Saturday, March 15, 2008


A heating pad can relieve pain and loosen stiff joints, and won't cause overheating if the setting is monitored. But is it completely safe?

Household appliances such as heating pads, electric blankets and mattress covers, plug-in hair dryers, computers, and coffeemakers all generate electromagnetic fields (EMFs), invisible lines of force that surround electrical equipment, power cords, and power lines.

For the past two decades, researchers have been investigating whether these EMFs can disrupt internal body control systems and increase the risk of cancer or weaken the immune system. So far no studies have confirmed that EMFs increase the risk of cancer among adults.

Some studies have suggested a link between EMFs and childhood leukemia, but here evidence relates to the proximity of power lines, not household appliances. The bad news is that the possibility of an EMF/cancer connection hasn't been definitively ruled out.

Some research has suggested that exposure to low-level magnetic fields emitted by such appliances as hair dryers, electric blankets and electric razors can damage DNA in brain cells.

The data come from a study in rats at the University of Washington, which found DNA damage in animals exposed to a 60 hertz field for 24 hours; more damage was found after 48 hours. Henry Lai, Ph.D., the study leader, said that data from this and a previous study suggest that the effects of exposure are cumulative and may build up in humans over time as a result of repeated brief use of common plug-in appliances.

He suggests limiting exposure to as little time as possible, particularly with devices used close to the body. The strength of EMFs falls off exponentially as distance from the source increases. So move plug-in clock radios away from your head and hold the hair dryers farther away.

So, regarding heating pads. Because we can't say for sure that EMFs pose no risks, I would advise anyone who feels the need for localized heat to use a non-electric heating pad, such as one that you warm up in hot water or in the microwave.



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