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Fact Or Fiction: Microwaves Are Dangerous To Pregnant Women And Testicles?

Microwave Ovens Aren't As Dangerous As We Think
Many still feel unsure if microwave ovens are safe enough for everyday exposure. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

For decades, scientists and consumers alike have been debating over whether or not microwaves are dangerous, and without human testing, no one really knows how much a child, grown man, or pregnant woman can handle. Can we hungrily peer inside the window while we watch our food turn round and round, or should we stand several feet away safely gazing from afar until the beep calls us closer?

 The microwave oven was met by housewives across the country with reluctance and suspicion when it was first invented during World War II using the same technology that allowed Britain to spot Nazi warplanes on their way to bomb the British aisles. It’s powers to heat up food quickly and effectively without causing harm to people was discovered when engineer Percy LeBaron Spencer walked past a machine emitting the microwave radars and the candy bar inside his pocket melted. Not long after did the first microwave hit the market and was as big and intimidating as a refrigerator. Thankfully, the microwave’s innovative designs have made leaps and bounds since the 1940s, lowering the dangers of radiation leakage and exposure.

Microwave radiation can heat body tissue the same way it heats food. It causes water molecules in the food to vibrate, which produces heat that cooks the food quickly. Human bodies are 60 percent water, making it a valid fear that while standing within inches or feet of a microwave, we could undergo bodily harm. Exposure to high levels of microwaves can cause a painful burn, but the lens of our eyes and males’ testes are most sensitive to large amounts of radiation. Burns, cataracts, and temporary sterility are all possible side effects of exposure, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

It’s important to understand that a microwave’s type of radiation is much like cell phones or radiation, because it is a non-ionizing form of radiation, which ultimately means it can’t change the molecular structure of anything.  To put it into perspective, microwaves actually emit less energy than infrared radiation, also known as the heat given off of our bodies. Even when we pull the food out of the microwave, the radiation does not transfer to our bodies or cause us any harm, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It is true that standing within 2 inches of the microwave oven, the FDA allows it to leak five milliwatts per square centimeter throughout its entire lifetime, which is very minute. Manufacturers are also responsible for making sure the lining of the microwave door prevents any radiation from escaping. In order to make sure your microwave is safety approved, open the door and place a strip of paper in the door jam. Close the door onto the paper and pull the paper. If it slides through the door, you have a poor seal and are probably leaking radiation. But even in small doses, it's not ideal, especially with little children running around. It’s important to either replace the seal or get a new microwave because the metal mesh door lining is really the only thing keeping the radiation from leaking into your kitchen.

One of the most health-conscience groups in our society are pregnant women who pour over baby books, scour websites for tips and tricks on the do’s and don’ts of gestation, and interrogating their gynecologists for health advice. There really is no medically proven reason to avoid using a microwave for cooking food in or physically steering clear of altogether, however if the microwave is older,  it could easily be leaking or damaged and shouldn’t be used by anyone anymore. If you do ask your doctor, they’ll likely say to avoid using the microwave during all three trimesters because of the lack of research supporting the safety or lack thereof of microwaves.

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