It's easy, it's fast, and it's perfect for life on the go. The microwave oven has been a mainstay in the US for 30+ years, virtually transforming society and how we view food. But despite its wonders, the question that's been avoided remains: are microwaves safe? Well, today we have an abundant amount of research on the danger of microwave radiation. Let's take a look.
What is a Microwave?
Before we dive into the research on the effects and safety of microwave ovens, let's clarify what a microwave is. A microwave is a form of non-ionizing radiation. It's on the other side of the spectrum from ionizing radiation. As a matter of contrast, ionizing radiation changes the electromagnetic nature of atoms, or ionizes them. This alters the way they interact with other atoms and molecules around them. X-rays, gamma radiation, and nuclear medicine (CT scans, barium swallows, and mammograms) are types of ionizing radiation.
That's why it's so dangerous. Upon impact, it initiates a change to the material it's contacted. Non-ionizing radiation doesn't create ionized particles that change matter on impact. It agitates atoms and creates heat. Where heating occurs determines the safety of the different types of non-ionizing radiation. For example, the human body thrives in a narrow range of non-ionizing radiation from low-energy ultraviolet radiation through visible radiation (or light) to infrared radiation (heat).
How Do Microwaves Heat Food?
These high-frequency waves heat the atoms and molecules in close proximity to the energy source. That's why we ‘zap' foods in a microwave. We're hitting the food with high-energy waves. The food gets heated when the microwaves excite atoms, starting with the first ones they encounter on the outer edge of the food, continuing through the food heating all they encounter. As the microwaves pass through the food, they get the atoms to rotate at the same frequency. This creates molecular friction.
These excited molecules do two things: friction heats up food, and the high-energy created by this friction also causes changes to the molecules. In many cases this completely changes the structure molecule and action of the molecule, and that's where the problem starts.
Thirty years ago, Swiss scientist Dr. Hans Hertel explored how microwaves change the molecular structure of food and the effect of those changed foods on the human body. In his study, he explored how the microwave cooking of milk and vegetables affected a group of volunteers. In intervals of two to five days, the volunteers consumed on an empty stomach the following foods:
- Raw milk
- Raw milk conventionally heated
- Pasteurized milk
- Raw milk cooked in a microwave oven
- Raw vegetables
- Raw vegetables heated conventionally
- The same vegetables defrosted in a microwave
- The vegetables cooked in the microwave
Dr. Hertel took blood samples from each volunteer at specified intervals. After eating the microwaved foods, the volunteers showed a decrease in HDL cholesterol, a reduced red blood cell count, and fewer white blood cells. His findings didn't receive wide publication because he was accused of impeding commerce and a Swiss court prohibited him from sharing …read more