How EMF Radiation Affects the Blood Brain Barrier and Why it Matters

Blood Brain Barrier
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The blood brain barrier provides a crucial defense against brain-related illness. But did you know there’s evidence to suggest that electromagnetic fields actually weaken this important barrier, potentially exposing the brain to harmful bacteria and toxins? To understand the effect of EMF and the blood brain barrier, lets’ explore what the blood brain barrier is, why it’s so important to brain health, and how cell phone radiation and other EMFs might cause brain damage by weakening the blood brain barrier.

The Blood Brain Barrier: What Is It?

The brain is one of the body’s most vital organs, so it makes sense that our bodies have evolved with several measures in place to protect it. The skull, cerebrospinal fluids, and the meninges (a protective membrane) all help to cushion and protect the brain against physical injury.

The blood brain barrier is one of our body’s ways of protecting your brain. It acts as a bridge between your blood stream and your brain, preventing foreign substances that may be carried in the blood — like pathogens and toxins — from crossing into your brain tissue. Because the barrier is semi-permeable, it does allow particular things, like vital nutrients, to pass through.

So the blood brain barrier is designed to let important and useful things from your blood into your brain, and to prevent harmful things in your blood from entering your brain.

Blood Brain Barrier
Image Courtesy of Kayleen Schreiber

If the blood brain barrier is weakened, it becomes more porous and can allow dangerous or infection-causing substances to reach the brain. That’s when damage can occur.

How Toxins End Up In Our Blood

It’s important to note that a weakened blood brain barrier opens up various risks. While one is disease-causing bacteria and pathogens, recent evidence also suggests that toxins we breathe in on a daily basis can quickly make it into our blood stream.

A 2017 study had volunteers breathe in harmless gold nanoparticles, which were then tracked through the body. Results showed that it took less than 24 hours for those nanoparticles to find their way from the lungs into the bloodstream. Three months later, the particles were still circulating in the body.

“If reactive particles like those in air pollution … reach susceptible areas of the body then even (a) small number of particles might have serious consequences,” said Mark Miller, lead research scientist of the study.

Crossing The Blood Brain Barrier: The Effect Of EMFs

So if toxins we breathe in from air pollution end up in our blood stream, and our blood brain barrier breaks down, it makes sense that those toxins can more easily pass through to our brain. Exactly what we don’t want in our quest for health and longevity– or proper brain function.

But what evidence is there that our cell phones and wireless devices can really damage the blood brain barrier?

While the effect of electromagnetic radiation on human brains is difficult to measure in a laboratory setting, a number of studies on rats have shown clear changes to blood brain barrier permeability after exposure to EMFs.

Dr. Leif Salford, a neurosurgeon at Lund University in Sweden, has been leading research on the effects of mobile phone radiation on the brain since the 1990s, and has called cell phone use “the world’s largest biological experiment” in which we “volunteer as guinea-pigs” to take part. The results of his studies have consistently shown that EMF exposure causes damage to the blood brain barrier.

One of Lund University’s studies from 2008 found that exposure to mobile phone radiation caused cognitive impairment in rats.

One of Lund University’s studies from 2008 found that exposure to mobile phone radiation caused cognitive impairment in rats.

Another of the team’s studies from 2009 exposed rats to just two hours of mobile phone radiation, then evaluated the results of the exposure after a 7-day rest period. The study concluded that “findings are in agreement with our earlier studies where we have seen increased BBB [blood brain barrier] permeability immediately and 14 days after exposure.”

A study from 2015 by a team of Chinese researchers supports the findings of both blood brain barrier damage and cognitive impairment in rats after exposure to EMFs. In that particular study, rats were exposed for either 14 or 28 days. The rats in the 28 day group were found to have greater cognitive impairment as well as “cellular edema and neuronal cell organelle degeneration”. The scientists state that “these results demonstrated that exposure to 900 MHz EMF radiation for 28 days can significantly impair spatial memory and damage BBB permeability in [the] rat by activating the mkp-1/ERK pathway”.

In other words, exposure to the same type of EMF radiation emitted by cell phones and cordless phones weakens the blood brain barrier.

Looking Ahead To Future Studies

As generally happens with developing science, not all studies about the effects of EMFs on the blood brain barrier are in agreement. A 2017 study by Poulletier de Gannes et al, for example, had mixed results, only finding blood brain barrier leakage in rats at repeated and very high levels of cell phone radiation exposure.

Studies such as these are inherently complex to design and difficult to replicate, due to the high number of variables. Types of radiation, exposure duration and levels, the method for evaluating damage, and so on, can all vary from study to study. This fact only highlights the need for further and more in-depth research about the potential health risks of EMFs.

With the blood brain barrier playing such an important role in the protection of our most complex and vital organ, its health is not something we should leave to chance.

In the meantime, if we are, as Dr. Salford would say, volunteers in “the world’s largest biological experiment”, it’s better that we do what we can to protect ourselves now, rather than wait for the results of long-term exposure to EMFs to speak for themselves.

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