Worried about what Wifi or mobiles are doing to your brain? Could an electromagnetic field (EMF) protecting pendant, as seen on Elle Macpherson, Kendall Jenner's copper energy ring or even a grounding mat help?
We know our columnist and ‘biotweak’ fan Elle Macpherson doesn’t espouse things she doesn’t wholeheartedly believe in, so seeing her praising a £160 ‘Harmoni Pendant’ featuring ‘breakthrough EMF protection technology’ made us sit up and pay attention. Elle has in the past talked about using foil blankets on airplanes for herself and her children to deflect radiation from the sun and cosmic rays at high altitude, so she’s no stranger to a bit of EMF shielding. “I love my Harmoni pendant,” she says on the company’s website. “I have noticed faster recovery, better sleep and a more balanced nervous system.”
She’s not the only person to sport an energy-shifting talisman. Meghan Markle was seen recently wearing a ‘biosignal processing disc’ (or ‘anti-stress patch’) on her wrist. Meanwhile, Kendall Jenner (below) has been placing copper energy rings around her home “to create a positive field of natural life force energy,” (get yours for £17 at Etsy).
But what is EMF all about, what does it have to do your nervous system, and if it’s so dangerous, how can a little pendant protect you from it? We looked into the facts with the help of an independent doctor specialising in functional medicine and longevity, who told us that reducing electromagnetic fields is not necessarily a silly idea. But it’s important to choose the best way to do it.
What is EMF and how dangerous is it?
Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are everywhere. They are essentially radiation and there are two types: ionising (as in x-rays and radiotherapy), which is dangerous (but necessary in some medical applications) and can damage DNA, and non-ionising rays, as emitted by your mobile, microwave and remote control – these are not considered a problem at their low strength. However, our relentless and increasing use of electronic devices emitting EMFs (and airplane travel; Elle’s ‘cosmic rays’ are also real, with a transatlantic flight said to be equivalent to a low-radiation chest X-ray) makes some people wonder about their cumulative effect on our systems.
It's a worry that brands such as Harmoni seize on: “Nearly three billion people worldwide are exposed to EMF every single day,” we are told on their website. “Humans are exposed to and absorbing more electromagnetic radiation than ever before, as EMFs are now ubiquitous at home, work, and places of leisure. It is estimated that a growing number of undiagnosed and unexplained illnesses may be attributable to EMF-related causes.”
However, although they have many testimonies from doctors on their website, they also admit that hard evidence for EMF making us ill is lacking, writing that “gold standard clinical studies establishing a causative or correlative association [ie, direct or credible link] of EMF with bodily stress are rare.”
How does the Harmoni Pendant work?
Rather bizarrely, you need to hold the pendant 12 inches away from your chest for two minutes to ‘activate’ it. This is how it ‘harmonises’ with your body. After this, you can hang it on a chain, key ring or put it in your pocket and it will, the idea is, emit some sort of ‘force field’ that blocks invisible electromagnetic energy.
However, nowhere on the Harmoni website is it explained how the pendant does this, apart from saying it’s “non-electronic” and “designed on a scientific understanding of the energetic field, taking disrupting EMFs and converting them into harmonious energy.”
A deep-dive internet search only throws up a mention of the pendant using a “unique metal combination” that “forms a natural paramagnetic field” to harmonise the body.
The use of conductive or magnetic materials (commonly copper or magnets) is common practice in electrical engineering to minimise electromagnetic interference and protect the environment from radiation, so we can probably assume that the pendants are made from one or more of these materials.
The effect they have on the human body, according to Harmoni, is that they off-set the stress and sapping of energy EMFs bring about, which can result in sleeplessness, lethargy and illness. In the company’s own (non-independently evaluated) clinical study, heart rate variability (HRV), which is a marker of resilience and good health when it’s high, increases when the pendant is used. The same goes for energy reserves, brain function and autonomic regulation (the body’s internal ‘system control’). Result: energy, clarity, focus, better sleep and better health.
And no, it won’t stop your mobile phone working: the idea is to stop the EMF from affecting you, not to stop it existing. It's quite an achievement for a little metal pendant, and its workings are not readily understood. A small independent review testing the bioelectric shield of one such trinket concluded that its benefits were down do a measurable placebo effect.
What are the best ways to protect against EMFs?
“Reducing electromagnetic fields is definitely possible and desirable; obviously, it’s standard procedure in the case of machines that emit dangerous ionising radiation, such as CT scanners,” says Dr Geoff Mullan, a functional medicine doctor and chief medical officer at functional longevity healthspan platform Humanpeople.
“In our clinic, we also limit our exposure to strong non-ionising radiation, by using ferrite magnet rings on the cables of devices such as our radiofrequency machine (by the way, cosmetic radiofrequency treatments are millions of times lower-energy than an X-ray, so very safe). But I can’t see how a small pendant can create a force field around the body; you’d have to encase yourself in a magnetic donut,” he says.
Kendall Jenner’s copper energy rings probably won’t be up to the task, either.
Mullan isn’t overly concerned about EMFs in daily life and cautions against unnecessary scaremongering. Having said that, he limits exposure for himself and his family by keeping devices such as phones and televisions out of the bedroom, not holding his mobile to his ear and employing automatic night-time switch-off on his Wifi routers: “their radiation is quite high-frequency and could cause a little chronic inflammation,” he says.
He also says to be wary if your phone has a weak signal: “it amplifies the electricity the device sends out, making for stronger radiation.” He says that “distance is your friend”; use Bluetooth or your speaker instead of sticking your phone to your ear, and if you’re a man, don’t keep your phone in your front trouser pocket as there are some concerns about male fertility.
“I believe EMFs have little effect on healthy people,” he says. “But I have noticed in my practice that people who test positive for myo-toxins (mould illness) seem to be very sensitive to EMFs. They often make them unwell.”
This makes sense, he says, as mould spores can cause neuroinflammation (leading to chronic fatigue-type diseases), while EMFs affect the brain and nerves similarly. “It seems like EMFs, in these cases, can tip people over the edge,” he says. Generally, people who are sick seem to be at increased risk from lethargy and headaches as a result of EMF exposure, he feels. His evidence is circumstantial, but he can see a link.
What do grounding mats do
Mullan is slightly less sceptical about gadgets that could be described as ‘super-sized’ versions of EMF protector pendants: grounding mats. “I attended a health optimisation summit recently and they were everywhere – alongside grounding beds, grounding sheets, and even grounding shoes.”
The mats and sheets contain copper thread and can be plugged into a socket. This creates an electrical connection with the earth that allows free electrons to flow from it and create a neutral electrical charge. And that is said to stabilise our physiology to reduce inflammation and stress, improve blood-flow and aid wellbeing.
Surprisingly, it’s not mumbo-jumbo: “we are in fact electrical beings, and standing on these mats does turn our charge to zero,” says Mullan. Meaning the earth, which has a negative charge, neutralises disruptive, positively charged static energy (which could be caused by factors such as EMFs) in the body.
But it’s a step too far for Mullan to say this means these gadgets will reduce stress, cure your insomnia or beat back inflammation. “We don’t know how the mechanism works precisely, and I haven’t come across any randomised, double, blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials that prove they have all these benefits,” he says.
How to do grounding or earthing for free
What’s more, he notes, real grounding – also called earthing – is free. Digging in the dirt, standing barefoot on the grass (or even concrete), lying on the beach or swimming in a pond are the original ways to soak up those stabilising electrons and have been proven to improve wellbeing, according to a review of the evidence in an article on grounding in Science Direct.
“Do any of these in the morning, while drinking a litre of water for essential hydration and soaking up the early morning sun,” says Mullan. “Fifteen minutes after sunrise (and likely also at sunset), there is no UV radiation but the sun’s blue light at this time amplifies serotonin uptake and is biologically beneficial and soothing.”
Basically, spending a spell in touch with nature at the start of every day beats any gadget for health benefits, no matter how fancy they look dangling around your neck. Even Elle, who included grounding her feet in the earth every morning in a recent GTG column on her health optimisation habits, knows this instinctively.