Is your mobile phone destroying your digestion?
By Elliot Overton - 06. December 2018
A minor introduction to gut bacteria for the newbies
For those who are unfamiliar with the"functional approach to chronic gut dysfunction, I will provide a brief overview the basics.
Dysfunctional patterns in gut function (digestion, absorption, elimination) are associated with underlying imbalances in bacteria which reside in the intestines.
These various "probiotic" bacteria are ideally meant to function in harmony with the human body in a cooperative relationship. They help us to digest foods, to fight off pathogenic infection and overgrowth, to regulate our immune function, to alert us when something is wrong, and to facilitate the efficient elimination of waste.
To properly perform these duties, the population of different types of bacteria needs to maintained. In basic terms, certain strains of bacteria populating the gut, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacter etc, have been found to exert beneficial effects on host health. A vast body of research has found correlation between diversity and abundance of various bacterial species and general health/disease outcomes. People suffering from chronic illness have been found to possess elevations in specific so-called "pathogenic" bacteria, and a lack of so-called "healthy" bacteria. This "imbalanced" state is clinically referred to as dysbiosis.
As I mentioned above, gut dysbiosis is frequently found in multiple different diseases. This is especially true for chronic digestive issues involving constipation, diarrhoea, and other general gastrointestinal complaints. The imbalances in gut bacteria alter the body's ability to perform various functions and prevent our ability to extract sufficient nutrition from the foods that we consume, whilst also preventing us from effectively eliminating the toxic byproducts of metabolism.
The most commonly referenced causes of imbalanced gut bacteria include:
Low stomach acidity, pancreatic insufficiency or gallbladder/liver dysfunction
Pesticide and chemical exposure
Food intolerance and processed food/low diversity in the diet
Investigating the root cause
Whilst conventional medicine likes to label various digestive conditions as "ideopathic" - which means that there is not identifiable cause - functional medicine utilises various tools to investigate the underlying root causes of gut dysfunction. Testing frequently shows that there is a state of dysbiosis in the gut flora, along with various other biochemical imbalances which may contribute toward the problem (such as low stomach acidity, poor bile flow, poor production of digestive enzymes, or intestinal parasites).
To remedy this, a clinician may prescribe the following:
A comprehensive antimicrobial protocol designed to reduce the pathogenic bacteria
Digestive enzymes and stomach acidity-promoters to improve digestion of foods
A set of gut-healing herbs and supplements designed to restore the health of the intestinal lining
Probiotic bacteria/fungi capsules to promote balance in the gut flora
Anti-inflammatory compounds to reduce inflammation and increase healing of the digestive tract
But whilst these treatments clearly have their merit, there is another significant factor which does not receive nearly as much attention as it deserves, yet is potentially critical in maintaining balanced and healthy gut bacteria.
The elephant in the room: non-native electromagnetic radiation (wifi, cell phones, and other devices)
Although research in this area is limited, the available data indicate that much like humans, bacteria are also affected by exposure to non-native electromagnetic fields. The power output and frequency of radiation appears to exert different effects on different types of bacteria, but unfortunately it is difficult to draw any major conclusions since there have not been many studies measuring the exact effects of modern tech-devices on the environment within the gut.
The Electromagnetic Spectrum Credit: International Telecommunications Union EMF Guide
That said, the research I present below should provide people with some 'food for thought' on the topic:
EMF exposure makes some bugs grow more than others
Despite it's bad press, the gram-negative bacterial strain E. coli is actually a healthy component of the gut flora which is found in in everyone's digestive tract. Whilst highly pathogen strains do exist, the majority of strains make up our commensal flora. Under ordinary conditions, and when in the right amounts, E. coli contributes toward optimal digestion, the synthesis of vitamins, and maintaining balance within the gut. E. coli belongs to the Enterobacteriaceae family, and Enterobacteriacea may only constitute less than 1% of the total gut flora in healthy individuals (Eckburg et al., 2005).
However, in certain scenarios specific strains of E.coli can become dominant and overgrown in a state of dysbiosis. Interestingly, E.coli overgrowth has been implicated in inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's and ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and is also associated with colorectal cancer. Furthermore, in animal research it has been correlated with severe gut inflammation. Based on the research available, I think it is fair to conclude that any abnormal overgrowth of E.coli may yield negative consequences for the host (in some cases at least).
With this considered, it is important to note that research has actually found that exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation causes these bacteria to grow a lot faster than normal.
Taheri et al compared the growth rate of different bacterial species under conditions of exposure to radio-frequencies similar to those emitted by mobile devices or wifi. When compared with controls, E.coli and Listeria monocytogenes (a potential pathogen) showed significantly faster growth after radiation exposure.
Staphylococci - Picture: BBC
To make matters worse, they also showed that within a certain window of exposure (around 6 hours), the E.coli exposed to radiation became more resistant to antibiotics. In the current age of antibiotic-resistance, this is bad news. Furthermore, it suggests a possible mechanism by which EMF exposure could potentially lead to gut dysbiosis. To briefly explain, our commensal gut bacteria produce their own antibiotic called bacteriocin. Although the roles of bacteriocin is not yet fully understood, it is generally accepted that these endogenous antibiotics function to kill off invading pathogens and prevent the overgrowth of unwanted bacteria. They are tools used by our own beneficial flora to keep everything else in check.
Now let's try to imagine someone who carries their mobile phone in their pocket all day everyday, or someone who sits with their laptop on their lap while it is connected to the wifi. The gut bacteria are being constantly bombarded with radiation, which was shown to produce antiobiotic resistance. If certain strains were to become resistant to the antibiotic-like effects of bacteriocin, it is possible that they could become overgrown or "dominant" and lead to a dysbiotic state.
As a final note on this study, the authors state:
"Considering our results, we believe that Wi-Fi and mobile exposure can serve as physical methods to alter the antibacterial susceptibility of microorganisms.
Altogether, the findings of this study showed that exposure to Wi-Fi and RF simulator radiation can significantly alter the inhibition zone diameters and growth rate for L monocytogenes and E coli."
Additionally, another study on E. coli measured the growth rate and also the rate of glucose consumption. According the authors, the bacteria was exposed to a 5G electromagnetic field for 8 hours. Like the previous study, they found a significant increase in growth after radiation exposure and attributed these changes to increased glucose uptake.
The strain Lactobacillus Plantarum is well-known for it's therapeutic benefits in healing the intestinal barrier, whilst its counterpart Lactobacillus Rhamnosus has a proven track record in improving allergies, gastrointestinal dysfunction, and boosting immunity Together, these probiotics are two of the most well-researched and sought after strains available. Unfortunately, they also appears to be susceptible to the detrimental effects of radiation. A study performed by Vasistha and Garg set to measure to effects on these strains after exposure to 6.41 GHz, 7.5 GHz and 7.62 GHz radio frequency radiation. They found a significant reduction in the amount of cells belonging to both strains, and this effect increased with the frequency of radiation. It was hypothesised that the radiation could have exerted an oxidative effect on the cells, increasing free radical damage and destroying bacterial DNA.
Consider that the above frequencies are not far off the 5GHz wifi which has now become so popular. What is even more disturbing is that 5G mobile networks are set to operate at an even higher frequency band of 15 GHz.
Aside from the gut, practically every other organ also hosts a variety of bacteria which help to maintain balance. One example is the skin, where different strains function by fighting off pathogens and promoting skin barrier integrity. Alterations in skin microbiota are well associated with conditions like acne, eczema, and many others. Again, a healthy balance of skin bacteria is necessary for overall skin health.
And it turns out that radiofrequency radiation also screws with the bacteria on the skin, drastically altering the populations of Staphylococci such as S. pasteuri, S. lugdunensis and S. epidermidis.
The authors of the study concluded:
The growth of Staphylococci from certain individuals were enhanced under RF-EMF, and in some other cases the growth was suppressed, which means the disruption to the balanced skin microbiota make it more vulnerable to infection possibly by those opportunistic pathogens or foreign pathogens
Although there is limited research on this topic, the results available to us paint a rather disturbing picture. It points to the very likely conclusion that non-native electromagnetic fields have the ability to disrupt the human microbiome. With all of the research that has emerged over the past few decades, it is now clear that maintaining a healthy microbiome is of chief importance in maintaining health.
We need to understand that humanity is currently playing the role of guinea pig. Put simply, this is one big experiment. No one actually knows what the long-term effects EMFs will be on our health. The scientific literature has elucidated many of the ways by which this kind of radiation negatively influences human physiology, but is yet to fully shine light on the EMF-microbiome interaction.
Unfortunately, with the way things are going now, it is impossible to completely avoid this stuff. The only realistic alternative it to focus on reducing exposure:
Switch wifi to an ethernet wired connection
Done put your laptop on your lap!
Turn your mobile phone onto air plane mode when it is out of use
Use speaker phone instead of putting that device directly up against your head/skin