Flux Health Forum

Intensity, wave form, and hormesis

I’ve been trying to reconcile a few things in my mind. On one hand, I think Bob has made a very persuasive case that relatively low intensity PEMF using a trapezoidal waveform that rises and falls rapidly is the approach to PEMF that is most well substantiated in the research and basic science literature. On the other hand, there are quite a few people who swear by the very high energy devices, such as those distributed by the pulse center company. Bob also mentioned in one of his videos that quite a few clinicians have told him that a combination of periodic high intensity treatment in a clinical setting interspersed with low intensity at home treatment seems to be more effective than either alone. In addition, Bob has written that the sinusoidal wave form, which appears to be the waveform used in the vast majority of consumer PEMF devices that disclose the shape of the waveform, either has no biologically significant effect or may be detrimental to tissues. As this is a public forum, I hope someone will correct me if I have misstated any of this.

This leaves me with the conundrum of how a very high energy device using a waveform that may be detrimental to the body can have any beneficial effects at all. In the short term, I could consider it to be a placebo effect. However, I would think that actual tissue damage would override placebo benefits over a period of regular use. This got me thinking about the concept of hormesis, which has been discussed in other threads in this forum in the past.

I wonder if the reason that a high energy device, whether it uses a waveform known to be biologically beneficial or not, may have positive effects is because the tissue is actually being mildly stressed by the device. The physiological response to a small amount of stressor or toxin is one proposed mechanism of how hormesis works. When the stress or toxic load is small enough to catch the attention of the physiology but not enough to overwhelm it, the physiology may respond by becoming more resilient in the face of stress. What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, so to speak.

This would be a distinctly different mechanism than the one used in products using ICE technology, which are designed to enhance normal physiological function, stimulate regeneration and development, etc. However, a brief exposure to a strong stressor is not an unheard of approach to health optimization. The case has been made that beneficial forms of high intensity interval training and things like short ice baths work according to this mechanism. There’s good evidence that immersing oneself in freezing cold water for up to two minutes on a regular basis is beneficial to one’s health in a variety of measurable ways. However, unless you have trained rigorously like someone such as Wim Hof, long-duration immersion in an ice bath will be severely detrimental or even deadly.

This could possibly explain why to seemingly opposite approaches to PEMF can both be beneficial. However, it does raise an extremely important question. What is the correct duration to generate the optimal physiological effect? I understand that there are many variables to consider here. The actual measurable intensity of the device, the shape of the waveform, etc.

This also raises the oft-discussed issue of so-called detoxification. I think it is generally been assumed that detoxification is an expected and desirable response as the body attempts to heal itself after a supposedly beneficial exposure to PEMF. However, working from my hypothesis here, it is possible that this is accurate with regard to biologically beneficial PEMF but that it may also be an indication of excessive tissue damage from use of PEMF that is too high in intensity, too frequent in use, and/or without sufficient time between sessions to recover.

Anybody have any thoughts or experiences about this?

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This is an important insight into PEMF:
Most commercial PEMF systems seem to be beneficial.
Many commercial PEMF systems use very inefficient waveform shapes

Also note: there are very few reports of harm from the use of PEMF, even at exceedingly high intensities.

As an engineer, this is how I reconcile these seemingly contradictory observations:

PEMF essentially conveys a signal, not raw energy, in its biological effect
PEMF is not inherently harmful, even at relatively high doses at non-ionizing frequencies.

Therefore, only the part of the PEMF waveform that carries information understandable to the cell or bio-molecules will trigger a response, but much larger intensities that do not contain that information are essentially ignored by the cell.

If this is correct, then PEMF systems with inefficient waveform shapes can still have a beneficial effect so long as at least a small portion of the waveform contains the useful signal. The rest of the waveform is ignored, so it is possible to use very large intensities and cause no harm while also having some biological benefit.

And this is exactly what we see with PEMF. I have spent about 25 years refining the ICES-PEMF waveform to contain only the biologically meaningful part of each pulse, while eliminating the rest of the PEMF pulse, which is just wasted energy and is either inert or at worst, only very mildly harmful, probably not even at a detectable level.

Having eliminated as much as I can, this reduced the energy of each magnetic pulse by 99.8%. So, if you carefully tune the PEMF waveform to contain only useful information, it will be about 500 times more efficient than typical, sloppy, high-intensity crude PEMF systems. But both have about the same biological benefit, and both do not seem to cause harm. It’s just that one is about 500 times more efficient than the other.

And efficiency matters because inefficiency is expensive, wasteful, potentially dangerous, leads to excessively clunky, heavy and failure-prone designs, is a sure sign of carelessness and indolence, and is just plain ignorant and unnecessary.

Retaining only the biologically meaningful fraction of the waveform allows the system to be very light weight, small, portable, wearable, inexpensive, and as safe as possible.