Is Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Real?

Is Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Real?
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There have been at least 46 studies involving more than a thousand people to see if those suffering from electrosensitivity are deluding themselves.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“During the past decade, a wide range of symptoms have been reportedly triggered by exposure to the radiofrequency electromagnetic fields” that emanate from cell phones during use, including “headache, nausea, dizziness, [and] fatigue.” “[T]he…news media has been promoting [this as] a new medical condition, called electrosensitivity, or electromagnetic hypersensitivity.” These “stories have been…driven [in part] by…people who claim to have detected a clear link between their own poor health and exposure to a specific electrical device,” which “can have major implications for a person’s quality of life and…health” and stress, not to mention problems in job and social situations.

To see how common this was, they sat college students down onto two big electromagnetic coils, and then went through a symptom checklist asking how they felt under both strong and weak electromagnetic field conditions. And, they did report neurological symptoms: headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, fatigue, and irritability, plus visceral symptoms, such as palpitations, muscle tension, nausea—though more under the weak field condition, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, and a little heartburn. They could feel it in their skin: crawly, cold, sweaty, and itchy feelings, and their sensory organs registered blurred vision, ringing in their ears, dry mouth, a little stuffiness, along with some other symptoms. “40 students [in all] asked to rate their symptoms during ‘sham,’ ‘weak,’ and ‘strong’ exposure.” But, in reality, it was all a sham. They weren’t blasted with any fields­—period. The coils seemed to be “connected to an impressive electric power supply with coloured lights” and everything, but they weren’t even really connected to anything under any of the conditions.

The study was titled “Polluted places or polluted minds?”—suggesting that those who claim to be experiencing these symptoms may be just deluding themselves. Before jumping to conclusions, though, you want to study people who actually suffer from the disorder. Twenty men and women who claimed they were “sensitive to cell phones” were put to the test. They reported a variety of symptoms upon exposure to cell phone radiation: all sorts of pains and sensations, dizziness, breathing difficulties. So, researchers sat them down in a chair with various active cell phones strapped near their head. And, boy, could they feel them, experiencing a variety of symptoms, but, ironically, they felt a bit worse with just like a bean bag dummy phone next to their head. “Contrary to definite expectations…,none of [the so-called electrosensitive] could [even] distinguish whether the cellular phones were [turned] on or off.”

And, that’s what nearly all such studies have found: “no evidence” that the symptoms are anything but “psychological” in nature, noting that those who claim such hypersensitivity tend to exhibit more obsessive-compulsive, hostile, phobic, and paranoid traits. So, the researchers changed the name. What used to be called “Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity” in the medical literature is now called “Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance Attributed to Electromagnetic Fields,” an acronym that sounds like something straight out of Old MacDonald’s Farm. “Despite the conviction of I-E-I-E—MF sufferers that their symptoms are triggered by exposure to electromagnetic fields, repeated experiments have been unable to replicate this phenomenon under controlled conditions.” And, we’re talking 46 studies involving more than a thousand people who say they have it. But, when put to the test, when you put all the studies together, not only did they find “no [significant] impact” on any of the symptoms, “there was no evidence that subjects were [even] able to detect [the fields].”

Not a single person, ever? Well, there was this one study in which “[t]wo participants showed extraordinary performance,” guessing when the cell phone was on up to 97 times out of a hundred. I mean if that was just chance, that would be like the odds of being struck by lightning four times in a single year. But, “they failed to replicate the result” a month later. And, in science, if you can’t replicate something, it doesn’t exist.

So, why does this notion of hypersensitivity persist? Well, there is now an entire industry profiting off of various gizmos claiming to protect people, and the media seem to love the hypersensitivity story; yet, “[w]hy don’t journalists mention the data?” The media have tended to claim “research into this area has been neglected. But, the research has been done”—dozens of studies that appear to have been “systematically ignored by almost every single journalist covering the issue.” Blind “provocation studies” published in the peer-reviewed academic literature, and they’re almost all negative. I mean, you could argue that the evidence is nearly unanimous.

“So why doesn’t the media ever mention the data?” Perhaps they “leave it out” on purpose. Perhaps they’re just “incompetent,” and never looked it up. Or, maybe, they’re just suckered in by the snake-oil salesmen selling “insulating paint” and protective “beekeeper hats.” “Not only do these lobbyists” also conveniently fail to mention the dozens of studies, “they…viciously attack anyone who even dares to mention the data, accusing them of…denying the reality of [people’s] symptoms.”

No, no one is saying they’re making them up; the science just suggests that whatever the symptoms, the cell phones don’t appear to be the cause. And, hey, if you want to go there, one could just as “fairly argue” that those who are trying to sell these poor people a bill of goods “are themselves hindering better understanding” of their customers’ suffering.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Lynn Greyling via PublicDomainPictures.net. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

“During the past decade, a wide range of symptoms have been reportedly triggered by exposure to the radiofrequency electromagnetic fields” that emanate from cell phones during use, including “headache, nausea, dizziness, [and] fatigue.” “[T]he…news media has been promoting [this as] a new medical condition, called electrosensitivity, or electromagnetic hypersensitivity.” These “stories have been…driven [in part] by…people who claim to have detected a clear link between their own poor health and exposure to a specific electrical device,” which “can have major implications for a person’s quality of life and…health” and stress, not to mention problems in job and social situations.

To see how common this was, they sat college students down onto two big electromagnetic coils, and then went through a symptom checklist asking how they felt under both strong and weak electromagnetic field conditions. And, they did report neurological symptoms: headaches, drowsiness, dizziness, fatigue, and irritability, plus visceral symptoms, such as palpitations, muscle tension, nausea—though more under the weak field condition, abdominal pain, shortness of breath, and a little heartburn. They could feel it in their skin: crawly, cold, sweaty, and itchy feelings, and their sensory organs registered blurred vision, ringing in their ears, dry mouth, a little stuffiness, along with some other symptoms. “40 students [in all] asked to rate their symptoms during ‘sham,’ ‘weak,’ and ‘strong’ exposure.” But, in reality, it was all a sham. They weren’t blasted with any fields­—period. The coils seemed to be “connected to an impressive electric power supply with coloured lights” and everything, but they weren’t even really connected to anything under any of the conditions.

The study was titled “Polluted places or polluted minds?”—suggesting that those who claim to be experiencing these symptoms may be just deluding themselves. Before jumping to conclusions, though, you want to study people who actually suffer from the disorder. Twenty men and women who claimed they were “sensitive to cell phones” were put to the test. They reported a variety of symptoms upon exposure to cell phone radiation: all sorts of pains and sensations, dizziness, breathing difficulties. So, researchers sat them down in a chair with various active cell phones strapped near their head. And, boy, could they feel them, experiencing a variety of symptoms, but, ironically, they felt a bit worse with just like a bean bag dummy phone next to their head. “Contrary to definite expectations…,none of [the so-called electrosensitive] could [even] distinguish whether the cellular phones were [turned] on or off.”

And, that’s what nearly all such studies have found: “no evidence” that the symptoms are anything but “psychological” in nature, noting that those who claim such hypersensitivity tend to exhibit more obsessive-compulsive, hostile, phobic, and paranoid traits. So, the researchers changed the name. What used to be called “Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity” in the medical literature is now called “Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance Attributed to Electromagnetic Fields,” an acronym that sounds like something straight out of Old MacDonald’s Farm. “Despite the conviction of I-E-I-E—MF sufferers that their symptoms are triggered by exposure to electromagnetic fields, repeated experiments have been unable to replicate this phenomenon under controlled conditions.” And, we’re talking 46 studies involving more than a thousand people who say they have it. But, when put to the test, when you put all the studies together, not only did they find “no [significant] impact” on any of the symptoms, “there was no evidence that subjects were [even] able to detect [the fields].”

Not a single person, ever? Well, there was this one study in which “[t]wo participants showed extraordinary performance,” guessing when the cell phone was on up to 97 times out of a hundred. I mean if that was just chance, that would be like the odds of being struck by lightning four times in a single year. But, “they failed to replicate the result” a month later. And, in science, if you can’t replicate something, it doesn’t exist.

So, why does this notion of hypersensitivity persist? Well, there is now an entire industry profiting off of various gizmos claiming to protect people, and the media seem to love the hypersensitivity story; yet, “[w]hy don’t journalists mention the data?” The media have tended to claim “research into this area has been neglected. But, the research has been done”—dozens of studies that appear to have been “systematically ignored by almost every single journalist covering the issue.” Blind “provocation studies” published in the peer-reviewed academic literature, and they’re almost all negative. I mean, you could argue that the evidence is nearly unanimous.

“So why doesn’t the media ever mention the data?” Perhaps they “leave it out” on purpose. Perhaps they’re just “incompetent,” and never looked it up. Or, maybe, they’re just suckered in by the snake-oil salesmen selling “insulating paint” and protective “beekeeper hats.” “Not only do these lobbyists” also conveniently fail to mention the dozens of studies, “they…viciously attack anyone who even dares to mention the data, accusing them of…denying the reality of [people’s] symptoms.”

No, no one is saying they’re making them up; the science just suggests that whatever the symptoms, the cell phones don’t appear to be the cause. And, hey, if you want to go there, one could just as “fairly argue” that those who are trying to sell these poor people a bill of goods “are themselves hindering better understanding” of their customers’ suffering.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Lynn Greyling via PublicDomainPictures.net. Image has been modified.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video.

Doctor's Note

This is part of an extended video series on the effects of cell phone and Bluetooth radiation. Here are the others, if you missed any:

What does this have to do with nutrition? Nothing. It’s just me responding to requests to use our research team to dig into other controversial areas, like mammograms, where there are multibillion dollar industries pressing on the scales, making it hard to disentangle the truth. We’re doing what we can. Too bad there aren’t other websites like this to offer objective, evidence-based analyses on all the important questions in life. If you want to support our work, please consider donating.

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