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December 29, 2009

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Rays from TV, computer, hair dryer, microwave, mobile phone

KAREN Luo, a 26-year-old accountant, is losing her hair and thinks it's because of radiation from her computer. Now she has started eating a spoonful of black sesame powder, a herbal remedy, each morning and she no longer surfs the Net at night.

Luo says she has been losing hair for a while, but the problem is getting worse.

A friend (another layman) suggests it's because of long-time exposure to computer X-ray radiation.

Black sesame is a traditional Chinese medicine treatment said to promote growth of black hair, black because sesame is black in color.

"I didn't know the cause-and-effect theory but my friend says that's why most IT people don't have much hair. That makes sense to me," she says.

But Luo and her friend are not experts, and though TVs and computer screens do produce a low level of X-rays, they have not been proved to cause harm.

The US Environment Protection Agency says on its Website: "There is no evidence that radiation from televisions or computers has resulted in human injury. Radiation safety standards for TVs, computers and other consumer goods set and enforced by the US Food and Drug Administration also work to keep you safe."

If you are concerned, say the EPA and experts, limit your exposure, including length of time and distance from a screen.

"Though there is no proof of a cause-and-effect relationship between computer use and hair loss, it does happen to many people with long-time exposure to electromagnetic radiation in electric appliances, such as the computer," says Dr Yan Chonghuai, director of the Environmental Medicine Laboratory at the Shanghai Institute of Pediatrics.

"Though electromagnetic radiation is unavoidable in modern life, it does not necessarily cause health problems whenever people are exposed," says Dr Yan. "Negative effects only result from exposure to a certain intensity for a long period."

Radiation is all around us in the form of sunlight (ultraviolet light can damage the skin and can cause cancer), electric light, radio waves, heat and other forms of energy. Radiation also comes from natural radioactivity in the environment, from the earth and minerals. Radiation does not just affect those who get medical and dental X-rays and live near high-tension power lines.

Most people are commonly exposed to two kinds of radiation: ionizing radiation (creates free radicals that can damage tissue) and electromagnetic radiation.

Ionizing radiation, which removes electrons from atoms, is the most dangerous. Some comes from radioactive building materials, like marble and granite.

Electromagnetic radiation is seldom a serious problem but is unavoidable as everyone uses electric appliances.

"Any appliances that are powered by electricity create electromagnetic radiation around it, including electric power lines," says David Chen, professor in the physics department of East China Normal University.

"Wide use of electricity makes life easy and comfortable, but it also exposes the body to dangers of man-made electromagnetic radiation, whether they know it or not," says Professor Chen.

Televisions, computers, microwave ovens, hair dryers, mobile phones, electric blankets, refrigerators and other appliances all give off radiation.

Research has linked (though not conclusively) long-time exposure to electromagnetic radiation to hair loss, headache, declining memory, insomnia, irregular menstruation, miscarriage, low sperm viability, fetal anomalies, some cancers and leukemia, says Professor Chen.

Children and fetuses are the most vulnerable.

Laura Ni, a 27-year-old white-collar worker, has been wearing a computer radiation apron at work since she found out she was pregnant a month ago.

She avoids using a computer after work and has even cut her hair short, so she won't need to use an electric hair dryer as much.

She says short hair is a must among many mothers-to-be.

"I don't know how effective my precautions are since I still have to use appliances, like a computer at work. But it's better than doing nothing," says Ni.

Radiation maternity shields (usually containing lead), can help protect pregnant women and their babies, according to Dr Yan. But avoiding exposure to radiation as much as possible is also very important, especially in the first three months of pregnancy, he says.

For three months while trying to have a baby, both husband and wife should avoid radiation as much as possible to ensure viable egg and sperm.

Radiation can be significantly reduced by simple choices and habits.


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