By Dr. Mercola
Winter is upon you if you live in the northern hemisphere, and with this challenging economy you are probably interested in lowering your thermostat and conserving energy while still staying warm. An electric blanket seems like a good idea. You can turn the thermostat down at bedtime and stay comfortable throughout the night. But the central question is: Are they safe?
It’s true -- electric blankets are convenient and cost effective. But it is important to know that they may also be hazardous to your health. In addition to the fire danger associated with a defective or an old, worn electric blanket, there is also another health risk to consider -- the electromagnetic field you’ll be sleeping under for several hours every night.
What is an Electromagnetic Field?
An electromagnetic field (EMF) is an invisible zone of energy that surrounds electric devices and wiring. EMFs are actually comprised of two fields:
- an electric field, and
- a magnetic field
The electric field is created by voltage, which determines the force with which the electricity is pushed through wires. Most electric fields can be shielded by the design of the appliance, or physically, by walls or other barriers. The magnetic field is created by the current, which is the amount of electricity being pushed. Magnetic fields, which are the main cause of health concerns, can travel through most barriers and for long distances, and are difficult to block.
All electromagnetic energy falls somewhere on the electromagnetic spectrum, ranging from extremely low frequency (ELF) radiation to microwaves, x-rays and gamma rays. ELF fields are generated by household appliances, including electric blankets, and overhead power lines, which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer such as leukemia.
The Dangers of Electromagnetic Energy to Your Health
When electricity passes through a wire, it creates an electromagnetic field that exerts force on nearby objects, including animals and humans. At one time it was believed that low-level magnetic fields were not harmful, but scientists now agree that ELF fields are indeed hazardous to human health.
They are now considered “probable carcinogens,” and have been linked to cases of childhood leukemia, lymphoma and other health conditions. The exact mechanism by which exposure leads to cancer has not been established. But one potential mechanism may be due to ELFs ability to alter the expression of certain genes; turning them on and off at inappropriate times, which may cause them to initiate cell proliferation.
Additionally, the BioInitiative Report, published August 31, 2007 by an international working group of scientists, researchers and public health policy professionals, documents serious scientific concerns about the radiation emitted from power lines, cell phones, and many other sources of exposure to radiofrequencies and electromagnetic fields in daily life. It concludes that the existing standards for public safety are completely inadequate to protect your health. The report includes studies showing evidence that electromagnetic fields can:
- Affect gene and protein expression (Transcriptomic and Proteomic Research)
- Have genotoxic effects – RFR and ELF DNA damage
- Induce stress response (Stress Proteins)
- Affect immune function
- Affect Neurology and behavior
- Cause childhood cancers (Leukemia)
- Impact melatonin production; Alzheimer’s Disease; Breast Cancer
- Promote breast cancer (Melatonin links in laboratory and cell studies)
Why Electric Blankets are A Bigger Threat Than Other Household Appliances
Researchers have concluded that you should not only be aware of the potential harm of low-level magnetic fields, you should also limit your exposure as much as possible. This is especially true for appliances held close to the body, as would be the case with electric blankets.
The magnetic fields given off by various household appliances diminish sharply the farther you are from the appliance. In the case of electric blankets, however, a study conducted by Dr. Nancy Wertheimer in the mid-1980’s demonstrated that the reading at any power level (level 1 all the way up to level 9 or 10) was 10 to 20 mG (milliGauss) next to the blanket, and 5 to 10 mG six inches away from it.
These numbers represent the field strength to which you’re exposed when sleeping under an electric blanket. The current is balanced at the center of the blanket, but unbalanced at the outer edges. It is the imbalance that causes a significant magnetic field to be generated.
While there is heated debate as to what EMF level is considered safe, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed a safety standard of 1 mG, but many experts believe even this level is too high. As you can see, electric blankets are capable of creating a magnetic field anywhere from 5 to 20 times higher than the EPA’s proposed safe level of exposure. Meanwhile, many scientists warn that the enforced standards for electromagnetic exposures are too lax, and that the safety standards need to be revised in order to protect human health.
Specific Risks Linked to Electric Blanket EMFs
Electric blankets create a magnetic field that penetrates about 6-7 inches into your body -- for hours at a time. This qualifies as chronic exposure. Epidemiological studies have linked electric blankets with miscarriages and childhood leukemia.
Recent data reported in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests that regular use of an electric blanket may increase breast cancer risk in some women, and according to a 2007 report published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, using electric blankets was associated with a 15 percent higher prevalence of endometrial cancer than never having used one. The same study also revealed that the use of electric blankets for 20 years or more was associated with 36 percent higher prevalence of endometrial cancer.
Other studies have shown that the EMFs generated by electric blankets suppress melatonin production. Melatonin is the most important detox agent for your brain and is also an anti-inflammatory. Electromagnetic radiation can make inflammation worse by creating more potent mycotoxins, so reducing inflammation is vital. Research included in the BioInitiative Report mentioned above have also found links between melatonin disruption and the promotion of breast cancer.
Electric Blankets and Pregnancy
This clearly is not a good idea and something that is easily avoided. The unborn fetus is likely the most susceptible to this type of EMF radiation. Additionally, if you use an electric blanket during early pregnancy, you may increase the risk of miscarriage. Studies indicate that women who used an electric blanket around the time of conception and during early pregnancy were nearly twice as likely to miscarry than women who did not.
Is There a “Risk Free” Electric Blanket?
In response to EMF concerns, U.S. electric blanket manufacturers now sell blankets that claim to generate no harmful electromagnetic radiation. Although these “zero magnetic field” blankets reduce or eliminate magnetic fields, they may still generate electric fields. In my opinion, even minimal exposure poses an unnecessary risk, especially for children, pregnant women, people who are chronically exposed to EMFs from other sources, and those with Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome (EHS).
Safe Alternatives to Your Electric Blanket
- Flannel sheets
- An extra blanket
- Wear socks, or even a hat, to bed
- A hot water bottle
If you insist on using an electric blanket, turn it on before bedtime and leave the room while it warms your bed. Before you retire for the night, turn off the blanket and unplug it in order to eliminate EMF exposure.