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Investigating the Myths About the Dangers of Microwave Ovens

I'm a passionate educator who desires to share knowledge with others.

Are microwaves truly dangerous? Read on to learn more.

Are microwaves truly dangerous? Read on to learn more.

Why Did I Research This Topic in the First Place?

I was using the microwave oven in my kitchen when I noticed my daughter walking away quickly with her two month old child in her arms. As she did, she took the opportunity to tell me that microwave ovens are dangerous and that I shouldn't even have one in the house. I couldn't believe my ears, but listened further as she explained. She told me that she had learned that microwave ovens leak dangerous radiation and that her obstetrician had told her to stay away from microwaves when she was still pregnant. Further, she indicated that there's lots of proof that microwaves destroy the nutritional value of the food and that food that has been microwaved can cause cancer. Of course, being "a big know it all" with a typical male ego, I objected to the nonsense I was hearing. However, a few moments later, I began to question myself. Could it be true? Is my ego so out of control that I could dismiss this warning and risk my own health and the health of my loved ones? I quickly came to my senses and decided to investigate. Since I pride myself in dealing with cold, hard facts, I admittedly began my research with a good dose of skepticism. However, don't get me wrong, the little voice inside me kept telling me to "be fair."

What Approach Did I Take?

I began my research using the Internet as most of us do these days. It's an extraordinarily valuable research tool. However, it too has its dangers. Anyone can post an article and one has to be very careful to differentiate between reliable and unreliable sources. Nevertheless, I began by doing a simple Google search using the words "the dangers of microwave ovens". I almost fell off my seat when the first page of results showed articles titled "Microwave Ovens - The Proven Dangers", "The Proven Dangers Of Microwaves", and "Microwave Cooking Is Killing You". I thought, "oh my God, I was so wrong". Then, after my moment of emotional weakness passed, I came to my senses. I quickly realized that I had better read all of these articles with a critical eye and then search for the opposite point of view and do the same.

What Are the Supposed "Proven" Dangers?

According to virtually every negative article I read, the supposed proven dangers state that:

  1. Continually eating food processed from a microwave oven causes long term—permanent—brain damage by "shorting out" electrical impulses in the brain [de-polarizing or de-magnetizing the brain tissue].
  2. The human body cannot metabolize [break down] the unknown by-products created in microwaved food.
  3. Male and female hormone production is shut down and/or altered by continually eating microwaved foods.
  4. The effects of microwaved food by-products are residual [long term, permanent] within the human body.
  5. Minerals, vitamins, and nutrients of all microwaved food is reduced or altered so that the human body gets little or no benefit, or the human body absorbs altered compounds that cannot be broken down.
  6. The minerals in vegetables are altered into cancerous free radicals when cooked in microwave ovens.
  7. Microwaved foods cause stomach and intestinal cancerous growths [tumors]. This may explain the rapidly increased rate of colon cancer in America.
  8. The prolonged eating of microwaved foods causes cancerous cells to increase in human blood.
  9. Continual ingestion of microwaved food causes immune system deficiencies through lymph gland and blood serum alterations.
  10. Eating microwaved food causes loss of memory, concentration, emotional instability, and a decrease of intelligence.

Why Are the Sources of This Negative Information Suspect?

After reading the first few negative articles, I quickly began to notice several patterns. First, and foremost, virtually every article used information from what most of us would consider unreliable sources.

Here's a case in point. One of the sources was a scientific study conducted by the former Soviet Union during the 1950s. Are they kidding? Even the Soviet people didn't trust the information provided by their own government. Why should we? Further, does anyone really believe that the Soviet government conducted unbiased studies on the effects of microwave ovens for the express purpose of safeguarding the health of their citizens? Ask the residents of Chernoble if you're in doubt. Finally, if this study produced such compelling information in the 1950s, why hasn't anyone been able to replicate it since?

After reading many additional articles, I noticed that the information contained in a great many of them came from a single source. That source was an original article written by Anthony Wayne and Lawrence Newell. Place their names in a Google search and you will come up with dozens and dozens of articles that support this point. While we should be skeptical of information that comes from a single source, we should not necessarily discount that source unless it proves to be unreliable or unauthoritative. Therefore, I decided to check the credentials of the authors. After reading through many articles attributed to them and many in which their names appear as sources, I was able to learn only one thing about them. They are associated with The Christian Law Institute & Fellowship Assembly. There is no mention of their educational background, their professions, or anything else that might suggest that theirs is expert opinion. Most logical people would not believe that being associated with the Christian Law Institute and Fellowship Assembly is sufficient evidence of expertise in the fields necessary to determine the dangers of microwave ovens.

While much of the proof offered in many of the articles is simply testimonial in nature, some of it comes from scientific studies. In one such short-term study, it was concluded that microwaved milk and vegetables cause significant and disturbing changes in the blood of individuals, and that hemoglobin levels decrease while white blood cells and cholesterol levels increase. However, before you throw your microwave away, you might be interested in knowing that this study included a grand total of "EIGHT" volunteers. Further, when I checked the Internet to find information about the scientists who conducted this study and came to this inescapable conclusion, I could find absolutely nothing about Raum & Zelt. Maybe their work is so top secret that they are hold up in the mountains of South Dakota, living in fear that the authorities in Washington will exterminate them for speaking the truth.

While I found many, many more reasons to disbelieve the so called "proven dangers" of microwave ovens, It would be overkill to present them here.

What Sources of Information Can Be Trusted and Why?

Individuals whose education and experience qualify them to conduct scientific studies and to draw conclusions are trusted sources of information as are many organizations that are dedicated to providing unbiased, fact-based information to the public. In the case of microwave ovens, I trust what I've learned from Consumers Union, and from Dr. Louis Bloomfield. Here's why.

Consumers Union employs hundreds of technical experts who purchase and test the products it evaluates. It is both an independent and non-profit organization. It does not accept outside advertising or free samples. Further, it owns and operates more than 50 state-of-the-art labs and offices and is a member of Consumers International, which is a federation of more than 220 consumer organizations. These are the kind of credentials that make their statements trustworthy.

Another reliable source of information is Louis A. Bloomfield because he posseses the education and experience that give him credability. He is presently a professor of physics at the University of Virginia and was the recipient of a State of Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award. He posseses a PhD from Stamford University and is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He is well known as a researcher in the field of physics and has won numerous awards for his work from organizations such as the American Physical Society, the National Science Foundation, and the Office of Naval Research.

What Do the Trusted Sources Say?

Many negative articles claim that microwave cooking sucks the nutrients out of food. According to Consumer Reports Magazine, this is not true. The technicians and scientists at Consumers Union, the organization that publishes Consumer Reports, say that "microwave-cooked food may retain vitamins and minerals better than stove-top-cooked food because the microwave zaps food quickly and without much water. The longer you cook food in liquid, the more nutrients may seep out, which is fine for soups and stews, but it's a problem if you discard the liquid before eating. One study found that spinach retained all of its folate when cooked in a microwave, compared with 77 percent when cooked on a stove".

Consumer Reports is quick to say that microwave ovens can leak radiation. However, they make it clear that it is unlikely. They indicate that the Food and Drug Administration allows for some leakage. However, this leakage is at levels that are far below any known to cause harm. Further, it states that microwave ovens stop producing radiation once the door is opened and they suggest that you don't attempt to operate a microwave if the door is broken.

Consumer Reports also addresses the accusation that microwave ovens cause cancer. They make it clear that intense microwave radiation can cause burns, temporary sterility, and even cataracts, since the a microwave oven can heat body tissue in the same way it heats food. However, for this to occur, one would have to be exposed to levels that are much higher than the allowable limits for leakage. Therefore, I would conclude that keeping one's body parts out of the oven when it's operating would be a simple way to avoid getting cancer from your microwave.

Many negative articles also claim that microwaves change the molecular structure and composition of food by ejecting some electrons from atoms and forming cancer-causing free radicals. According to Professor Bloomfield, "microwaves don't affect the molecular structure of the food, except through the thermal effects we associate with normal cooking (e.g., denaturing of proteins with heat and caramelizing of sugars). That's because, like all electromagnetic waves, microwaves are emitted and absorbed as particles called "photons." The energy in a microwave photon is so tiny that it can't cause any chemical rearrangement in a molecule. Instead, it can only add a tiny amount of heat to a water molecule. During the microwave cooking process, microwave photons stream into the food and heat it up. But millions of them would have to work together in order to cause non-thermal chemical changes in the food molecules and they don't normally do that. The photons can only work together if there is a conducting material, such as a metal wire, inside the oven. In that case, the photons can accelerate mobile electric charges along the conducting paths and create sparks. Such sparks can cause chemical damage, but nothing worse than the chemical damage caused by scorching food with a flame or broiler. Even if your microwave is full of sparks for some reason, I doubt that the food will be any worse for you than it would be if you cooked it over an open flame or barbecue".

Now that you have accurate information from reliable sources, don't throw away your microwave oven. Use it with the same degree of care you would when using any other cooking method.