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Is Microwave Radiation OK?

Is Microwave Radiation OK?

We receive this concern quite often: Won’t using a microwave to extract my oils damage their quality and compromise everyone’s health?

Here is a brief rebuttal to that claim, written in the tone of a response to this question. Our process is highly-researched, and we stand by our product 100%. We are essential oil enthusiasts like you, and are merely seeking to innovate this sector with our technology. For more in-depth research, please see our scientific research page.

“Microwave energy is electromagnetic non-ionizing radiation.   Well, that phrase is rather complicated by many reasons.   First of all, in the English language, the term “Radiation” is used to refer to energy transfer through a media, for example,  “Radiative Transfer of Heat”.   It also is often used to discuss “Radioactivity” and it is used for comments like “the sound radiated from the speaker”.    So, due to the unfortunate fact that the term “Radiation” has a variety of definitions, each of which is slightly different, we all can easily get confused about the actual physical process taking place in a specific instance.   Part of this is because when people were discovering all of these different phenomena, they first thought that they were the same.    Many of us know about Pierre and Madam Curie.   They discovered and worked with Radium, an element named in fact after the term Radiation, and which “radiates” its “radioactivity”.   Some of us know that they both suffered great medical issues from their work with Radium as the radioactivity (not well understood when they were working) affected their very cellular structures.  In fact, up through about the year 1945, the effects of radiation from radioactive elements was not really appreciated.  After about that time, people that had been painting the dials of watches and meters with radium started developing severe illnesses, “radiation sickness”.   In addition, one can never forget the atomic bomb effects that took place in Japan, Bikini Atoll, parts of Nevada in the USA and select regions of the then USSR and a few other countries.  This type of radiation is far different from microwave energy emission.   It is ionizing radiation, is often composed of atomic sub particles of one or several types.  Many of the energy “packets” of radiation are incredibly destructive to molecular structures, and since our biological system is composed of a great number of very complex molecules, these radiation packets can and do cause damage.

I suspect you already know that microwave emissions are not “radiation” of that sort, but still, there is a potential problem of intense microwave or any other electromagnetic periodic wave non-ionizing fields and what they might be doing to biological systems.   I will now focus on this aspect.    Microwave emissions of the  type in microwave ovens are non-ionizing.  This means that they do not split up molecules into ions.  This is only partially accurate, it is because the field intensity is too low to cause the generation of what is called a “plasma” under normal operation.   If you put a crumpled piece of aluminum foil in a microwave, you can get sparks and arcs.  I don’t recommend you do this, but have seen it displayed about the internet as it is entertaining.   Sparks and arcs are ionization processes in which electrons are travelling through media, such as air from one location to another.   These, in the case of a microwave are exactly the same as the spark or arc you might see when you switch on a light in your house – in the light switch or turn on a flashlight.  They are not significantly dangerous, but they are ionic events.  A slightly different type of arc/spark  event is lightning which occurs naturally during intense thunder/lightning storms.   So you can see that arcs and sparks have been with the planet at least as long as humans have existed.  Our device is designed to not enable arcs and sparks to take place under normal operation.

Microwave energy has been studied extensively.  One reason is because it is relatively easy to generate microwave energy.  Another reason is that any time you walk outdoors, especially in the day time, you will be in a microwave energy emission from the sun.  Not only does the sun emit “light”, but it emits energy throughout the entire electromagnetic spectrum.   The energy density (approximate) from the sun is about 1KW per square meter.   Most people are somewhere around 1.5  to 2 meters tall and about 0.3 to 0.5 meters wide.  Naturally, the variance is rather great in this measurement. This means that in the approximate area you occupy, about the same amount of energy can be delivered to your body from the sun as you would receive from a standard microwave oven.   The major difference is that the sun does not emit all of its energy on one “frequency”, so that is indeed different.  But, if one were to  lay out on the beach on a sunny or even a cloudy day for 2 hours, most of us will receive severe sunburns.  Sunburns are indeed changes in the conditions of molecules in the human body that are deleterious.   One can get skin cancer from exposure to the sun.  This is a known fact as well.   In the same manner as one needs to be a bit wary of excess exposure to sunlight, one should not plan to be exposed to microwave energy.   Luckily for us, the microwave oven is very well shielded.  So little energy emits in the form of microwave energy from a standard microwave oven that while the unit is operating at about 1KW, the amount of this emission leaking out can only be measured with very sensitive instruments.  Yes, some gets out, but compared to a cellular telephone, it is less than 1/1000 of that level.   So, compared to the exposure to you from a cellular telephone, a microwave oven is much lower.   Note that staying indoors in a wood building does not shield one from the microwave energy from the sun.

This leads to two primary questions:

First of all, how does this microwave energy in the microwave oven affect water molecules and other molecules?   It turns out that the frequency selected for operation of microwave ovens (2.4 GHz) happens to be a frequency which is absorbed rather well by water molecules.  This is due to the fact that a water molecule is composed of one Oxygen atom and two Hydrogen atoms.  These atoms have differing propensities to attract electrons.  This propensity is often referred to as their “Electronegativity”.  Since they behave in this fashion, a water molecule has a small dipole moment.  This means it will attempt to align itself with the electric field.  This electric field changes directions at 2.4 GHz  ( 1 Hz is one complete reversal per second, so 2.4 GHz is 2,400,000,000 reversals per second!)  Water molecules are quite small, and they can keep up with this rapid change in the electric field.   When they do so, they absorb energy from the electromagnetic field generated by the microwave oven.  This energy absorption causes them to increase in Temperature.  All essential oil molecules are far larger than water.  They are not capable of keeping up with this rapid change in the electric field, so they do not absorb very much energy directly from the microwave oven emission.   Instead, the water molecules bump into the oil molecules and transfer energy to them, thereby raising their temperature as well.  This can be observed to some extent when one heats food in a microwave.   Often one adds water to some foods to increase their rate of heating in the microwave oven.

Second, does the microwave oven “denature” biological molecules?   Well, to tell the truth, heating of any sort can denature biological molecules.   For example, if you place an egg into boiling water on a normal stove, it changes from a liquid to a solid given enough time.   This is indeed denaturing the egg as it no longer is capable of growing into a chicken, even if it were a fertile egg.   So, I must answer “yes”, microwaves can denature proteins and other biological materials.   However, there is a very interesting element about essential oil extraction which actually makes the microwave approach in some ways superior to normal steam distillation.   Essential oils are often a bit fragile given exposure to temperature.   The shorter the exposure to a high temperature, the less the effect.   One simple example is menthol found in Peppermint and many other materials.   There are actually two forms of menthol,   the “d-menthol” and the “l-menthol”.  This relates to the fact that menthol is composed of a number of atoms all connected together, and while both d- and l- menthol have exactly the same number of atoms and they are all connected exactly to the same other atoms, there is a difference in the precise shape of the molecule between these two versions.   One of these versions is the one predominantly found in naturally created menthol and the other is either absent or much less present.   They have differing flavors and they have differing ability to interact with the human bio system.  We prefer to have the naturally occurring form of menthol.   Since our extraction technique uses the microwave energy and takes far less time (6 minutes instead of 2 hours), the oil extracted has been exposed to far less time at a high temperature.   This is often measured in “Degree-minutes”.  So, to compare, the microwave system raises the menthol to 100C from 25C (room temperature) for 6 minutes  which is 6 times (100-25) which is 6  times 75.  This is 450 degree minutes.   The traditional steam distillation with a boiling pot on a stove or fired by a propane torch raises the menthol to 100C from 25C for 90 to 120 minutes.  Let us call it 100 minutes to make the calculation easy.   This represents 75 times 100 or 7500 degree minutes.   As you can see, it is easily 15 times as much exposure.   So, both microwave and normal steam distillation can denature biological materials, but in the case of menthol and other essential oils, microwave extraction using our process has a much lower effect on the resulting essential oil conversion from the natural isomers to a more “racemic” or mixed set of isomers than normal steam distillation.   It turns out that the difference is not great, but is measurable.