Is High Intensity PEMF Dangerous?

High intensity PEMF therapy devices & PEMF machines are common in the PEMF world, but are they really safe?

Most brands will say that they are, if they sell those high intensity devices, and the brands that sell the low intensity devices say that the high intensity devices are dangerous.

So who’s right?

Is it possible that they are both correct?

We hazard to say that they are both correct, but only when certain configurations of the PEMF field are taken into consideration.

Read on to find out what officials are cautioning users of and what you need to take into consideration for yourself.

What is PEMF Intensity?

First a short review of what exactly is PEMF intensity, considering that’s what everyone is so concerned about, we should have an idea what it really is.

lightening

PEMF intensity is like the strength of a magnet.

PEMF is a pulsing magnetic field, and its intensity is the strength of that magnetic field which is pulsing back and forth.

PEMF, or magnetic intensity can be measured in a few different units of measurement, just like we can measure temperature in Fahrenheit and in Celsius, or distance in kilometres or miles.

We like to measure PEMF intensity in Gauss, but many others also like to use Tesla units which is just fine, it’s a simple conversion from Gauss to Tesla units or vice versa.

Intensity of the magnetic field can come in a vastly wide range, for instance, the natural Earth PEMFs of the Earth’s magnetic field which we live within can be anywhere from 0.3 Gauss to a maximum of 0.7 Gauss

By comparison those junkyard magnets which pick up entire cars to put in the crusher need 10,0000 Gauss of magnetic field strength to pick up a car.

Why Does PEMF Intensity Matter?

We may wonder, why does the intensity even matter, high or low, considering we as humans aren’t composed of metal, we’re biological beings, that means we don’t stick to magnets, after all we aren’t magnetic.

However to say that we aren’t affected by electromagnetic fields would be untrue, our bodies are actually using electrical impulses through neurons to control our every movement and function, from your heart beat, to lungs, to throwing a baseball; everything and every cell of your body requires electrical impulses to function.

The effects of PEMF on the body is quite noticeable in some circumstances, for instance this author has tried using a PEMF of very low intensity, 3 Gauss, at 25 Hz, and after 5 minutes I could feel my mind was sharper, wide awake and alert like it was operating on a higher frequency, way beyond what could be considered just a coincidence. (that was using a Healthy Wave Multi-Wave Mat)

Others have experienced their muscles involuntarily contracting when using an ultra high intensity device, some brands promote the level of intensity where your muscles contract involuntarily as the right intensity for you to use.

PEMF intensity matters because we know it makes a difference to our bodies, and if it makes a difference to our bodies, we need to be aware of what we’re subjecting our bodies to, especially when it is on an ongoing, daily or weekly basis.

For instance some high intensity PEMF devices go up to 10,000 Gauss, the strength of a junkyard car magnet, and whether others say it’s safe or not, personally this author for one would not subject his body to standing under a junkyard magnetic being turned on and off repeatedly everyday.

Low vs. High Intensity PEMF

Low intensity vs high intensity PEMF is something you may be trying to learn more about if you’re considering purchasing a PEMF mat, PEMF device or PEMF Machine for yourself.

Typically high intensity device brands like MagnaWave, PulseCenters or devices sold by Dr. Pawluk will use the same argument to refute the message from low intensity brands about high intensity being unsafe.

Usually this message consists of one example where the FDA has approved a high intensity device for doctor prescription (as a pharmaceutical replacement), and Dr. Pawluk’s opinion on the matter.

Dr. Pawluk also seems to refer to multiple PEMF studies in support of his high intensity argument, however he never mentions what intensity is used in those studies, or provides any reference to them so we can read them for ourselves.

After reading these articles explaining why high intensity is safe from Magnawave, PulseCenters, Dr. Pawluk & others, we found ourselves wanting more information after a lack of research references provided.

We started looking further into the matter, and what we found wasn’t surprising, though I would have thought that trustworthy authorities on PEMF would have already provided us this information.

Don’t worry, we’ve got it here for you.

High Intensity PEMF Safety Warning

The un-surprising, and perhaps rather obvious factor which seems to be the missing link in all the high intensity PEMF information is that whether an intensity is safe or not is primarily determined by its frequency.

In our modern world we’re surrounded by electronics & the EMFs they give off everyday, all day, in our homes and workplaces.

In recognition of this, an international body was founded in 1992, similar to the UN or other international groups, with the express purpose of providing consensus on the safe levels of exposure to electromagnetic fields.

ICNIRP

This international body is the ICNIRP, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.

Non-ionizing refers to electromagnetic radiation/fields with frequencies too low to ionize atoms or molecules, (this means they don’t carry enough energy to heat up body tissues), everyday electronics and PEMF fall in to this category of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation. 

The ICNIRP has conducted extensive research and collaborated with scientists around the world to come up with the ICNIRP guidelines for low frequency EMFs like PEMF.

You can see their extensive research publication here, 

ICNIRP GUIDELINES FOR LIMITING EXPOSURE TO TIME‐VARYING ELECTRIC AND MAGNETIC FIELDS (1HZ – 100 kHZ)

Of primary importance to us considering PEMF, is the chart which they present on page 12 of their research publication.

This chart shows us the safe reference levels for exposure to time varying electromagnetic fields, aka PEMF, and it shows this in the Tesla units, T.

Converting to our preferred Gauss units, we can see that the maximum safe range for the general public is between 0.01 and 0.1 Tesla, approximately 0.055 Tesla or 550 Gauss at a maximum of 1 Hz frequency.

pemf intensity safety range
ICNIRP Guidelines Chart with Gauss Indicated

We can see that this quickly drops off after 1 Hz, and picking a few points along the chart for reference we can see the max safe intensity levels at various frequencies as follows,

  • 0.055 Tesla = 550 Gauss at 1 Hz Frequency Max
  • 0.0065 Tesla = 65 Gauss at 5 Hz Frequency Max
  • 0.0007 Tesla = 7 Gauss at 10 Hz Frequency Max
  • 0.0003 Tesla = 3 Gauss at ~40 Hz Frequency to ~800 Hz

We’ve added the red & green lines & intensity points to make the chart easier to read, if you have questions on this please drop a comment on the page as we’d love to hear what you have to say!

The ICNIRP is communicating that the safe level of intensity depends on the frequency applied, which makes a lot of sense when you think about it, the total energy being applied is how intense it is multiplied by how many times it’s applied.

The ICNIRP is warning the public about unsafe electromagnetic field intensities above 550 Gauss at 1 Hz, and even lower intensity levels past 1 Hz.

Our concern is that almost all high intensity PEMF devices are above 550 Gauss at much higher frequencies than 1 Hz, and many are even up to a shocking (no pun intended) 10,000 Gauss, at higher frequencies than 1 Hz.

It does raise the question for us as to why none of the high intensity brands provide any of this information on their websites.

Research into High Intensity PEMF

Relative to the available research on low intensity PEMF, high intensity PEMF research studies are few and far between.

The high intensity articles we found when conducting our extensive PEMF literature review for our page, What is the Best PEMF Therapy, were primarily for its use as a cell apoptosis (cell destruction) modality.

We also tried to find the high intensity research articles referenced on Dr. Pawluks website but gave up after being unable to find them (if you find the articles he references, please share them with us!).

We were able to locate the following studies of high intensity PEMF, including the exception of one high intensity study from our PEMF research data table (found on our What is the Best PEMF Therapy page), which wasn’t regarding the use of high intensity PEMF for cancer cell destruction like the others.

Effect: High intensity PEMF reduced testosterone, prolactin, & estradiol in healthy male adults

Effect: Exposure to high intensity PEMF presented an increase in the number of cells with highly damaged DNA as compared with non-exposed cells

Effect: The only study reviewed using a higher intensity EMF of 200 Gauss did not show any effect on osteogenic differentiation & additionally it decreased MSC growth and metabolism

Effect: PEMF treatment increased & improved cardiac systolic function through inhibiting cardiac apoptosis (cardiac cellular death)

Research into Low Intensity PEMF

Finding low intensity PEMF research studies is far easier than high intensity studies, and as such we have a much longer list of studies.

It’s interesting to make note of the question as to why there are so many more studies of low intensity PEMF than there are of high intensity PEMF.

This could be because the scientific assumption is that lower intensity is safer, and we will yield better results than we would from high intensity.

Interestingly the frequency & intensity settings from the table above can be created by the adjustable PEMF device, the Healthy Wave Multi-Wave Mat

The above table is by no means a representation of ALL low intensity studies, these are simply ones which we found while reviewing PEMF literature for our page on the Best PEMF Therapy.

There are countless more studies on low intensity & more coming out every year.

High Intensity PEMF Devices

Aside from the high intensity PEMF devices being sold by Dr. Pawluk, PulseCenters, MagnaWave, and other PEMF brands, there are a few high intensity PEMF devices of note.

Reviewing these, we can keep in mind for comparison high intensity PEMF devices currently being marketed.

Pap-IMI

One of these devices is the Pap-IMI or Papimi, a high intensity device which has now been around for more than 20 years, created originally in Athens, Greece by Panos Pappas a Greek mathematician.

The Pap-IMI is now illegal, however continues to be used in practice and sold in the USA by those flying “under the radar” of the FDA.

Interesting to note that some high intensity PEMF brands such as PulseCenters still reference the Pap-IMI on their websites as an example of the great benefits of high intensity PEMF.

papimi pemf
Pap-IMI Machine

Pap-IMI or Papimi Specifications

  • Intensity: 500 Gauss & 1000 Gauss 
  • Frequency: 1 Hz to 8 Hz
  • Status: Illegal (deemed so by FDA)

Seattle Times – Public Never Warned about Dangerous Device

Excerpts

  •  “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has linked Pappas’ machine to patient injuries and death
  • “the FDA in 2005 prohibited the use of the machine, The Seattle Times found PAP-IMIs in use in at least five states, including Washington”

Notes:

  • We recommend reading the entire article from the Seattle Times, outlining the high intensity Pap-IMI device being linked to multiple deaths in the USA and how the device is still being used, flying “under the radar” of the FDA

Pap-IMI StudyEffect of Short-Duration, High Intensity Electromagnetic Pulses on Fresh Ulnar Fractures in Rats 

Excerpts:

  • “This device is unique by virtue of the extremely high power output of each of the pulses it generates”
  • “the healing process was faster in rats that were not treated by PEMF”
  • “The results of this study do not support the claim that PEMF generated by the PAP-IMI stimulate osteogenesis and bone healing”

Notes:

  • This is an interesting study of high intensity PEMF on bone healing, finding that healing was faster in rats who were not treated with the high intensity PEMF
  • Compare this to low intensity PEMF bone healing research which have shown positive results every time (in the studies we found, see studies on osteogenesis in the low intensity PEMF research table above)

Pap-Ion Magnetic Inductor – Wikipedia 

Excerpts:

  • “It is illegal for use in the United States due to lack of Food and Drug Administration approval. Health Canada has issued a recommendation for the public to avoid use of these risky, unlicensed devices, and has ordered the Canada Border Services Agency to seize them upon attempted import into the country.”

NeuroStar

The next high intensity device we will review is the FDA approved NeuroStar device, frequently referenced by high intensity PEMF brands as an example that high intensity PEMF is perfectly safe.

The NeuroStar is a device intended to treat drug resistant depression.

While the NeuroStar is FDA approved, we think it’s relevant to note a few facts about this approval which high intensity brands never mention.

neurostar pemf
NeuroStar Clinical Device
  • FDA approval limits NeuroStar treatment to 4-6 weeks total (we find this highly relevant, as when we’re choosing a PEMF device it’s for our long term health & use, not just 4-6 weeks)
  • NeuroStar treatment requires a prescription & is only provided to patients who did not improve after antidepressant medication
  • NeuroStar treatment can only be applied by a medical professional (not a device permitted to be used at home)
  • NeuroStar treatment uses a laser positioning system to target the application area (at home use high intensity devices have no such targeting ability)
  • High intensity PEMF devices can go up to 10,000 Gauss, which is twice the intensity of the highly regulated NeuroStar device

NeuroStar Specifications

  • Intensity: 5000 Gauss
  • Frequency: 10 Hz
  • Status: Legal (approved by FDA for prescription use only in patients who failed to receive improvements from antidepressant medication)

NeuroStar Homepage

Excerpts:

  •  “NeuroStar TMS Therapy is indicated for the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder in adult patients who have failed to receive satisfactory improvement from prior antidepressant medication in the current episode.”
  • “NeuroStar TMS Therapy is only available by prescription. A doctor can help decide if NeuroStar TMS Therapy is right for you.”
  • “The most common side effect is pain or discomfort at or near the treatment site”

Notes:

  • Indicated right on the homepage of the NeuroStar device is that this is not a therapeutic device, it is used as a last resort prescription against severe depression

The NeuroStar TMS Device: Conducting the FDA Approved Protocol for Treatment of Depression 

Excerpts

  • “FDA approved NeuroStar depression treatment protocol (to be administered only under prescription and by a licensed medical profession in either an in- or outpatient setting)”
  • “Considering TMS as a potential therapeutic intervention for depression, it is important to recognize the FDA approved protocol is highly specified … FDA approval is limited to 10 Hz suprathreshold stimulation applied daily for 4-6 weeks using the NeuroStar”

Notes:

  • Right from the FDA Approval protocol for the NeuroStar the number of treatment sessions are limited to 4-6 weeks, this restriction doesn’t give us confidence in the safety of long term use of high intensity PEMF devices 

NeuroStar Prescribing Information 

Excerpt:

  • “Head Support System (includes laser positioning aid and coil positioning guide)”

Notes:

  • No PEMF devices provide laser positioning to accurately apply the magnetic field, additionally we don’t have doctors prescribing the exact area for treatment. This raises concerns with us in the ability to accurately apply high intensity PEMF and not affect surrounding tissues

MRI Machines

The last high intensity device which we will briefly discuss are MRI machines.

MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging, and these scans are widely used, however rarely, for diagnosis of the human body, and are arguably an incredible leap for the medical community. 

MRI scanner
MRI Scanner Mos.ru / CC BY

We felt these machines relevant to mention, because frequently high intensity PEMF brands will reference the safe use of MRI machines as a comparison to their high intensity PEMF devices.

MRI machines employ magnetic fields of incredible strength, 15,000 Gauss up to 30,000 Gauss to create their imaging.

There is a major difference between high intensity PEMF and MRI scans that no one seems to mention, but don’t worry, we’re here to inform you.

To help us with this, we go back to the ICNIRP, International Commission of Non-Ionizing Radiation.

MRI Machines use static magnetic fields, not pulsing fields like PEMF.

To compare the static magnetic fields of a rarely administered MRI scan to the repeated use of high intensity PEMF is really, quite frankly, completely absurd.

A static magnetic field is an un-moving magnetic field, a PEMF magnetic field is rapidly pulsing across the body.

There is a reason that the ICNIRP has guidelines for static magnetic fields (0 Hz) as well as for repeating magnetic fields which fall into the PEMF arena, and this is because they are entirely different phenomena.

You can read more on MRI machines and Static Magnetic Fields on the ICNIRP website, and find that they really are quite safe, especially when considering their rare use only in special cases for diagnosis. 

Which PEMF Intensity is Right for Me?

If you’ve made it this far down the page, thank you for taking the time to read as the compilation and analysis of all this information took days to find and put together.

Ultimately we aren’t here to tell you which PEMF device and intensity is the right one for you, but we’re striving to make PEMF research & information more transparent and readily available to help you with your own choices.

It really depends on the results that you’re looking for, whether its general health and well being, or to aid in recovery of a certain aliment in particular. 

If research supports a certain PEMF intensity and frequency as effective for your ailment in particular, as long as there are no contraindications of safety we would recommend looking for a device which supports or closely supports that intensity and frequency as an option.

Please do however with any device consider the safety implications.

As we discovered through researching for this article not all PEMF therapy configurations of intensity and frequency are safe for our bodies as we learned from the ICNIRP

We’re working on a PEMF Machine Buyer’s Guide which we hope will also help you in making your choices around PEMF devices, check it out!

We hope that you found this article highly informing and useful in your search for PEMF information, if you did, please share it with your friends and on social media so more people have a chance to find it!

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2 thoughts on “Is High Intensity PEMF Dangerous?”

    • Thanks Frederic, really appreciate hearing that.

      This particular page took a lot of time and research to create so I’m really happy you found it useful!

      Reply

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