Electromagnetic radiation

March 22, 2017


Electromagnetic radiation

Natural Standard Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

Related Terms

  • Caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE), CAPE, cellular phones, EHS, electromagnetic (EM), electromagnetic field therapy, electromagnetic healing, electromagnetic pulse, electromagnetic radiation, electromagnetic radiation hazards, electromagnetic spectrum, electromagnetic therapy, electromagnetic wave equation, electrosensitivity (ES or EHS), ES, EM, idiopathic environmental intolerance, light, light frequency waves, magnetic field therapy, PEMF, pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF), radiant energy, radiation.


  • Electromagnetic radiation is a self-propagating wave of energy that is produced by many contemporary electronic devices. Electromagnetic radiation possesses energy and matter, which is impacted when it encounters another object. This form of energy is thought to possess beneficial, as well as harmful, health effects. While some alternative practitioners use EM to heal injuries and wounds, some individuals claim that exposure to too much electromagnetic radiation has caused them to become sick.

  • The most familiar form of electromagnetic radiation is sunshine, consisting primarily of infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light. Higher frequencies of electromagnetic radiation include x-rays and gamma rays, which are forms of ionizing radiation or radiation that can potentially destabilize molecules within cells leading to tissue damage. Exposure to large amounts of this type of radiation may be dangerous and has been linked to certain types of cancer. Lower frequency electromagnetic radiation is emitted from many commonly used devices such as cellular phones and microwave ovens. This type of radiation is known as non-ionizing radiation, and is typically considered to be safe when encountered in everyday amounts. Health effects from exposure to low levels of electromagnetic radiation have not been conclusively determined.

  • Some alternative practitioners use techniques to manipulate electromagnetic fields and claim that diseases result when the body's electromagnetic field has been disturbed. This practice is called electromagnetic therapy. Several products employing electromagnetic radiation have been marketed as an aid to increase quality of sleep and promote relaxation. These products have not been adequately tested to prove these claims true or false. Some physicians advocate the use of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy (PEMF) to help alleviate symptoms associated with certain difficult-to-treat conditions, such as chronic back pain, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. Current clinical research to definitively validate these claims is lacking, but some evidence does exist suggesting a possible improvement in these conditions.

  • Electrosensitivity (EHS or ES) is the name given to a cluster of unspecific symptoms reported by some individuals when they are exposed to electromagnetic radiation from cellular phones and other electronic devices. This diagnosis is quite controversial and not recognized by all medical researchers. However, advocates claim that electrosensitivity forces some people to stop using cellular phones. The World Health Organization refers to these symptoms as "idiopathic environmental intolerance" and emphasizes the lack of evidence that exists regarding negative health consequences of cellular phone use.

  • As technology advances and more wireless products are developed to accommodate mobile lifestyles, Americans are exposed to increasing amounts of electromagnetic radiation. Manufacturers of products that emit such radiation assure consumers that normal use poses no health risk. However, several studies suggest an increased risk of developing certain health problems in those exposed to continuous low-frequency electromagnetic radiation.

  • Electrosensitivity and electromagnetic therapy are areas of increasing medical research.


  • Electromagnetic therapy is commonly used as an adjunct to more conventional medical therapies. Most frequently, it is used for cancer and multiple sclerosis.

  • A typical treatment session of pulsed electromagnetic therapy involves lightly placing drum shaped pads on a dressing over a wound or injury site. After they are placed, these pads deliver electrical currents to the patient's body. Because pulsed electromagnetic therapy only delivers short bursts of energy, no heat is generated and tissue damage does not occur.

  • Typically, several sessions are needed before improvement in symptoms is seen.

  • Electromagnetic therapy is performed by a variety of health care professionals, including chiropractors and physical therapists.


  • Individuals who become ill as a result of too much contact with electromagnetic fields develop what advocates refer to as electrosensitivity. The most frequently observed symptoms of people who claim to suffer from electrosensitivity include headaches, fatigue, light sensitivity, heart problems, fainting, and cognitive difficulties. These symptoms are usually observed by individuals after being in close proximity to computers, electrical installations, fluorescent lamps, and cellular phones for a period of time.

  • Though there is no cure for electrosensitivity, advocates claim that certain lifestyle modifications may mitigate the symptoms of this condition. It is difficult to completely avoid being exposed to all electromagnetic radiation, but some people who experience electromagnetic hypersensitivity may choose to abstain from using a cellular phone or other wireless device. Further, these individuals are advised by advocacy organizations to check device labels and manufacturer information to ensure that products meet required safety criteria regarding radiation emissions.

  • Anecdotally, a variety of alternative modalities have been used to restore the body from damage that may have been caused by electromagnetic radiation. Consuming antioxidants to reduce tissue damage purportedly caused by electromagnetic radiation is advocated by some. Green clay baths, spiritual healing, topical salt, and baking soda may be used as a means of removing toxins potentially introduced into the body by electromagnetic radiation. Other individuals may use magnet therapy or reflexology to correct the body's energy fields after they are disturbed by electromagnetic radiation. Some individuals put plants or negative air ionizers in rooms with electrical devices in order to supposedly absorb some of the electromagnetic radiation in the environment.

  • The results of studies on electrotherapy and electrosensitivity in test populations are varied. Recommendations regarding use of products or therapies to reduce the damage supposedly caused by electromagnetic radiation cannot be made until further research is conducted.


  • Electromagnetic therapy is thought to restore the electricity and magnetic energy that naturally exist in the human body. This is purportedly accomplished by correcting energy imbalances that result in the chemical and physiological illness.

  • Although not conclusively proven, it is postulated that tissue damage from exposure to electromagnetic radiation results from increasing free radicals (unstable particles that react with cells potentially causing damage) in the body, enhancing lipid peroxidation (the result of free radicals damaging cell membranes that results in production of more free radicals) and altering antioxidant defense systems (the way the body normally neutralizes free radicals to prevent damage to cells).

  • A 2006 study by Lee et al. found that pulsed electromagnetic therapy was effective in treating symptoms of back pain. However, a 2006 review article of several clinical trials by McCarthy et al. showed no significant reduction in pain related to knee osteoarthritis when electromagnetic therapy was given to patients. More research is required before conclusions can be made regarding the efficacy of this form of treatment.

  • A study published in 2005 by Ozguner et al. concluded that potentially dangerous reactions to electromagnetic radiation, such as free radical induced tissue damage, occurred less when animals in close proximity to cellular phones were given a novel antioxidant, caffeic acid phenethyl ester, one of the major components of honeybee propolis. These results encourage further investigation into the role that antioxidants may play in protection against electromagnetic radiation.


  • International exposure guidelines have been developed by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection and the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers to provide protection against established effects from electromagnetic radiation.

  • Caution should be exercised before a decision is made to purchase a product claiming to cure certain diseases by emitting electromagnetic radiation or before taking any nutritional supplements claiming to prevent or cure damage induced by electromagnetic radiation. Individuals should consult a qualified healthcare professional before taking any nutritional supplement and to receive additional information regarding electromagnetic radiation and other treatment options.

Author Information

  • This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).


Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

  1. Lee PB, Kim YC, Lim YJ, et al. Efficacy of pulsed electromagnetic therapy for chronic lower back pain: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. J Int Med Res. 2006 Mar-Apr;34(2):160-7. .View Abstract

  2. Ozguner F, Altinbas A, Ozaydin M, et al. Mobile phone-induced myocardial oxidative stress: protection by a novel antioxidant agent caffeic acid phenethyl ester. Toxicol Ind Health. 2005 Oct;21(9):223-30. View Abstract

  3. Electrosensitivity: Sensitivities & allergies to electricity. www.electrosensitivity.org.

  4. Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers. www.ieee.org.

  5. International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. www.icnirp.de.

  6. McCarthy CJ, Callaghan MJ, Oldham JA. Pulsed electromagnetic energy treatment offers no clinical benefit in reducing the pain of knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review. BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2006 Jun 15;7:51. View Abstract

  7. Thornton IM. Out of time: A possible link between mirror neurons, autism and electromagnetic radiation. Med Hypotheses. 2006;67(2):378-82. View Abstract

Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.


March 22, 2017