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Electric Shavers Rot Your Brain 709

Damek writes "According to UW researchers, prolonged exposure to low-level magnetic fields, similar to those emitted by such common household devices as blow dryers, electric blankets and razors, can damage brain cell DNA. The damage appears to be cumulative, so you'd best get rid of your electric razors & blankets ASAP! The full study is available online now. No word yet for Cell Phone users' brains..."
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Electric Shavers Rot Your Brain

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  • Of course... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by el-spectre ( 668104 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @05:46PM (#8344036) Journal
    Sitting in front of an electron gun in a building full of wires... we're never exposed to magnetic fields...
  • by chazman00 ( 321337 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @05:46PM (#8344037) Journal
    ..when she told me not to sit to close to the TV
  • by Jim Starx ( 752545 ) <> on Friday February 20, 2004 @05:47PM (#8344055)
    Electric shavers have been around long enough that if they caused and serios damage (besides pulling the hair out of my face instead of cutting it) we would have heard about it by now.
  • by signe ( 64498 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @05:48PM (#8344085) Homepage
    OK, there's a previous study that used a really strong field for 2 hours, and it caused damage. Now they used a low-level field for 24 (and 48 hours) and it caused damage. How exactly does that get extrapolated to a low-level field for 3 minutes a day over a long period of time causing damage?

  • Gender? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by elbarrio ( 592330 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @05:51PM (#8344154)
    "so you'd best get rid of your electric razors & blankets ASAP!"

    I love the implicit commentary here that Slashdot readers are men and therefore do not own blow dryers.

  • by krilli ( 303497 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @05:51PM (#8344155) Journal
    I think the key words are "a marked increase".

    Apoptosis is a system that terminates cells that are in risk of becoming cancer cells. A marked increase of cells that are activating this system does not bode good, IMO.
  • ugh. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Niet3sche ( 534663 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @05:52PM (#8344159)
    Someone's gotta put this into perspective:

    These are rats exposed to 60Hz AC EMF at 0.1 to 0.5mT for two hours (continuous). Also studied were rats exposed to 60Hz AC EMF at 0.1mT for 24 hours (continuous).

    So I suppose, as an analog ....

    Go lie down in an MRI for a couple days straight. If you don't go deaf from the noise (they're loud), then you might see similar results. Oh, and don't wear deodorant ... it contains aluminium which will cause it to be dragged through your arm... ouch.

    Not that I'm saying there may well be something in this ... but how many of us even use the shaver/hairdryer for 2 continuous hours in a sitting? It may well be (and is likely) that the effects are not cumulative, but are actually acute trauma scenarios. For instance, you can assert that dropping a grain of dust on your foot 5 times a day for 10 years would make for the same mass as, say, dropping a car on said foot. However, the problem then comes in saying, "therefore, the two are analogous - we will see the same damage from the dust as we would with the car".

    It just does not follow.

  • Re:Umm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tessaiga ( 697968 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @05:54PM (#8344202)
    Wouldn't this only be a problem if you use these devices every day directly in contact with your skull?
    Both my blow drier and my razor actually come pretty close to my skull when I use them :)

    I agree that the news release seems pretty sensationalized, though. If you read carefully, you'll note that in the study they subjected the rats to a 60Hz field for 24 hours continuously, not a few minutes at a time:

    In the study, the researchers discovered that rats exposed to a 60-hertz field for 24 hours showed significant DNA damage, and rats exposed for 48 hours showed even more breaks in brain cell DNA strands.
    I don't consider this enough evidence to support their conclusion that the damage is cumulative, since to prove that they'd need to expose the rates to 24 hours of radiation a few minutes at a time, with long breaks in between, in a manner that would more closely mimic the use of the electronic devices they refer to.

    A loose analogy would be that I can hold my breath for ten seconds 30 times over the course of a day without any danger, but if I tried to do it all at once the results would probably be pretty harmful.

  • by Lord Ender ( 156273 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @05:57PM (#8344243) Homepage
    This article is about magnetic fields. Your CRT shoots electrons at a screen which then emits light. While moving electrons do produce a magnetic field, it is a very weak one: can you stick a metal screw to the side of your monitor and have it stick? But you could stick it to the magnet in the electric motor of your razor.
  • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @06:02PM (#8344327)
    > OK, there's a previous study that used a really strong field for 2 hours, and it caused damage. Now they used a low-level field for 24 (and 48 hours) and it caused damage. How exactly does that get extrapolated to a low-level field for 3 minutes a day over a long period of time causing damage?

    And while both experiments are interesting (as is the testing of the hypothesis by fiddling with the iron in the rat brains), I still have to wonder why they didn't do the obvious third experiment: low-level field, 10 minutes a day, over the lifetime of the rat.

    (Or high-level field, 10 minutes a day, for the rat's lifetime, and low-level field, 5 minutes every hour, for a week, and so on, and so on.)

    Bottom line: Interesting data so far, but the investigation looks pretty incomplete. It also looks like it wouldn't take more than a month or two of additional experiments to complete the investigation of the really interesting hypothesis, namely that Electric Shavers Rot Rat Brains.

    Why wasn't that done?

  • Re:Scale (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Migrant Programmer ( 19727 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @06:06PM (#8344386) Journal
    Rat cells are the same size as people cells.
  • Re:Umm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 20, 2004 @06:17PM (#8344528)
    And what is the difference in thickness between rat and human skull?

    Brain research is hard because skull and skin filters almost all magnetic fields. You need to use superconductive magnets placed near the brain to detect magnetic fields emitted by the brain.

    If you want to stimulate the brain, you need to create magnetic field which changes at the rate of several kiloTeslas per seconds. Needless to say, you need huge amount of current for this.

    This title is seriously misleading.
  • by nlh ( 80031 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @06:20PM (#8344556) Homepage
    In fact, he devotes a whole chapter in the aforementioned book regarding the complete lack of evidence regarding EMF as a health risk.

    Right. But, um, wouldn't this study - by definition - be evidence regarding EMF as a health risk?

  • by nicknicknick ( 648150 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @06:21PM (#8344567)
    How about a cordless razor operating off of a battery? Woudn't that be direct current w/out an alternating magnetic field?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 20, 2004 @06:41PM (#8344806)
    First off, I'm an RF Engineer. 2nd, I know an RF Engineer who specializes in RF and EM biohazzard. Don't just take my word on it concerning the following information - please go ahead and double check it with what information you can find.

    This supposed damage from low-level EM fields has been a concern and a wife's tale for quite some time. Cellphones that are close to people's heads and electric blankets have often been the center of the discussions.

    But think about the MRI machines, where there are absolutely huge magnetic fields concentrated around someone's skull, where the brain tissue is housed. Does getting an MRI cause huge amounts of brain damage? Don't you think we would have found such correlations prior to now if there were some?

    I've heard stories of people coming out of MRI machines "seeing stars" briefly - that would make some sense because the brain works via electromagnetic impulses, which are effected by strong magnetic fields. I haven't heard of permanent damage resulting from exposure.

    Hair dryers and personal Shavers? Come on. No.
    Electric blankets are a bit more diffult to dismiss, since they do create an EM field covering a person's body, and at 60 Hz. Cellphones far from cell stations transmit more power, and right next to a person's head.

    However: the only thing that has been shown to conclusively disrupt DNA is ionizing radiation such as that of radioactive materials or ultraviolet light. (As can be shown of instances of skin cancer in the case of UV, and cancer from radiation - even though it's also used as a treatment for cancer - for the very same reasons). Those are things to be concerned about.

    RF energy such as that in cellphones has been found to be safe except for the heating created by the RF energy, the very principles behind the microwave oven. [Which concentrates 1,000 watts into a metal cage with a small amount of food in it - a very different scenario than a very low power cellphone next to a quite large meaty object in open air.]

    There are areas where people work where CRT monitors do not function due to the magnetic fields in the vicinity. I.E. we're talking more than 1 gauss [yes, 1,000 mili gauss] of magnetic field. Hint: THEY LIVE, and they're working in that environment every day. [Think about broadcasting stations, or power stations, etc, etc.]

    This will eventually be shown to be mostly bunk.
  • by Jerry ( 6400 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @06:43PM (#8344831)
    When I was pre-teen there was a big scare about drinking Coca-Cola because some 'researcher' announced statistical data that shows a 'direct correlation' between drinking Coke and contracting Polio. Scared lots of mothers and put a temporary dent in Coke sales because most mothers knew nothing about statistics and causal relationships.

    Pure BS, of course, just like this 'research'.

  • Re:blow dryers (Score:2, Insightful)

    by icanoop ( 465578 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @06:51PM (#8344930)
    Not as often as I'd like.
  • Re:Headphones (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bartjan ( 197895 ) <(bartjan) (at) (> on Friday February 20, 2004 @06:51PM (#8344934) Homepage
    I doubt it as anything to do with battery powered devices. I'm using a cordless electric shaver, and although I haven't measured it myself, I see no reason for it to emit a 60Hz (or 50Hz, in my part of the world) electric field. Mains powered shavers do, and I believe that's what this article is about.
  • by pclminion ( 145572 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @07:05PM (#8345067)
    It is not a static magnetic field. A 60 Hz magnetic field is also a 60 Hz electric field.

    Right, however, imagine a 60 Hz EM source in the form of a closed copper ring (that somehow happens to have a 60 Hz AC current flowing within it). The magnetic field of this ring is varying coaxially with the ring, thus, the direction in which the magnetic field is pointing is precisely the direction that the EM radiation is not going. Remember that EM waves are transverse.

    That doesn't stop the magnetic field from influencing the inside of your skull, however, because the varying B field in your skull will induce an emf, and it is this emf which (presumably) wreaks havok in your skull as it interacts with ions and free radicals.

  • by Llywelyn ( 531070 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @07:14PM (#8345161) Homepage
    There is no statistical test which is valid for small groups of inbred mice. Particularly when trying to extend those results to humans.

    Saying that "Electrical shavers make your brain rot" off of significant but not astoundingly skewed results in a single study involving 16 mice is a little bit premature.
  • Re:Umm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ngoy ( 551435 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @07:23PM (#8345237)
    Does anyone else have a problem with a science news site that has ads for "FDA cheap weight loss prescriptions" and "Complete out free profile and find your soulmate today" (TrueBeginnings)


  • by $0.02 ( 618911 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @07:53PM (#8345516)
    don't shave.
  • by 0x1234 ( 741699 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @07:54PM (#8345526)
    There is much more to this article than just the potential dangers of lower level EMF. Very interesting to me is the suspected mechanism of the damage: Lai and Singh hypothesize that exposure to magnetic fields affects the balance of iron in certain cells, leading to an increase in free iron within the cell. That free iron undergoes a chemical reaction, which releases "free radicals," or charged atoms that attack cell structures, including DNA, lipids and proteins. The article also says that when the researchers controlled the free iron or when they neutralized the free radicals, the effects of the EMF were eliminated. Its seems to me that nutrition might play a role here. People who get good nutrition may not be as susceptible to this effect as people who don't or get too much iron.
  • by edunbar93 ( 141167 ) on Friday February 20, 2004 @08:50PM (#8345977)
    Where the hell did they get their control group? Rural Africa? Anywhere remote enough and poor enough to not be surrounded by electrical devices in this day and age would have standards of living so low that life expectancy wouldn't be that high for anyone anyway.

    Well worth the risk if you ask me.

  • Yes, but you will have to admint that it is the very BEST of the worst kind of junk science!

    Basically, it has not been proven that small magnetic fields can influence chemical reactions. The energy of heat at room temperature is far, far more than the energy of a small magnetic field.

    Magnetic fields have an effect on electrons. They have an effect on the nucleus. But the electrons are moving energetically already, due to room temperature heat, and no low-energy influence on the nucleus affects chemical activity.

    Check out these conclusions: "The outcome of oxidative damage induced by magnetic fields will, thus, depend on various factors, including the oxidative status of the cell, capability of endogenous antioxidation enzymes and processes to counteract free radical build up, availability of exogenous antioxidants, iron homeostasis (a balance of iron influx, storage, and usage), the parameters of exposure (e.g., intensity and duration of exposure and possibly the waveform of the magnetic field), and whether the oxidative damage is cumulative."

    There are many statements like this that are not supported by the experiment that was done.
  • Re:Paired wires (Score:2, Insightful)

    by dan42 ( 740934 ) on Saturday February 21, 2004 @12:06AM (#8347087)
    The wires in your home have almost no net magnetic field from just a few inches away. The reason is that the supply (hot) and return (neutral) conductors are relatively very close together so that the fields cancel. GFCI breakers in your bathroom rely on this principle - when they sense a small field (usually 5mA imbalance) they trip. You can also try this with a clamp-on current meter. A co-worker built a magnetic field detector with an LED and a few thousand turns around some iron laminates (for making transformer cores). The LED would only light-up at 0.5 inch for 50Amps in a conductor pair. However it was bright at ~4 feet for 2000 Amps (return conductor was about 2 feet away).
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Saturday February 21, 2004 @03:19AM (#8347827) Homepage
    It's worth reading the actual article. [] It's been peer reviewed and is being published by the National Institutes of Health. The experimental approach seems sound and should be repeatable. The experimenters set up a pair of big coils and put rat cages between them, then tried various field strengths. They then killed the rats and analyzed brain DNA for breaks. "The experiment was run under 'blind' condition, i.e., the experimenters who prepared the slides and did the DNA strand-break, apoptosis, and necrosis measurements did not know the treatment conditions of the animals from which the slides were prepared." They found some moderately significant differences betweent rats exposed to modest fields and those not exposed at all.

    This isn't some statistical study where some big group in an uncontrolled environment shows some statistical anomaly. It's a straightforward experiment.

    The main criticism of the study is that they need to try different field strengths, over at least a 1:10 range. If a clear relationship appears between field strength and DNA breaks, that provides a much stronger indication of a valid result.

  • Re:Umm... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 21, 2004 @03:40AM (#8347897)
    I think you are forgetting your high school physics.

    Poster 1: "magnetic waves"
    Poster 2: "magnetic field"
    Poster 3: magnetic field == electromagnetic wave
    Poster 4 (you): Electrons have to be moved

    Poster 1 is actually correct. A magnetic wave is also an electric wave. The two cannot be separated. I don't think this poster realizes it but I do (and you also probably do).

    Poster 2 actually is incorrect in suggesting Poster 1 should use "magnetic field" in place of "magnetic wave". Fields do not propagate. Waves (time varying fields) do. Also the article refers to sinusoidal magnetic waves, not magnetic fields.

    Poster 3 says that a magnetic field induces current. This is incorrect. A time varying magnetic field induces current. This varying field can be by moving an electron through the field or by varying the field you can apply force to the electron. Assuming that electron can move, it can be measured as current.

    Poster 4 (you) is incorrect that the electron has to be moved through the field at 90 degrees. What Poster 4 probably means (and will now realize) is that the force vector is present regardless of the direction that the electron is moved through the field. In some directions, the force vector will be 0. In others (90 degrees to the field) the force vector will be at a maximum.
  • Re:Umm... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by gnupun ( 752725 ) on Sunday February 22, 2004 @10:57AM (#8355365)
    Read about the human Kryptonite -- CRTs []

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal