values greater than that are associated with unwarranted effects of pulsed EMF and intense geomagnetic storms.
Geomagnetic Storm Duration. When solar EMF pervades the Earth, it typically elicits geomagnetic storms. The storm has been broken down into three phases. In the first few hours, the Earth’s magnetic field sees a rise in field strength, associated with an increase in charged ions. This is followed by a sharp dip in the electrical charge of the ionosphere, where the magnetic field strength remains at maximum. This phase lasts roughly 24 hours. Following this, the ionosphere goes through a recovery phase (usually over a few days) wherein the charge and magnetic field normalize. Throughout this time, EM activity on the planet is affected, the degree to which depends on the intensity of the solar EMF.
Seasonal EMF Variation. Geomagnetic storms are known to be more prominent during the Equinoxes, as well as during July and November. During the Winter and Summer solstices of the year, geomagnetic activity sees a quieter phase. Geomagnetic storms impact all life on the planet. The timing and intensity of geo-storms coincide with the seasonal variation in cycles of growth and dormancy across vegetation and ecosystems (i.e. new growth in spring, dormancy in winter).
This article series is to be continued in part 3.
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