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Left-sided Cancer: Blame your bed and TV?

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bedroom with TV in itCuriously, the cancer rate is 10 percent higher in the left breast than in the right. This left-side bias holds true for both men and women and it also applies to the skin cancer melanoma. Researchers Örjan Hallberg of Hallberg Independent Research in Sweden and Ollie Johansson of The Karolinska Institute in Sweden, writing in the June issue of the journal Pathophysiology, suggest a surprising explanation that not only points to a common cause for both cancers, it may change your sleeping habits.

For unknown reasons the rates of breast cancer and melanoma have both increased steadily in the last 30 years. Exposure to the sun elevates the risk of melanoma, but the sun’s intensity has not changed in the last three decades. Stranger still, melanoma most commonly affects the hip, thighs and trunk, which are areas of the body protected from the sun. What is responsible for the left-side dominance and increasing incidence of these cancers?

An intriguing clue comes from the Far East. In Japan there is no correlation between the rates of melanoma and breast cancer as there is in the West, and there is no left-side prevalence for either disease. Moreover, the rate of breast cancer in Japan is significantly lower than in the West; only 3 percent of what is seen in Sweden, for example. The rate of prostate cancer in Japan is only 10 percent of that in the U.K. and U.S.

The researchers suggest an explanation based on differences in sleeping habits in Japan and Western countries. Previous research has shown that both men and women prefer to sleep on their right sides. The reasons for this general preference are unclear, but sleeping on the right side may reduce the weight stress on the heart, and the heartbeat is not as loud as when sleeping on the left. Still, there is no reason to suspect that people in Japan sleep in positions that are any different from those in the West. The beds in Japan, however, are different. The futons used for sleeping in Japan are mattresses placed directly on the bedroom floor, in contrast to the elevated box springs and mattress of beds used in the West. A link between bedroom furniture and cancer seems absurd, but this, the researchers conclude, is the answer.

The first line of evidence they cite comes from a 2007 study in Sweden conducted between 1989 and 1993 that revealed a strong link between the incidence of melanoma and the number of FM and TV transmission towers covering the area where the individuals lived. Despite epidemiological correlations like this one suggesting the possibility that electromagnetic radiation from FM and TV broadcasts stations could suppress the immune system and promote cancer, the strength of these electromagnetic fields is so feeble it has been difficult to imagine any biological basis for the correlation.

Consider, however, that even a TV set cannot respond to broadcast transmissions unless the weak electromagnetic waves are captured and amplified by an appropriately designed antenna. Antennas are simply metal objects of appropriate length sized to match the wavelength of a specific frequency of electromagnetic radiation. Just as saxophones are made in different sizes to resonate with and amplify particular wavelengths of sound, electromagnetic waves are selectively amplified by metal objects that are the same, half or one quarter of the wavelength of an electromagnetic wave of a specific frequency. Electromagnetic waves resonate on a half-wavelength antenna to create a standing wave with a peak at the middle of the antenna and a node at each end, just as when a string stretched between two points is plucked at the center. In the U.S. bed frames and box springs are made of metal, and the length of a bed is exactly half the wavelength of FM and TV transmissions that have been broadcasting since the late 1940s. In Japan most beds are not made of metal, and the TV broadcast system does not use the 87- to 108-megahertz frequency used in Western countries.

Thus, as we sleep on our coil-spring mattresses, we are in effect sleeping on an antenna that amplifies the intensity of the broadcast FM/TV radiation. Asleep on these antennas, our bodies are exposed to the amplified electromagnetic radiation for a third of our life spans. As we slumber on a metal coil-spring mattress, a wave of electromagnetic radiation envelops our bodies so that the maximum strength of the field develops 75 centimeters above the mattress in the middle of our bodies. When sleeping on the right side, the body’s left side will thereby be exposed to field strength about twice as strong as what the right side absorbs.

If this study is correct, the solution is simple: Replace the metal in our beds with a nonmetallic mattress or orient your bed, like an antenna, away from the direction of the local FM/TV transmission tower. Call it high-tech feng shui if you like, but if this new study has not identified the cause of left-side cancer, it will, for some, be the cause of insomnia.


R. Douglas Fields, Ph. D. is the Chief of the Nervous System Development and Plasticity Section at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and Adjunct Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. Fields, who conducted postdoctoral research at Stanford University, Yale University, and the NIH, is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Neuron Glia Biology and member of the editorial board of several other journals in the field of neuroscience. He is the author of the new book The Other Brain (Simon and Schuster), about cells in the brain (glia) that do not communicate using electricity.   His hobbies include building guitars, mountain climbing, and scuba diving.  He lives in Silver Spring, Md.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Image credit: iStockphoto


Comments 51 Comments

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  1. 1. bonetree 10:27 am 07/3/2010

    In Japan, people drive on the left side of the road, opposite us. If the increase in cancers on the left side of the body in the US were due to the driver sitting on the left side of the car, there should be a similar but opposite effect in Japan, where drivers sit on the right side. There isn’t.

    And why attack the blog? The author is reporting on an article published in "Pathophysiology -The Official Journal of the International Society for Pathophysiology". I, for one, want Douglas to report on the research of others, whether I agree with the conclusions or not. Rather than attack him, why not go look at the paper he’s describing. Just because a conclusion seems impossible to you, doesn’t mean you’re right.

    What seems more important, to me, than the left side prevalence of cancer is the huge disparity in breast cancer (in Japan, only 3% of the breast cancer in Sweden) and prostate cancer (Japan only 10% of rates in US and UK). Something’s worth learning.

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  2. 2. hnkelley 11:24 am 07/3/2010

    While I agree this might be a stretch and, of course, correlation is not causation, it’s more plausible than most here believe. Quite interesting and I would love to see some hard science to back it debunk it.

    A few points-
    @Curious26: Who cares how most Americans get there TV fix. The transmissions are still there.
    @thmdmph: The story clearly stated that the prevalent sites are generally better protected from the sun.
    @Fallom: I’m generally with you-none of these transmissions are ionizing radiation and, therefore do not directly cause cancer. However, there is some evidence supporting the idea that it suppresses the immune system, as stated in the story.
    @Rob Hooft: Nobody I know sleeps 75cm above the bed. However, the story states that the field develops 75cm above the bed and we typically sleep on our right side. Thus, our left side is closer to the field. How could diet and genetics have this ‘left vs balanced’ effect? This (probably week) theory has a better chance of explaining the differences than diet and genetics.
    @many others: no need to complain or cancel your subscription over something like this. It’s a fun article.

    But, as others have indicated, show me the hard science! I’m less than convinced, but I’m not going to slam it with ill-conceived arguments.

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  3. 3. dougfields 12:14 pm 07/3/2010

    The contrast between the thoughtful correspondence I receive directly by e-mail from readers and the tone and substance of many comments posted on line is interesting. I doubt this will ever change, but I have often thought that this difference in behavior could form the basis for an insightful psychological study. Why the tendency toward snobbish, dismissive hostility in on-line comments akin in tone and approach to the opinionated ranting of AM radio talk-shows? To shoot the messenger because one does not like the message achieves little, other than confinement to ones existing prejudices and limited knowledge. Scientists and academics are often characterized as aloof and reticent to communicate with the lay public. It is a difference in openness to considering new ideas and new information and the considered approach in evaluating them on the basis of evidence rather than opinion that distinguishes the scientific method. Ad hominem arguments and assertions of personal opinion are eschewed. History shows that many crazy ideas that run counter to conventional wisdom are eventually found to be true. Theodore Schwann, for example, was ridiculed and drummed out of science for his brilliant theory that all living organisms are formed of cells. Whether the conclusions of a new study are correct or incorrect, considering them objectively informs and stimulates new ideas. Readers have much to contribute, but it is a fallacy to assume that in summarizing a new study published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, that the author is advocating for the conclusions reached in that paper. The purpose is to lay out the arguments being made in a technical publication in an accessible manner on a subject of general interest. Blogs are revolutionary in breaking past barriers that prevented direct communication between scientists and the public, but there are substantial barriers yet to overcome that cannot be breached by technology alone.

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  4. 4. Airam 1:56 pm 07/3/2010

    A few weeks ago I went to a presentation regarding some of these issues. I found it to be very informative. Check out Robert Steller BBEI,BBEC,EE,CMR President of Breathing Easy. You will be surprised at what is out there that is harming our health.

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  5. 5. lalamoon 3:06 pm 07/3/2010

    could the left side prevalence from driving on the left side in the West?

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  6. 6. lalamoon 3:12 pm 07/3/2010

    Opps, I accidentally hit enter before I finished. I meant to ask, could the left side prevalence in the west be from driving on right with the left side exposed to the sun but the opposite isn’t true for Japan because a smaller % of the population drive/ or spend less time driving/ drive shorter distances etc.?

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  7. 7. n7tcf 4:45 pm 07/3/2010

    Amateur Radio operators have no higher incidence of cancer. We sit within the near-field of much higher levels than the very weak field a non-resonant mattress antenna could create. Perhaps nerdy hobbies boost the immune system?

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  8. 8. Dr. John 6:33 pm 07/3/2010

    Not worthy of SA at all… What is far more likely is the fact that Americans drive a great deal, and the left side of the body receives more sun exposure than the right side of the body… Of course, a true researcher doesn’t merely throw out half baked theories (which my driving theory is as well), but looks at all the confounds, attempts to find the main factors that load in the model, and then state probabilities. Appalling!

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  9. 9. TruePath 12:17 am 07/4/2010

    Umm…what about the effect of sunlight. It seems a lot simpler explanation that the part of you sticking up from the bed will be exposed to more morning sunlight.

    Your explanation is super fishy. For starters there are huge variations in the shape, material and *height* of beds and mattresses. The people with taller mattresses should end up shifting your supposed field maximum and all this variability would eliminate a correlation even if the field was strong enough.

    The correlation with TV/FM antennas is totally useless as these are erected for economic reasons and are likely to correlate with craploads of compounding factors (property values, income levels, etc..)

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  10. 10. jessez13 3:48 am 07/4/2010

    There are more FM and TV stations in urban areas than rural areas. People in urban areas tend to eat more processed foods and less fresh fruits and vegetables. I suspect the Japanese diet is also more healthy than the US diet. The sun produces more damaging radiation than any TV or Radio station. They need to look for diet correlation not radio waves. I hope my tax dollars are not paying for this guy.

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  11. 11. kada 5:03 am 07/4/2010

    Though very interesting, I’m disappointed in the lack of science in several sentences this article.
    "Exposure to the sun elevates the risk of melanoma, but the sun’s intensity has not changed in the last three decades." is quite a statement, as if the sun’s intensity is the very only factor that is responsible for how many radiation one gets on the skin…
    "In the U.S. bed frames and box springs are made of metal, and the length of a bed is exactly half the wavelength of FM and TV transmissions that have been broadcasting since the late 1940s. In Japan most beds are not made of metal…"
    In Europe, none of this is true. Oops, half of the western world forgotten in the "evidence"… I’m still curious though to see the used formulas in the statement ‘and the length of a bed is exactly half the wavelength of FM and TV transmissions that have been broadcasting since the late 1940s"
    By the way, (it it would be true) why all the fuzz : merely grounding the metal would solve the problem and costs (almost) nothing.

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  12. 12. Airam 6:06 am 07/4/2010

    A few weeks ago I attended a presentation by Robert Steller BBEI,BBEC,EE,CMR Pesedent of Breathing Easy. Martin Weatherall also has a site called W.E.E.P. I highly recommend you check it out. Martin came into my home with his equipment and I was surprised at what he discovered. My bed ranged the high on his equipment.

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  13. 13. Nappy 9:15 am 07/5/2010

    How about most people are right handed so their right side of the body will get more excersise thus better blood flow and a better transport away from the tissue of free radicals.
    With the 3% of cancer relating to sweden the left – right side statistics may not come up (if they did look at it).

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  14. 14. Nappy 9:27 am 07/5/2010

    By the way the 75cm = 1/4 wave length at 100MHz is only true for radio, tv is arround 700MHz = 10.7 cm
    1/20 = 15 cm for 100MHz roughly the size of the boxsprings (that i know of)

    Japan uses similar frequencies so there should be high cancer rates for hotel visitors as these usualy have box springs ;)

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  15. 15. Fallom 11:43 am 07/5/2010

    "to fallom: it’s a blog. you are in the blog section of sciam’s web articles. a blog is a constructed work of literature and opinion, that does not need acredidation, or proof of it’s merit. "

    Sorry, the casual format doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s showing up on the Scientific American website. There is very little science in the article, and even disregarding issues with methodology there’s a very simple and clear way to solve the problem of whether beds cause cancer via radio waves – radio waves don’t cause cancer. They don’t. By featuring a non-scientific article on this section of the website, SciAm sets a precedent. Should I just stand back and be ok with a blog post about homeopathic cancer cures, even though I know that thinking is ultimately harmful to people?

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  16. 16. Izegrim 4:35 pm 07/5/2010

    The used formula is probably =c/f, where is the wavelength in meters, c the speed of light (let’s say 300*10^6 m/s), and f the frequency in Hz.
    The wavelength of a 108 MHz wave is therefore 2.78 m, which means that half that length is 1.39 m (=54.7")

    A frequency of 87 MHz gives a half wavelength of 1.73 m (=67.8"), still too short for the size of my (European) box spring. And I don’t believe Americans are that short either.

    Interesting article, though.

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  17. 17. ormondotvos 5:32 pm 07/6/2010

    Dear commenters: Follow the money. There are more astrology columns than astronomy columns in newspapers.

    SciAm charges for its ads by page-views, and this crap gets page views. There’s no discount for page-views by idiots.

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  18. 18. sam milham 1:37 pm 07/7/2010

    It might not be your bed, but your car that is to blame for the left sided cancer excess. Years ago I showed that the magnetic steel reinforcing belts of tires generated strong magnetic fields in the passenger compartment of vehicles when the tires spin:
    Milham, S., Hatfield, J.B., Tell, R. Magnetic Fields from Steel-Belted Radial Tires: Implications for Epidemiologic Studies. Bioelectromagnetics 20:440-445, 1999.
    In the US and places where the driver sits on the left. the left side of the body has higher magnetic field exposure than the right. In Japan, the driver sits on the right. I tried to examine cancer laterality in places where the drivers sit on the right and in places where the drivers’ side changed, but the data wasn’t good enough.

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  19. 19. ArthurDental 5:36 pm 07/9/2010

    > Don’t most Americans now receive TV by cable?

    Uh, you do realize we’re all in a sea of signals (EM waves) from cell towers, TV, satellites, etc, right? Even if you get TV by cable, or don’t have a TV at all.

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  20. 20. Pugsley 6:50 pm 07/9/2010

    It’s a shame you didn’t use this post to directly address some of the concerns and objections written.

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  21. 21. ksparth 8:50 am 07/10/2010

    The article will encourage another wave of radiation phobia!

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  22. 22. bobp 2:30 pm 07/10/2010

    There’s a quotation in statistical work that is worth reciting:
    "The combination of some data and an aching desire for an answer does not ensure that a reasonable answer can be extracted from a given body of data." …John W.Tukey

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  23. 23. DayCaptain 6:29 pm 07/10/2010

    It occurred to me that since the left sides of our bodies are exposed to more sun than the right while driving, that would be a good explanation for an increased rate of left-sided cancers. I found the article very interesting reading, but it was posted in the wrong month. It should have been posted in April.

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  24. 24. dougfields 4:59 pm 07/11/2010

    Epidemiological studies are by definition correlations. Just as an association between smoking cigarettes and coronary disease stimulated experimental studies, so too will the associations between electromagnetic radiation and cancer. The significance of this new study is in identifying a mechanism that can expose the body to increased electromagnetic radiation for prolonged periods.
    Time will tell whether or not there are health effects, but whether a metal bed frame can act as an antenna is simple physics. When I was a boy my father showed me how to build a radio using a crystal and thin wire looped around an empty toilet paper tube. Dad, now retired, was an electrical engineer. Among many other accomplishments he was part of the team of engineers who designed and built the radio in Americas first communication satellite, the Courier (see: The mysterious contraption we built did nothing until he attached a wire from our hand-built radio to the metal frame of my bedroom window. Magically, music from the local radio station poured from the earphone. The set was powered by energy extracted by the window screen from radio waves broadcast through the airno batteries were needed. I built many more radios and found that many house-hold metal objects worked as antennas, but my window screen was the best.
    Years later while using high gain amplifiers to listen to electrical signals transmitted between neurons inside the brain, I was startled to suddenly hear a local radio station broadcast burst through the static of neural impulses sizzling inside the brain. Recalling that crystal radio set of years before, I delighted in realizing that the animal was not possessed by deamons; a faulty connection in the circuit from my microelectrode in the brain tissue was acting as a rectifier with the right resistance and capacitance tuned by chance to the frequency of the radio station.
    The question is not whether a metal bed frame can act as an antenna, but rather what are its properties. Perhaps some readers will remember the Amateur Scientist section of Scientific American from decades past. Why not dive into Maxwells equations and do some experimental measurements? Frequency is only one factor. Other important parameters are orientation, polarization, surface reflectance, and impedance. (Anyone who has attached an antenna lead to a TV set knows that it is important to use a cable of the correct impedance, 300 or 75 Ohms.)
    Over a century before electricity was understood, curiosity was answered by using simple tools available in colonial times: paper, sticks, string, and an iron key. Modern-day Ben Franklins are welcome to post their data here.
    Incidentally, for intriguing biological factors involved in left-side cancer, see .

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  25. 25. PeterVermont 10:50 am 07/13/2010

    Why so much hostility? I found this intriguing.

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  26. 26. raymondo 11:06 am 07/15/2010

    This reminds me of an unpleasant event in my wife and I’s lifes. During the night we kept getting waken up by what sounded like a radio station with a hum brackground. We could not tell what direction it came from. Further more we could only hear it when laying on our bed. It would dissappear when we moved and came back gradually increasing to a point of being annoying after five minutes or so. If we moved it dissapeared. Since I seemed to be more sensitive to it. So one nite I stayed on the bed and waited to hear it and ask wy wife to turn the breakers off one at a time that did nothing until she tripped the main breaker off. That shut it off. she put it back on and after 5 minutes, sure enought the sound was back up to its hight level. We experimented a few times and concluded it was some kind of magnetic resonnance with the mattress. We turn the mattress over and never head the humming radio station again. Now I wish we could have pursued this true live experiment further, but we did not.
    The universe is bathing in dark energy and dark matter, who knows what we are going to find eventually and what impact it has on our lives. I beleive they may have something there.

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  27. 27. healthfirst 5:10 pm 07/16/2010

    Why so much criticism? Scientists should be looking at all possible contributors and accelerators of cancer; those ideas ‘outside the box ‘ may well be correct and with further research will be validated or not. All these hateful comments, whose side are they on anyways? With all the funding to cancer research we still focus on treatment and not prevention. Cancer rates are still ever increasing and especially amongt the youngest. We need researchers like Dr. Johansson who are looking at what others have not; we need more like him, not less. Use all that negativity towards companies who continue to poison us daily with their products for the sake of profit, that is where your frustration should be directed, not the scientists trying to find answers.

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  28. 28. Terry 1:16 am 07/18/2010

    This is an interesting possibility. I suffer from ringing in the ears commonly called tinitus. Has the author or readers known of any link between tinitis and the disturbance of electromagnetic to the body as reffered to in this article? Terry

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  29. 29. bricology 1:41 pm 07/23/2010

    Folks, folks — the "75cm" thing seems to be confusing quite a few of you. No one has suggested that anything happens "75cm above the BED". The issue is what might be happening 75cm above the SPRINGS.

    Most people sleep on an innerspring mattress that rests atop a box spring mattress. The innerspring mattress’ springs aren’t connected to each other, so they’re not capable of acting like an antenna array. But the box springs ARE connected, and the bottom of the box springs, where each of the springs is attached to a wire grid, is typically located about 18" below the top surface of the innerspring mattress, where you lie down. That puts the left (or furthest from the ground) side of your torso about 12" above that point, i.e., about 75cm above the wire grid at the bottom of the box springs.

    Get it yet?

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  30. 30. gigantochrissy 10:26 am 07/28/2010

    hmmm… this sounds compelling, but I too wish there was more concrete evidence. I can speculate as well: most people are right-handed and, therefore, hold their cell phones up to their left ear. ta da!

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  31. 31. xiambax 2:19 pm 07/28/2010

    could this explain why I can hear the radio when i sleep. at first i thought it was me hearing the radio in running water pipes but this makes more sense. I swear to god im not crazy. I’ve actually gotten out of bed to find the source of the sound without avail.

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  32. 32. davetrindle 2:35 pm 07/28/2010

    I am a former actuary (insurance mathematician/statistician) and I’ve always had a keen interest in science articles, which I have widely read. I have never been much of a skeptic or contrarian or radical. But, at age 60 and having some maturity about all this, I now truly believe American biological and psychological science is mostly crap, and government standards (food, radiation, etc) that purported arise out of this science are even worse crap. The science is crap because of sloppily designed studies and the impossible-to-eradicate notion that association means cause-and-effect. In the case of biological and psychological stuff, there is wide misunderstanding and misuse of statistics. Measures of credibility, statistical significance are widely misused by scientists who studied cookbook statistics. An almost universal mistake, for example, is when a study draws a conclusion and states that confounding factors have been factored out. This is nearly impossible, because the "standard" factors used to "factor-out" rarely apply to the very non-standard populations that have been selected. I truly believe most biological/psychological studies–if not all–could be fairly easily ripped apart by a conscientious mathematical (non-cookbook) statistician. As far as government guidelines (and I would have never been this cynical in my earlier years) are truly discredited both by their science (see above) and by subtle and non-so-subtle corporate lobbying. It’s too bad. I suppose if there were any money in rigorous evaluation of statistical conclusions, we wouldn’t have the crap problem.

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  33. 33. davetrindle 2:36 pm 07/28/2010

    I am a former actuary (insurance mathematician/statistician) and I’ve always had a keen interest in science articles, which I have widely read. I have never been much of a skeptic or contrarian or radical. But, at age 60 and having some maturity about all this, I now truly believe American biological and psychological science is mostly crap, and government standards (food, radiation, etc) that purported arise out of this science are even worse crap. The science is crap because of sloppily designed studies and the impossible-to-eradicate notion that association means cause-and-effect. In the case of biological and psychological stuff, there is wide misunderstanding and misuse of statistics. Measures of credibility, statistical significance are widely misused by scientists who studied cookbook statistics. An almost universal mistake, for example, is when a study draws a conclusion and states that confounding factors have been factored out. This is nearly impossible, because the "standard" factors used to "factor-out" rarely apply to the very non-standard populations that have been selected. I truly believe most biological/psychological studies–if not all–could be fairly easily ripped apart by a conscientious mathematical (non-cookbook) statistician. As far as government guidelines (and I would have never been this cynical in my earlier years) are truly discredited both by their science (see above) and by subtle and non-so-subtle corporate lobbying. It’s too bad. I suppose if there were any money in rigorous evaluation of statistical conclusions, we wouldn’t have the crap problem.

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  34. 34. dougfields 6:30 pm 07/28/2010

    Dear Alteran1, You are correct, I am not a "Sci. Am." writer and I do not pretend to be one. I am neuroscientist doing experimental research in the lab every day. I have, however, had the pleasure and honor of writing five articles published in the magazine on my own scientific research over the years.

    Ever wonder why all the newspapers and TV stations break the same science news stories on the same day, often using the same quotes and stock photos? The stories are packaged and delivered to the media by the big scientific journals a week in advance of publication. Many are important news, some are marketing. After all, next week there will be another press release announcing the latest breakthrough, which, naturally, will be appearing in the next issue of their journal. Sci. Am. relies on these, but the magazine has a strong tradition of working directly with scientists. Guest blogs are the most recent adaptation of this approach.

    Scientists who are working in the lab, reviewing manuscripts submitted for publication, serving on grant study sections to fund research, organizing and attending scientific meetings around the world, know the trajectory of their field; they are aware of what other scientists are doing, and in general we know what will be published in our area of expertise five years from now.

    Like most scientists I must read over a hundred scientific articles a week for my own research and responsibilities as editor at four scientific journals in my field. This includes reading many specialist journals that publish the nitty-gritty work that moves science forward, but which may lack wider appreciation and PR operations. When I read something in a peer-reviewed journal that I think may be of general interest I enjoy sharing it. I am not paid for this and I do it on my own time. I am grateful to the public who value and support scientific research, and I hold Sci. Am. in the highest esteem. I have read this magazine since I was in high school, and I am eager to give back to the extent that I can.

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  35. 35. jillybilly 7:41 pm 07/28/2010

    could it be from driving and having the sun on our left sides? seems inplausible, but i am a woman sitting here looking at my left arm darker than my right (from sticking out window).

    we should therefore also look at latitudes.

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  36. 36. DMiles 7:42 pm 07/28/2010

    It would be impossible for the springs to "amplify" the RF signals. At most they could concentrate the signals impinging on the springs. If the springs actually did focus the RF energy 75 cm above their surface, it would be trivial to measure, but has this even been done?

    Even if there was an increase in the strength of RF signals, they would still be infinitesimal compared to signals from WiFi, cell phones, cordless phones and all of the other devices people are routinely exposed to.

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  37. 37. users3 10:14 pm 07/28/2010

    A better explanation:

    The past three decades, the US has included flame retardants (PBDEs) in mattresses. Perhaps contact with the skin on the right side increases cancer risk.

    This would account for the Japan – US disparity and right side bias.

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  38. 38. Jason18 9:39 am 07/29/2010

    Douglas, as a fellow cancer researcher and former graduate student I can understand your frustration from the type of online comments you receive. But it is expected considering the topic of the article.

    With that being said, I find your argument weak even though you are simply the "messenger". Based on the credible peer reviewed research concerning cancer, poor diet (one heavily based on meat and dairy and one that lacks plant based foods), lack of exercise, lack of sleep and the bombardment of chemicals in our environment (the synergistic effect) seems to be a more credible explanation to cancer differences between Japan and the West. Given that does not explain the left side tendency of breast cancer (or melanoma), the research suggest that if you eat your greens everyday and exercise, how you sleep and what type of mattress you sleep on should not matter because your body will be less compromised.

    If you simply had one or two sentences in your article talking about what we "do know" about what contributes to our cancer risk, rather than simply stating a far fetched hypothesis, would have provided you with more credibility.

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  39. 39. Jason18 9:47 am 07/29/2010

    I think a better explanation regarding the increase in breast cancer has more to do with the differences in dietary patterns and lifestyle between the west and Japan. The science is much more clearer regarding this issue. Poor diet (one based heavily on meats and dairy, processed foods, highly refined grains and lacking in plant based foods) seems to make more sense to me! Perhaps if we, in the West, took better care of ourselves, it should not matter what type of mattress we sleep on!

    Melanoma is an entirely different cancer and cannot be compared to breast cancer. It is like comparing apples to oranges.

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  40. 40. davetrindle 10:49 am 07/29/2010

    I know this is a little off-topic, but it generally fits in with the theme of the quality of our science. Apparently, there is a growing school of thought that says there is no consistent science behind the idea that meat, milk and dairy are bad (except those with artificial hormones). For years I had elevated cholesterol and I drank skim milk and ate no meat, and god-forbid something like eggs or butter. After reading something about the controversy, I switched to drinking whole milk, having one egg a day, having meat 2-3 times per week and using a fair amount of butter. When my annual physical came around, the overall cholester0l was about the same, but the HDL (good) cholesterol increased 25%, putting my Total-to-HDL ratio in the "excellent" category. One author speculates that, while dairy may increase cholesterol, it seems to improve HDL, which is a better predictor than total cholesterol. I guess my point is that, not only is there a great deal of leading-edge science of poor quality, but also, there is a history of poor science that has become ingrained in our culture that needs to be challenged. Apparently, coronary heart disease was rare before the 1930s, and certainly prior to that the american diet included plenty of meat and dairy products. It seems like it’s got to be something else.

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  41. 41. Jason18 10:43 am 07/30/2010


    It is not a question of the quality of research, it is a question of its complexity. Depending on the study in question, their are always methodological issues that arise that places a studies conclusions into question.

    When dealing with cancer, for instance, their is still a lot we do not know and in many cases will never know. With all the variables that exist, it is impossible to determine causality.

    However, the best research that exists that looks into the relationship between diet and disease is comparing disease and dietary patterns of Japan with the U.S. It is quite fascinating.

    I do have a question for you. During those years that you ate no meat, what did you eat? Meat alternatives such as tofu can, at times, contain more "bad" fat and cholesterol depending on what you buy. Their is something called the "Fat vegan". I urge you to look it up.

    You should also read how legumes and vegetables can lower your HDL levels much better than dairy without any risks. We were eating a lot more these groups of foods prior to the 1930s and have our consumptions of these foods have been decreasing ever since.

    And don’t forget, we were also a lot more active prior to the 30s. Life has changed quite a bit since then:)!

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  42. 42. dougfields 7:02 pm 07/30/2010

    My own bed is oriented to receive minimum pick-up of electromagnetic radiation from the local TV station. Not intentionally, it just fits the room better that way. Like most homes in my area, my basement is equipped with a ventilation system to remove cancer-causing radon gas that is generated by the natural decay of uranium in soil. A squirrel fell down the vent pipe on the roof and jammed the ventilation fan. I rescued the squirrel, but the fan has been broken for ten years. I never replaced it. I spray my guitars with nitrocellulose lacquer, and I dissolve engine grease from car parts in powerful solvents. I get deep alpine sunburns even though I try to avoid them. Not only do I enjoy an occasional beer, I enjoy brewing it. My lab is filled with some of the most powerful carcinogens known to man. Many things cause cancer. It is interesting that so many every-day things that are definitely known to cause cancer–sun, alcohol, solvents, cleaning products, pesticides, smoke (the state of California has a longer list)–cause little concern for most people, but the potential cancer-causing effects of electromagnetic radiation are frightening to so many.

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  43. 43. Trina 8:41 pm 08/1/2010

    The reason breast cancer is on the left side here and not in Asia is because
    of blonde hair dyes!! See how the lymph drains from the skull to the left side!

    That’s what it is. Look at all the celebrities who get breast cancer…they
    are predominantly blonde or have had bouts of being blonde.

    It could have something to do with the veinous return from the skull being
    on the left side. This blood supply could be full of hair dye chemicals…

    Link to this
  44. 44. Shinri 4:33 pm 08/2/2010

    Doesn’t anyone edit this stuff? You should be embarrassed to be repeating such utter junk science.

    The 87-108 mHz frequency range mentioned covers just the FM radio band, not the entire TV spectrum which goes from 54-806 mHz.

    Wavelengths at those frequencies range from about 15 inches to 18 feet, a 15 fold variation. Remember too that US TV broadcasting switched to ATSC digital signals last year, with a maximum allowable power of 1/5 the old analog standard. The FM band is still analog, but the shortest FM frequency is about 12 feet at 108mHz, making for a mighty long bed spring.

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  45. 45. msmarph 12:34 pm 08/3/2010

    You didn’t read the article. He’s not talking about ionizing radiation, but suppression of the immune system. I wonder who will offer the first Faraday cage on their mattresses/box springs? Serta or Sealy? Of course if you use a Sleep Number Bed no worries!

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  46. 46. torchh 11:52 pm 08/18/2010

    Well, you joke about who will first offer a bedroom Faraday cage. But a close approximation of it is already offered at Earthing or Barefoot Sales Corp with their earthing blankets. Ground your sheets while you sleep… Further, Joe Mercola’s site is loaded with discussions about this same dubious hypothesis (non-ionizing radiation as a source of many ills, especially while traveling by auto!). Shielding your car, rolling down the windows to allow electromagnetic (EM) waves (they call them EMFs) to escape–it’s hilarious, if you know anything about electricity and EM waves. There is a lot of interest out there in the potential biologic effects of EM radiation (and magnetic fields), good and bad, and precious little hard data to support any valid conclusions. Mercola and this SciAm article do very little to increase anyone’s understanding of the subject.

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  47. 47. gwideman 4:53 am 08/20/2010

    Testing because the "register" link delivers a form with no Submit button.

    Link to this
  48. 48. lough 6:08 pm 08/29/2010

    Sound a little farfetched to me. my thery is that because of the
    added reception from the bed springs that the TV gets better
    a better quality picture in the bedroom. Therfore we are more likely to keep our fat asses in bed longer while watching TV and are not getting enough exercise.
    I did find that if I took a spare sattelite dish and slept with my head in it while playing self help tapes while I slept, that
    I woke up in the morning with a much better attitude than if I didnt use the dish. Although I also had to alternate sides
    to get a more balanced outlook on life.

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  49. 49. slowbarney 3:17 pm 08/31/2010

    87 MHz, is ~3.5 meters, 108 is 2.8 m. "and the length of a bed is exactly half the wavelength of FM and TV transmissions " so between 1.75m and 1.4m. Twaddle.

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  50. 50. misterblack 2:02 pm 03/1/2011

    Hi Doug,

    Contrary to the skeptics, I see that what you wrote about is possible (as opposed to impossible). Considering the probability that nobody will ever do a precise study to determine whether spring mattresses cause cancer or not, what can I do to protect myself right now?

    I understand that we can orient our beds away from the FM towers. But most of us have no idea where the towers are. Do you have any real world solutions for the regular guy?

    For example, I read somewhere that activated carbon blocks radiation- so how about if I place an activated carbon cloth on top of the mattress, and then put a memory foam, and then the bedsheets?

    Do you have any cost-effective ideas that are accessible to the regular consumer?

    Link to this
  51. 51. HeathHam 9:14 pm 01/22/2012

    Hi, I just read this article; I’m newly sensitive to emf’s and wireless (what a nightmare it’s been) and haven’t slept on my metal bed and coil mattress in over a month. I’m getting rid of it and getting a wood frame – but not sure of the mattress to get. I am not crazy about futons; would memory-foam be a good option? (or is that completely toxic for some other reason? sigh.)
    Thanks, HH

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