Dr. Michael Ruscio, DC is a clinician, Naturopathic Practitioner, clinical researcher, author, and adjunct professor at the University of Bridgeport. His work has been published in peer-reviewed medical journals and he speaks at conferences around the globe.
While Reports of EMF Sensitivity are Increasing, the Research is Still Catching Up
While some people may be more susceptible to the negative effects of electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) with higher levels of exposure (x-ray techs, for example), current research shows that everyday low-level exposures from cell phones, laptops, and other household devices do not present a significant health risk.
That said, people experiencing ongoing health conditions such as chronic infections, poor gut health, or other imbalances may find themselves sensitive to many different stimuli, including EMFs.
Nervous system dysregulation is likely tied to EMF sensitivity symptoms, and brain retraining may be necessary to calm symptoms and return a sense of safety to the body.
It’s a good idea for sensitive populations (chronically ill, pregnant women, etc.) to be aware of their daily EMF exposure.
Basic EMF avoidance strategies include turning off your wifi at night, charging your phone away from your bed at night, and opting for wired instead of Bluetooth devices whenever possible.
A healthy lifestyle in general — eating well, regular exercise, stress reduction, and spending time in nature — may help make you more resilient to EMF exposure.
It seems that more and more of us are developing sensitivities to different stimuli — food, chemicals, and now electromagnetic fields, aka EMFs. EMF sensitivity has become a more popular subject in recent years alongside the general debate about EMFs and the possible health risks to the general population.
Personally, I’ve spoken to EMF experts who are sounding the alarm about the negative effects of EMFs and have dedicated their careers to warning others about them. My own examination of the available research suggests that concerns about EMF might be overstated. However, we still need more research and clinical studies on conditions like EMF sensitivity to determine the true cause and effect behind these non-specific symptoms like brain fog and fatigue. Yet there’s enough research and case studies now to begin taking some action and looking for ways to support those with EMF sensitivity symptoms.
In this article, let’s take a look at what EMF sensitivity entails, its probable connection to the nervous system, and how to possibly address it.
What is EMF Sensitivity?
EMF sensitivity, also called electromagnetic hypersensitivity syndrome (EHS) or idiopathic environmental intolerance (IEI-EMF), is a medical condition where individuals experience negative health effects resulting from being in close proximity to electromagnetic fields and devices, including Wi-Fi routers, cell phones, cell towers, laptops, Bluetooth, and many other devices . The World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged the condition for many years, alongside many functional and alternative medicine providers.
Some people report such extreme symptoms that they only find relief when they are completely removed from any electromagnetic field exposure. EMF sensitivity is often also associated with other conditions like chronic Lyme disease, Epstein-Barr Virus, mold illness, and multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome (MCS). Some people have also reported developing EHS post-COVID or with long-COVID.
In these cases, EMF sensitivity may be a symptom of an underlying condition, such as chronic Lyme disease. Avoidance or reduction of EMFs may be a temporary solution while treating the underlying root cause and related symptoms. In my clinical experience, hypersensitivity to many things (EMFs, foods, chemicals, etc.) may also be caused by poor gut health (which I’ll detail a little later), so you may want to focus your healing efforts there instead of eliminating EMFs for long-term relief.
So is EMF Sensitivity a Real Thing?
If you’re only looking at the published scientific research, then the jury is still out on EMF sensitivity and what symptoms or long-term effects it causes. Although some existing research is compelling, it can’t yet prove or disprove a causal link between EMFs and electromagnetic sensitivity [3, 4, 5].
However, there is some interesting info we can pull from these existing studies that backs up the ample amount of anecdotal evidence we have on EMF sensitivity. One of them used 2,000 self-reported Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS) and/or Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) cases to conclude there is enough evidence to recognize EHS as a defined neurological disorder with a significant impact on public health. Furthermore, EHS is often associated with MCS, and they may share a common root cause .
This same study also showed that about 80% of EHS patients have detectable markers of oxidative stress in their blood. Abnormal blood flow to the brain, especially the limbic system and thalamus, is also common, suggesting the presence of an objective physical disorder . However, this is still associative evidence, and we need more research that shows a definitive cause and effect when it comes to EHS symptoms.
However, knowing that there’s a link between oxidative stress and many other chronic conditions as well as a generally unhealthy lifestyle, it’s possible that implementing a healthy diet and exercise would make you more resilient to the potential effects of EMFs.
Most importantly, anyone claiming to experience EMF sensitivity should be believed, not dismissed as crazy or hypochondriac. Regardless of the cause of their symptoms, there are ways to temporarily reduce the symptoms, including taking precautions with electromagnetic devices, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, etc. that may reduce the effects of exposure.
Who Should Be Concerned About EMF Exposure?
Some people might be at more risk than others for overexposure to EMFs due to more intense, repeated EMF exposure, such as getting many X-rays or working as an X-ray tech. Everyday cordless devices like phones, Bluetooth, and laptops have much less intense EMF radiation and may not be as harmful to the general population [6, 7].
That said, repeated “everyday” exposures may add up over time. Maybe someone who is experiencing non-specific symptoms who lives under a power line, got an x-ray within the last year, is on their cell phone all day, and/or works at a laptop day in and day out might want to look into some basic recommendations to minimize EMFs in their day to day life. If it feels like you’ve tried everything else (including healing your gut) and you just aren’t getting any better, that might be an appropriate time to examine your EMF exposure more closely.
As with most potential health risks, pregnant women may want to reduce their EMF exposure as much as reasonably possible too .
But for the general population, we want to make sure that we are balancing mitigating risk and not becoming consumed with EMFs. Most people are probably doing enough by avoiding frequent X-rays (unless strongly indicated), limiting electronic use, and other basic strategies like turning your wifi off at night and charging your phone away from your bed. We’ll get into more of these EMF avoidance strategies in just a bit.
EMF Sensitivity and Your Nervous System
From the common symptoms reported, there’s a good chance we can associate a dysregulated nervous system with the symptoms of electromagnetic hypersensitivity. In fact, we’re now learning how important nervous system regulation is to combating most chronic health problems, including autoimmune diseases and chronic infections. It’s likely that EMF sensitivity (and its cousin MCS, multiple chemical sensitivity) is no different.
In this case, perhaps one of the pertinent questions we can ask in cases of EMF sensitivity is: how can I make my nervous system more resilient? Instead of trying to completely eliminate electromagnetic exposure — which, let’s face it, is going to be near impossible for most of us — how can we support the nervous system to be able to handle higher levels of EMF exposure (and stressors in general)?
Some simple practices include getting out in nature and grounding, practicing meditation, breathwork, and even heat and cold exposure — all can help improve the resilience of your nervous system, reduce oxidative stress, and activate the rest and digest response.
How to Address EMF Sensitivity
If you believe EMFs are impacting your health, there are many strategies you can use to improve your symptoms over time [9, 10].
1. EMF Avoidance
If you are more at risk for developing EMF sensitivity (you have other sensitivities, are exposed to more intense EMFs at your job, or are working on healing chronic infections or gut issues, for example), you’ll want to cut down on your exposure to EMFs as much as possible without completely disconnecting yourself from the modern world. Some ways to do that include:
Unplugging your Wi-Fi router at night
Using your laptop on a desk/table instead of in your lap
Using wired devices whenever possible to limit Bluetooth (i.e. wired headphones, a wired keyboard, and mouse)
Limiting your electronic use as much as possible or taking frequent breaks throughout the day to reset
Don’t sleep with your mobile phone next to you
Use speaker phone and hold your phone away from your head when you have phone calls
Charge your devices at night outside of your bedroom
These are just a few simple strategies to get started. If you’re curious and like data, you can find out the EMF levels in your home, office, or car, with a number of affordable EMF smart meters for sale online . This may help you feel more at ease in your living spaces and let you know where to avoid the highest exposures. At the end of the day, know that you won’t be able to completely avoid all EMF exposure, but you can reduce your exposure significantly.
2. Nutritional Support
If your sensitivity to EMFs is partially or totally caused by oxidative stress or nervous system dysregulation, we can support the body’s ability to counteract that stress with nutrition.
Alongside a healthy anti-inflammatory diet (I often recommend the Paleo diet for those just starting out), you can look into getting extra omega-3 fatty acids through wild-caught fatty fish and grass-fed meat, or an omega-3 supplement.
We can also intentionally consume antioxidants to offset oxidative stress and systemic inflammation. For example, vitamin C and antioxidant polyphenols (plant-based compounds) are found in many fruits and vegetables as well as herbs and spices like rosemary, oregano, cacao powder, and turmeric.
You may want to work with a trained functional medicine provider to optimize your diet and determine any supplements necessary for improving your resilience to EMFs and other stressors. Our doctors and certified health coach are always happy to help at the Ruscio Institute for Functional Health!
3. Brain Retraining
Another helpful strategy in the case of electrohypersensitivity might be brain retraining, also known as brain rewiring. This is similar to the nervous system regulation practices I mentioned earlier, but a little more systematic and a step-by-step process. Programs like the Gupta Limbic Retraining Program have been helpful for my patients in resolving many different kinds of symptoms and conditions.
4. Gut Health
The non-specific symptoms related to EMF sensitivity may have an easier and more defined fix: gut care. Your gut health affects just about every other system in your body, including your brain and nervous system. Rebuilding your gut health — whether that’s shifting your diet to be more anti-inflammatory and reducing food sensitivities, building up your good gut bacteria with probiotics, reducing bad bacteria with antimicrobials, or some combination thereof — can result in significant improvements in mental health, systemic inflammation, fatigue, and other “non-specific” symptoms.
If you’re concerned about EMF sensitivity and you haven’t already done so, make sure to investigate your gut health while you begin to implement EMF avoidance strategies. It could very well be the key to reducing any electrosensitivity you may have for good. Again, working with a professional in this case can be very helpful and take some of the stress out of navigating your healing process.
EMF Sensitivity Doesn’t Have to Rule Your Life
Whether you suffer from EHS or you’re simply cautious with electromagnetic radiation, you should know that you don’t have to make your entire life about avoiding electric fields and/or magnetic fields. There are many additional strategies to support and build up your tolerance to stress as well as regulate your nervous system so that you can better tolerate EMF exposure — and any other stressor that might come your way.
If you want to learn more from me about gut health, nutrition, and many other topics in the functional health world, check out my YouTube channel.
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