by William Hardman, D.TCM, R. Ac.
Reprinted by permission from author, from Common Ground Magazine August 2002
A friend once quipped that risk is the price we pay for getting the most out of life. Life is a series of choices and risks, and as our lifestyle progressively becomes denatured, it is ever more important that we do our best to make informed choices. An excellent question to ask is: "What are some of the risks that would make a person even consider giving up the convenience of a microwave oven?"
Anyone who has ever had the experience of cleaning off an "easy-wipe" microwave oven interior can relate to the fact that microwaving is an act of violent, destructive power. My inquisitive mind, combined with a very basic knowledge of electronics, made me feel that anything that could explode an egg - one of the basic sources of life - was worthy of caution. My suspicions were further aroused with the warning that they could be harmful to pacemakers. There had to be more to these ovens of convenience, commonly known as "nukers," than the information listed in the Owner's Manual.
One day in the last century I was in a small coffee bar. The cashier was entering my purchase into the electronic cash register when another waitress popped a muffin into the nuker and hit "Start." The cash register immediately lost its program as a result of the Electro-Magnetic interference. (Excuse me; I'm out of here!)
All microwave ovens contain a magnetron, which combines magnetic and electric fields to produce micro wavelength radiation at about 2,450 Megahertz (Mhz) or 2.45 Gigahertz (Ghz). This wave energy action is based on the principles of alternating current, and it forces atoms and molecules to reverse polarity 1- 100 billion times a second. The oxygen of water molecules reacts most sensitively, and it is the friction from this violence in water molecules that generates cooking heat. This action heats from the center of the cell outward, the opposite of conventional cooking. The structures of molecules are torn apart and deformed, which results in impaired quality and structure of the food, creating new substances called radiolytic compounds that are both foreign and hazardous to our metabolism. They are similar to the free radicals that we know are carcinogens.
An article on the connection between microwave cooking and cholesterol caught my eye. As a dedicated health professional, I am continually on the lookout for valid information to provide to my patients and the former brief reference led me to a Swiss study on the subject. (1)
The renowned Swiss scientist, Dr. Hans Hertel, was the first person to carry out a quality study on the effects of microwaved nutrients on the blood and physiology of humans. He noted that eating microwaved nutrients caused changes in the blood of his study participants. He found that this deformation of food molecules also results in the formation of new compounds (radiolytic compounds), of which we know nothing about, nor their long-term effects on human physiology.
Some of his findings, determined by comparative, defined interval blood samples taken prior to and following the intake of microwaved food, demonstrated a decrease in hemoglobin (anemic tendencies); significant adverse changes in the ratio of HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol) values; lymphocytes (white blood cells) showed a distinct short term decrease in a manner that suggested degeneration; and signs of stress on the body indicated by the increase of leukocytes, which can lead to pathogenic effects such as poisoning and cell damage.
In 1993 a powerful Swiss Association known as FEA had Dr. Hertel convicted by a Swiss court of interfering with commerce" and had the court issue "a gag order" to prohibit further publication of his results. Unlike his research associate Dr. Bemard Blanc, Dr. Hertel had the courage to stand behind his convictions of helping humanity, and risked jail by ignoring the gag order of the Swiss court. The European Court of Human Rights overturned the decision in 1998.
Other independent studies have tracked an increase in symptoms associated with "microwave sickness" such as headaches, eye strain, fatigue, dizziness, moodiness, irritability, hair loss, muscle and heart pain. Consumption of microwaved food has been linked to cancerous effects on the blood. (2) Other symptoms include breathing difficulties, a pulling sensation in the scalp and brain tumors coincidental with increased microwave use, a 1,000% higher incidence of Down's syndrome in a town with a high concentration of microwave towers, and rats exposed to as little as 60 Hz of non-ionizing energy had a decreased immune response.
In addition to the obvious destruction and restructuring of foods subjected to microwave ovens, there are other dangers associated. Ms. Claire Nelson, a high school science student, demonstrated that subjecting common plastic wrap to microwave cooking would produce DEHA (diethylhexyl), an identified carcinogen, and transfer it into the food. She received a top science prize from the American Chemical Society for her research. Also, Dr. Edward Fujimoto of Castle Hospital demonstrated that the combination of fat, high heat and plastic could produce dioxins, very potent carcinogens. In 1991 a hip surgery patient, Mrs. Norma Levitt died when she was administered a blood transfusion warmed in a microwave. (3)
Working mothers who want the best for their babies will often have their breast milk pumped and refrigerated for use when they are not available. There is scientific evidence that heating breast milk in a microwave will destroy many of the nutrients that make mother's milk so important to the health of infants. (4) Dr. Lita Lee of Hawaii has written a book on the health effects of microwave ovens, and she reported in the December 9, 1989 Lancet that microwaving baby formulas converted certain amino acids into toxins. (5)
A safer way to heat a baby bottle, albeit more time consuming, is the old method of standing it in hot water and then testing the temperature before giving it to the infant.
If you have decided that you want another way of cooking instead of the handy nuker, one alternative is a good steamer. It will preserve nutrients and, with a little practice, can also be used to quickly reheat foods. Good nutrition and a good supplement program can offset some of the damage created by exposure to radiation. (6)
Is there a safe threshold in microwave cooking? The scientific evidence suggests there is not. The manufacturers, who enjoy multi-million dollar sales profits, deny there is any risk to consumers. Time will tell. In the interim, I prefer not to be part of the social experiment. I suggest that you educate yourself and make an informed choice. As Dr. Marshall Stamper quipped, "If you don't take care of your body, where are you going to live? "
William Hardman, D. TCM, is a registered acupuncturist with practices in downtown Vancouver, Burnaby and Langley. He has written over fifty published articles on health concerns and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
1. Hertel, Hans & Blanc, Bernard; Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, University Institute for Biochemistry 1991.
2. Journal Franz Weber, issue 19.
3. The Townsend Letter, June 2002, pg 2.
4. Young Families, the Minnesota Extension Service of the University of Minnesota circa 1989.
5. Health Effects of Microwave Radiation - Microwave Ovens by Dr. Lita Lee.
6. James E Balch, MD Prescription for Nutritional Healing pg 601-3