How Your Microwave Oven Damages Your Health In Multiple Ways

microwave hazards

Story at-a-glance -

  • If you want to use food to optimize your health, it is helpful to pay attention not only to the food quality but also how you prepare it, being careful to use methods that do not seriously impair food quality
  • Studies suggest microwaving your food could expose you to carcinogenic toxins released from plastic or paper wrappers, and destroy valuable nutrients in the food
  • A Swiss food scientist found that microwaved food increased cholesterol levels, decreased red and white blood cell counts, decreased hemoglobin and produced radiolytic compounds

By Dr. Mercola

By now, you probably know that what you eat has a profound impact on your health. The mantra, "You are what you eat" is really true. But you need to consider not only what you buy, but also how you cook it. When it comes to microwave ovens, the price for convenience is to compromise your health.

In this article, I will review what we know about the effects microwaves have on your food and on your health. Hopefully I will convince you to get rid of your microwave as even when you are using it to sterilize kitchen sponges, it contaminates your environment with biologically damaging radiation.

Sad State of Our Soils

Over the past century, the quality of fresh food has declined due to soil depletion, unsustainable industrial farming practices, overproduction of crops and the use of artificial fertilizers and toxic pesticides and herbicides such as glyphosate, which acts as a mineral chelator. You can no longer assume you're getting all of the vitamins, minerals, enzymes and phytonutrients you need by eating a multitude of fresh produce, even if you're eating organic foods.

Not surprisingly, the amount of nutrition in a calorie of food has been reduced over the past 50 years. Three recent studies of historical food composition have shown 5 to 40 percent declines in some of the minerals in fresh produce, and another study found a similar decline in our protein sources.1

So, now more than ever, you must be careful to maximize the "bang for your buck" when it comes to the foods you eat. Research shows your microwave oven will not help you in these efforts. Instead, it will in fact threaten your health by violently ripping the molecules in your food apart, rendering some nutrients inert at best, and carcinogenic at its worst.

Convenience Poses Toxic Threat in More Ways Than One

Microwaves heat food by causing water molecules to vibrate 2.5 billion times per second, eventually turning to steam that heats your food. While your microwave can rapidly heat a dish, it also alters the food's chemical structure. Structures of the water molecules are torn apart and forcefully deformed. This is different than conventional heating of food, whereby heat is transferred convectionally from the outside inward.

Contrary to popular belief, microwaved foods don't actually cook from the inside out. Microwave cooking begins within the molecules where water is present. Since not all areas contain the same amount of water, the heating is uneven. When thicker foods are cooked, microwaves heat the outer layers, and the inner layers are cooked mostly by the conduction of heat from the hot outer layers, inward.

Our knowledge of the danger has radically increased since microwave ovens were first introduced to consumers more than 40 years ago. Besides depleting your food's nutritional value, which will be addressed later in this article, microwave ovens can produce carcinogenic toxins in more ways than one.

When plastic is heated, toxic chemicals like BPA and phthalates can leach out of the containers or covers, contaminating your food with endocrine and hormone disruptors. A paper published in 1990 reported the leakage of many toxic chemicals from the packaging of common microwavable foods, including pizzas, chips and popcorn. Chemicals included polyethylene terpthalate (PET), and well-documented carcinogens like dioxin, benzene, toluene and xylene.

In addition to that, heterocyclic amines (HCAs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and advanced glycation end products (AGEs), known as glycotoxins, also form whenever food is cooked at high heat. All three of these are known carcinogens. These compounds are not present in raw food; more than 90 percent of our exposure to these carcinogens comes from cooked food, including microwaved foods.2

How Microwaves Damage Your Health

You might not be aware of this, but microwave ovens operate on gigahertz frequencies very similar to most 4G cellular networks. So, the danger AND the justifications why are identical. Conventional science and industry are clinging to the concept that these microwaves from your cell phones, portable phones, Wi-Fi routers, smart meters and wireless computers and tablets are not harmful because they do not cause any thermal damage.

New research3,4,5,6 from Professor Emeritus Martin Pall, Ph.D., has provided us with the mechanism of how this low level nonthermal microwave exposure causes biological harm. It has to do with voltage gated calcium channels (VGCCs) that are embedded in the cell membranes. He determined this by evaluating over two dozen studies showing you can radically reduce biological microwave damage using calcium channel blockers.

This explains why the argument that the microwave radiation is not high enough to cause thermal damage is fatally flawed. The statement is partially correct, as the radiation does not cause thermal damage. However, it causes massive biological damage. Pall has compiled a list of 123 studies and papers documenting the various non-thermal health effects of EMFs for those who want to take a deep-dive into the research. The safety standards that have been established are off by a factor of over 7 million.

So just how does it cause damage? Well, once the VGCCs are activated by microwaves, about 1 million calcium ions per second, these ions then stimulate the release of nitric oxide, which combines with superoxide to form peroxynitrate. These peroxynitrates then create hydroxyl free radicals, the most destructive free radicals known to man, which decimate mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, membranes and proteins that lead to mitochondrial dysfunction, the core of most chronic disease.

Pall has calculated that these VGCCs are over 7 million times more sensitive to microwave radiation than the charged particles inside and outside the cell, which means the currently established safety standards are off by a factor of over 7 MILLION.

Interestingly, the tissues with the highest density of VGCCs are the brain and nerve tissue like the pacemaker in the heart, and also in the testes. This could explain why we are having an exponential increase in many diseases like autism, Alzheimer's, arrhythmias, anxiety, depression and male infertility. Indeed, in a 2016 paper, Pall documents how microwave EMFs produce "widespread neuropsychiatric effects including depression."7

Microwave radiation does not have enough energy to directly break covalent bonds and damage your DNA in the way that ionizing radiation from X- or gamma rays do. However, it can actually cause more DNA damage than ionizing radiation as a byproduct of the increased hydroxyl free radical production.

Failure to realize this and take steps to minimize exposure not only will damage your DNA and increase your risk of most chronic illness, but also seriously impair your body's ability to remove toxins, and significantly impair your immune response to address the large variety of pathogenic infectious assaults you regularly encounter, especially parasites.

It is important to understand that using your microwave oven will expose you to an energy density of milliwatts per square centimeter (the standard energy unit measurement in the U.S.). While that sounds like a small number that will not cause thermal damage, it is easily thousands if not millions of times higher than the energy density shown to cause biological damage in hundreds of studies, as biological damage typically shows up in the micro to picowatt range.

So, every time you turn on your microwave oven, you are exposing yourself to microwave radiation densities thousands of times higher than your cellphone. This is the primary reason why I strongly advise removing the microwave from your home. Next, I will review some of the evidence showing how microwaves damage your food. But remember, this is a relatively minor issue compared to the DIRECT biological damage it will cause you and your family every time you turn it on. The closer you are to the oven, the higher the energy density and the worse the damage will be.

Microwaving Produces Toxins in Nearly All Types of Food

As noted in the book, "Electromagnetic Health: Making Sense of the Research and Practical Solutions for Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) and Radio Frequencies (RF)," written by a naturopath, Case Adams:8

"Research … at the University of California Lawrence Livermore Laboratory concluded that microwaves produced heterocyclic aromatic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Both are suspected carcinogens. Frying meats also produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons …"

While HCAs and PAHs are formed in protein, and AGEs form in protein and carbohydrate foods, Lita Lee, Ph.D., cites research from the Atlantis Rising Educational Center in Oregon in her 1989 book, "Microwaves and Microwave Ovens," which showed carcinogens form in nearly all types of food during microwaving.9

Aside from HCAs and PAHs, microwaving meat also produces the carcinogen d-nitrosodiethanolamine. When microwaving milk and grains, the amino acids are converted into carcinogenic compounds. Even thawing frozen fruit in your microwave will cause glucosides and galactosides in the fruit to convert into carcinogenic compounds. Ditto for plant foods, in which alkaloids are converted into carcinogens and hazardous free radicals. It doesn't even end there. As cited in "Electromagnetic Health":

A 1989 study published in the Lancet found microwaving infant formula converted trans-amino acids into cis-isomers, which are classified as neurotoxins and nephrotoxins, meaning they're toxic to your nerves and kidneys respectively.10

In a 1991 paper, Swiss food scientist Dr. Hans Ulrich Hertel reported that microwaved food produced carcinogenic effects in the bloodstream.11 It was a small study, consisting of only eight volunteers who drank either raw milk, cooked milk, pasteurized milk or microwave-cooked milk, and organic raw vegetables, cooked conventionally-grown vegetables, organic or conventional frozen vegetables that were then warmed in the microwave, or organic or conventional veggies fully cooked in the microwave.

Before and after each meal, blood tests were taken. Those who ate either microwaved milk or vegetables had decreased hemoglobin levels, increased cholesterol levels, decreased white and red blood cells, and decreased lymphocyte levels, the latter of which suggests increased infection or tissue damage. While there are shortcomings and limitations to this study, the results offer food for thought.

Hertel also found that when food molecules are deformed by microwaving, radiolytic compounds are formed. Subsequent research suggests these too appear to have carcinogenic potential.12

Not surprisingly, Hertel's study was met with great resistance from those with much to lose. The Swiss electrical appliance establishment lobbied to shut Hertel down, and he was eventually tried and found guilty of "interfering with commerce." American journalist Tom Valentine visited Hertel in Germany in 1992, penning a now classic article on his research13

The study was not without its shortcomings. It involved only eight participants, of which Hertel was one. As compelling as his findings were, his methodology did not stand up to the scientific rigors of the field. But in spite of Hertel's methodological shortcomings, his findings do raise concerns about what this form of radiation is doing to your food and should be taken as a launching point to larger, more robust studies in the future.

Hertel wrote: "There are no atoms, molecules, or cells of any organic system able to withstand such a violent, destructive power for any period of time. This will happen even given the microwave oven's low power range of milliwatts."

Do Microwaves Leak Radiation?

Early microwave models were frequently thought to carry a risk of microwave radiation leaking out while in operation. Modern microwaves undergo more rigorous testing, rendering such risks slim to none if you are evaluating thermal damage only. However, when you look at biological damage, the energy densities are highly biologically significant.

The FDA limits the amount of microwaves that can leak from an oven throughout its lifetime to 5 milliwatts (mW) per square centimeter at approximately 2 inches from the oven surface. Because microwave energy decreases dramatically as you move away from the source of the radiation, a measurement made 20 inches from your oven would be approximately one-hundredth of the value measured at 2 inches. However, remember that biological effects have been well-documented at 0.01 MICROwatts, which is half a million times lower than the FDA standard.

Microwave Radiation Affects Your Heart

A study16 published in 2010 examined the effects of 2.4 GHz radiation, which is the frequency of radiation emitted by Wi-Fi routers and microwave ovens, on the heart, finding "unequivocal evidence" that microwave frequency radiation affects the heart at non-thermal levels that are well below federal safety guidelines. According to Magda Havas, Ph.D., of Trent University:

"This is the first study that documents immediate and dramatic changes in both heart rate and heart rate variability caused by an approved device that generates microwaves at levels well below (0.3 percent) federal guidelines in both Canada and the United States."

This is precisely what one would predict, as the density of the VGCCs are highest in nerve tissue like the pacemaker of the heart. This is why, if you know anyone being treated for an arrhythmia, you need to inform them of this as there is a high probability that their arrhythmia is related to their microwave exposure from cellphones, Wi-Fi, portable phones and smart meters.

VGCCs in the brain are also very sensitive to this and are responsible for releasing neurotransmitters and neuroendocrine hormones, which could contribute to depression, anxiety, ADHD and autism. Anyone with these health challenges would be best served mitigating microwave radiation exposure.

Microwaving Destroys Nutrients

There has been surprisingly little research on how microwaves affect organic molecules, or how the human body responds to consuming microwaved food. Considering most modern households use a microwave, you'd expect it to have been thoroughly investigated for safety, not only in terms of standing near it during operation, but also in terms of its impact on the food. Sadly, that's not the case.

The handful of studies that have been done generally agree, for the most part, that microwaving food damages its nutritional value. Heating food, in and of itself, can result in some nutrient loss, but using microwaves to heat food introduces the additional problem of the "microwave effect," a phenomenon that will be discussed in detail later.

The majority of studies on microwaves and nutrition were conducted prior to 2000, I suspect because the focus of radiation research of late has shifted toward a more ominous threat: environmental radiation from electromagnetic devices such as cellphones and computers. Nevertheless, some excellent scientific data has been gathered regarding the detrimental effects of microwaves on the nutrients in your food:

The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 200317

This study found that broccoli "zapped" in the microwave with a little water lost up to 97 percent of its beneficial antioxidants. By comparison, steamed broccoli lost 11 percent or fewer of its antioxidants. There were also reductions in phenolic compounds and glucosinolates, but mineral levels remained intact.

Acta Agriculturae Scandinavica B, 199918

This Scandinavian study, which evaluated changes in texture and nutritional quality of green asparagus spears during microwave blanching, caused a reduction in vitamin C.

Journal of Nutrition, 200119

Here, as little as 60 seconds of microwave heating was enough to inactivate the allinase in garlic, which is the active ingredient against cancer.

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 199820

This Japanese study found that six minutes of microwave heating turned 30 to 40 percent of the B-12 in milk into an inert (dead) form.

Bioelectromagnetics, 200821

This Australian study showed that microwaves cause a higher degree of "protein unfolding" than conventional heating.

Pediatrics, 199222

Microwaving has also been shown to destroy the essential disease-fighting agents in breast milk that offer protection for your baby. This 1992 study found microwaved breast milk lost lysozyme activity, antibodies, and fostered the growth of more potentially pathogenic bacteria. According to the author, more damage was done to the milk by microwaving than by other methods of heating.

Microwave Sickness

When your tissues are directly exposed to microwaves, the same violent deformations occur and can cause "microwave sickness." People who have been exposed to high levels of microwave radiation experience a variety of symptoms, including:

Insomnia, night sweats and various sleep disturbances

Swollen lymph nodes and a weakened immune system

Headaches and dizziness

Impaired cognition

Depression and irritability

Nausea and appetite loss

Vision and eye problems

Frequent urination and extreme thirst

There is a good amount of data emerging that people are suffering, to various degrees, these kinds of symptoms from living next to cellphone towers and other high-frequency radiation emitting antennas, which emit microwaves around the clock. According to Professor Franz Adlkofer, a leading scientist in the area of biological effects of EMF fields:23

"There is real evidence that hyperfrequency electromagnetic fields can have geno-toxic effects. And this damaged DNA is always the cause of cancer. We've found these damaging effects on the genes at levels well below the safety limits. That's why we think it's urgent to base our safety limits on the biological effects, not the thermic ones. They should be based on biology, not on physics."

Breaking Free of Your Microwave: A Few Basic Tips

Hopefully, I have provided you with enough compelling information to stop using your microwave. If real estate in your kitchen is at a premium, your microwave should probably be the first thing to go. Contrary to popular belief, you can survive quite well without it. I tossed mine out last year and replaced it with a similar sized steam convention oven that cooks nearly as quickly as a microwave but safer. You can also:

  • Plan ahead. Take your dinner out of the freezer that morning or the night before so you don't end up having to scramble to defrost a 5-pound chunk of beef two hours before dinnertime.
  • Make soups and stews in bulk, and then freeze them in gallon-sized freezer bags or other containers. An hour before meal time, just take one out and defrost it in a sink of water until it's thawed enough to slip into a pot, then reheat it on the stove. Preparing batches of meals in advance will also ensure you always have a good meal available on days when you're too busy or too tired to cook.
  • Consider eating more organic raw foods. This is the best way to and improve your health over the long run.
  • A toaster oven makes a great faux-microwave for heating up leftovers. Keep it at a low temperature (200 to 250 degrees F) and gently warm a plate of food over the course of 20 to 30 minutes. Better yet, a steam convection oven that can likely fit in the opening left when you toss out your microwave oven.
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