Can your electronic devices cause an increase in miscarriage risk?

Posted on January 17, 2018

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(Last Updated On: January 17, 2018)

Exposure to Magnetic Field Non-Ionizing Radiation and the Risk of Miscarriage

Why we care

In women exposed to a certain level of radiation, the miscarriage rate was 10.4%. In women exposed to any higher level, the risk was a startling 24.2%.

For reference, the average miscarriage rate is ~12.5%.

Quick tangent: You often see publications try to make a given study more noteworthy by looking at relative risk. For example, say the risk of X is 1%, but if those people are exposed to Y, the risk moves to 2%.

In most contexts nobody cares about 1 or 2%. Yet you’ll see a media outlet go “Risk of cancer doubles when exposed to Y.” “Y causes a 100% increase in cancer risk.” Yes, 2% compared to 1% is a doubling, or 100% increase, but where you start matters.

All to emphasize, 10.4% to 24.2% is a big ass increase in absolute and relative risk. Particularly when we’re talking what can be an emotionally trying time.

Details

Pregnant women wore an electromagnetic field measurer for 24 hours, ideally on what was a “typical day.” This device measures how strong a magnetic field is. For those with not much physics knowledge, you may not know electricity and magnetism can be viewed as the same. So whatever is using electricity, is generating a magnetic field. The more electricity, the stronger the field.

So right away this isn’t great. Ideally, the women would have worn the device for more time. When you’re pregnant, “typical day” can be continually changing. But such is research. It’s not perfect.

-> A typical day can also vary the most in the first trimester, when miscarriage risk is at its greatest. It’s customary for a pregnant woman to out of nowhere be exhausted and sleeping like never before.

The study controlled for lots of factors, many associated with miscarriages.

  • Race
  • Nausea
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Smoking
  • Infection
  • Vomiting
  • Education
  • Vaginal bleeding

Two noteworthy factors not controlled for,

  • Weight
  • Physical activity

The authors did look at “carrying load above 10 pounds”, but that’s not the same as say, how much were they walking.

Physical activity and miscarriage risk is it’s own topic. Check out my other writing for details. Long story short, it’s unlikely to be a problem, and more women should exercise while pregnant. (And ideally, before getting pregnant.) More fit woman => less pregnancy complications.

I have personally found the more technology people use, the less active they are. Not only that, the heavier they are. Look at this chart examining the relationship between how much energy a state uses, and how obese they are:

-More details: A brief look at the relationship between energy usage and obesity

That’s a strong relationship. Theory being- the more energy you use, the less you use your body => fatter you get.

  • Car instead of walking
  • Microwave instead of prepping meal
  • Escalator instead of stairs
  • Watching TV instead of going to park
  • Computers instead of manual labor

Thus, there is room for women who were heavier and or less physically active to have used more electricity, thus being exposed to more / stronger magnetic fields. If so, was it being heavier that caused the increased miscarriage risk? Or the magnetic fields?

We’ll see I don’t think this was likely to explain much in this study, but it’s worth bringing up.

How much radiation are we talking?

The authors focused on a unit called milligauss (mG). They broke the women into two groups,

  • Women where 99% of measured exposures were less than 2.5 mg
  • Women where 99% of measured exposures were more than 2.5 mg

Basically, what level were you always exposed to. Opposed to say, what was the max level you were exposed to. The issue with max exposure is you might have a very high exposure, but for only a short time.

Noteworthy is there was no increase in risk above 2.5 mG. Once above 2.5 mG, you had a significantly increased risk of miscarriage, but once above that threshold, you were no more likely to have a miscarriage. Whether you were above 2.5, 5, 10, didn’t matter. Theory being:

“Although we did not observe a dose-response relationship for magnetic field exposure above 2.5 mG, this could be due to a threshold effect of magnetic field exposure in which levels at or above 2.5 mG could lead to fetal demise, thus examining further higher levels of exposure were not able to confer additional risk.”

What are common electromagnetic field (EMF) levels?

https://www.sdge.com/sites/default/files/documents/1744270070/FINAL_EMF_S1510006_ENG.pdf?nid=17781

https://www.arpansa.gov.au/understanding-radiation/radiation-sources/more-radiation-sources/measuring-magnetic-fields

It’s important to note the distance. The rule of EMF fields is the further you get away from them, their strength gets exponentially weaker. For instance,

  • You’re right next to it = field at full strength
  • 1 inch away means the field is 1 unit weaker
  • 2 inches away means the field is 4 units weaker
  • 3 inches away means the field is 9 units weaker

A small distance makes a big difference.

Personally, I didn’t find any of the charts to be comforting enough. I wanted to be sure something like the power lines nearby weren’t too nearby. I bought my own EMF meter. It wasn’t pricey. $40.

The only devices regularly showing up above 2.5 mG is our WiFi router. It goes up and down, but if I keep the meter near it, it goes above 2.5 mG every few seconds. If I’m a few feet from it though, no reading.

The enormous reading was the microwave. That sent the meter through the roof. Coffee pot when on, TV if on (and right next to it), those could register a reading.

But remember, in this study, we’re talking 99% of exposures. A microwave here or there isn’t relevant (in this study).

What about all the people saying devices like cell phones are fine?

Worthwhile point:

“Unfortunately, the vast majority of epidemiological studies on magnetic field (MF) health effects in the literature so far have been based on subjective and unreliable MF measurements. Thus, it is not surprising that many of the past studies failed to detect MF health effects.

In addition, the focus on studying MF effects on cancer has exacerbated the problem, since the development of cancer usually has a long latency period between exposure and outcome that could span several decades. This has made accurately measure MF exposure in the etiologically relevant period (decades before the diagnosis of cancer) almost impossible. Those “null findings” have left a false impression of the “safety” of MF exposure.”

That said, a cell phone hasn’t lit up my EMF meter either. Though I’m not experienced with EMF devices, and not positive the one I got can pick up cell phones accurately. Regardless, I’m not on a phone for 99% of the day. Hopefully nobody is. (If constant use is necessary, put a (non-bluetooth is probably best) headset on.)

What we really seem to be concerned with is say, living by power lines. Or you don’t want your cubicle to be close to the office’s microwave. You don’t want to be sleeping next to your WiFi router. Or with a furnace on the other side of the wall. You don’t want to be living downtown, next to where the electrical grid is maintained. Or sitting at your desk, this close to your monitor:

Miscarriage rates aren’t above 20%, so most people are doing fine?

It’s crucial to keep in mind if most people needed to be concerned about this, then miscarriage rates would be higher than the current average of ~12.5%.

Though, what becomes extremely hard in research like this is finding norms. For instance, when every person is next to a cell phone or WiFi all day, how do you get a control group which isn’t? We can’t compare women in California to hunter gatherers in Africa.

“If we studied normal gait now, we’d have to revise everything”

So it’s plausible all else being equal, completely eliminating EMF could lessen miscarriage rates below the current average. But I’m not sure we can study that.

-> It’s also possible completely eliminating them would increase miscarriage rates! Maybe more readily accessible information on a cell phone allows for more prophylactic measures, helping to decrease miscarriage rates. Like reading this site!

Interestingly, spontaneous abortions have been on the rise:

Trends in Self-reported Spontaneous Abortions: 1970–2000

And (I plan to study this more closely) a brief look says the more tech a country uses, the lower its fertility rate.

Again, there are a ton of factors to consider with these types of investigations. Very hard to parse out what’s causative.

This will become harder to avoid, and potentially more of an issue

As phones get more powerful, WiFi gets faster, cell networks go from 4G to 5G, games become more and more indistinguishable from life (virtual reality headsets), as people put always on surveillance devices in their house (Alexa, Google Home), as stoves, refrigerators, coffee makers get internet connections, if we continue our obsession with making every little piece of life “more convenient”, these fields are going to get stronger and more omnipresent.

This is already plausible:

  • wake up, in bed, start working on laptop
  • get on a hoverboard and roll to my electronic toothbrush
  • roll to get my meal from the button I pushed to heat it up
  • roll back to bathroom to use electric razor and toothbrush
  • use electric hair dryer
  • roll to my apartment’s elevator
  • look at the screen going over the weather and news (heaven forbid we be alone with our thoughts for 25 seconds)
  • roll into the Uber, which is an electric car I ordered with Alexa,
  • interact with phone’s artificial assistant (requires internet)
  • roll to baggage check
  • check my bag, which has a battery in it that’s been charging my phone
  • roll to security
  • use my face to unlock my phone
  • show boarding pass which was emailed to me
  • lift my hands to get scanned
  • continue my rolling to the escalator which brings me up a floor
  • continue on the airport’s moving walkway so I get a break from leaning forward on my hoverboard
  • watch everybody cruise past me on their cellphone
  • get on a plane and go across the country while a screen talks to me
  • roll to baggage claim and grab my bag which was brought to me
  • roll out the airport
  • get in another Uber
  • elevator to my hotel room
  • put on virtual reality headset to relax (been a hard day)
  • back in a Lyft as Uber was busy
  • get on the Segway tour of the new city I’m in

You can travel across the world barely moving a limb or even needing to open your mouth. That’s extraordinary!

Electric cars may be one of the biggest issues. What kind of magnetic field strength are we talking when riding in a thing with a bajillion batteries running at once?

The New York Times has even discussed this

The contemporary infatuation with artificial intelligence? AI uses a TON of electricity.

BitCoin? Already using more energy than all of Google.

Again, here and there with these fields, not an issue. Being around fairly strong ones all day? When you’re in a vulnerable state? (Think pregnancy or child.) It’s obvious some researchers will spend their careers figuring this out.

Really, all we need to show is we have a concern for pregnant women and or kids. For example, if air pollution was fine for everybody but kids, it’s effectively fine for nobody. As a city, you can’t say “Hey, air pollution levels are ok. If people want kids, they can move somewhere else.” Your city will be non-existent in a few generations. It’s hard to concentrate pollution like we do alcohol. This is why smoking has been progressively banned. It’s not the person smoking, it’s the second hand influence.

This is just more reason to understand we’re not going to be able to keep this obsession with electricity forever. There are physical limits. Whether it be on Earth, or with our own bodies. With how obese and physically inactive we are, I’d argue our bodies have already hit a limit.

The easiest mitigation is the simplest- use your body more; use electricity less. What’s one great time to do this? When you workout. You don’t need to watch Netflix when you’re going for a god damn walk! Go outside. You don’t need to check Instagram when you’re lifting weights. Leave the phone in the car.

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Posted in: Pregnancy, Technology