Electromagnetic Radiation and Health: Evidence, Diagnosis and Management
A full day’s conference organised for the British Society for Ecological Medicine by medical researcher, Rachel Nicoll, on the 7th March 2014. Michelle Berriedale-Johnson reports.
• Power frequency and electromagnetic fields – Professor Dennis Henshaw of the University of Bristol and Children with Cancer UK
• Glossary of common EMF/RF terms. Alasdair Philips
• Typical symptoms of electromagnetic sensitivity. Michael Bevington
Power frequency and electromagnetic fields – Professor Dennis Henshaw of the University of Bristol and Children with Cancer UK
Professor Henshaw opened his talk by describing how all animals, including humans, have, for millions of years, been sensitive to electromagnetic radiation, in the guise of geomagnetic storms. Such storms can affect both animal migration patterns and human health.
Animal navigation depends on magnetite particles lodged in the brain which vibrate and respond to magnetic fields; these allow the animals to align themselves with the magnetic north. This alignment can be disrupted by electromagnetic radiation so that, for example, a cow’s ability to align itself with the magnetic north will be disrupted by a power line running though its field.
The human brain also contains magnetite particles which allow us to align ourselves with the magnetic north although we may not be conscious of it. However, this may explain why some people sleep much better when lying in a north/south alignment.
Very low intensity magnetic fields can increase the lifetime of ‘radical pairs’ setting off chemical reactions which form the basis of a chemical magnetic compass. However, these reactions may also create free radicals leading to biological damage. These changes also affect the chryptochromes in the eye (animal and human) responsible for controlling our circadian rhythms.
Professor Henshaw quoted a number of studies by Ritz et al. showing how behaviour patterns in robins, chickens, zebra finches and American cockroaches had all been affected by exposure to magnetic frequencies.
He then went on to show how disrupting circadian rhythms (via the magnetosensitive cryptochromes) disrupts the production of melatonin, a powerful antioxidant produced in the pineal gland when the body believes that it is night/sleep time.
Finally he suggested that there could be a link between magnetic fields and cancer via:
Electromagnetic energy – affecting the processes of life. Alasdair Phillips of Powerwatch
Alasdair Phillips sees electromagnetic energy as an environmental hazard with a long latency eg its effects may not be seen for many years – which gives ample opportunity for nay-sayers to deny any hazard. He cited an alarming catalogue of ‘previously denied hazards’:
He went on to describe the millionfold increase in the electromagnetic and radio frequencies in the 21st century environment and the results from the Bamberg Report of 2005 which showed a strong correlation between compared symptoms of illness experienced and levels of radio frequency exposure in the home.
He also showed graphs comparing the exposure from a mobile phone mast at 100 metres and a wifi laptop – the latter dramatically higher.
Finally he showed a very useful table of exposure sources both in and out of the home or office.
The political and legal scene. Michael Bevington, Chair of Trustees of ES-UK and author of Electromagnetic Sensitivity and Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity
Michael Bevington gave a detailed overview of the very confusing and self-contradictory approaches to the legal status of electrosensitivity and its connections with electromagnetic radiation. Such connections are often sidestepped by planning ‘peculiarities’ – such as the decision that the possible health effects of mobile phone masts should not be taken into consideration when applications to erect them were made.
Although no successful prosecutions have yet been brought in the UK there are several pending at EU level and Michael Bevington sees hope for the future, citing, in particular, a ‘game changing legal tribunal ruling by the United Nations Economic Commission Europe by which the UK government was deemed to have acted illegally by denying the public decision making powers and ‘necessary information’ over the benefits or adverse effects of wind farms. The UK broke Article 7 of the Aarhus convention (1998) which requires full and effective public participation on all environmental issues and demands that citizens are given the right to participate in the process.’
The literature on animal studies is vast (tens of thousands) but they are inconclusive, often contradictory and the effects are not reproducible. But, while there are too many studies showing an adverse effect for them to be dismissed as chance, there are not enough to provide conclusive evidence.
Rachel Nicholl suggests some of the following as reasons/explanations for the contradictory results:
• The effect of whole body radiation is often only tested in one organ (the heart, for example) but the effect may be manifest somewhere entirely different (such as the liver).
• Some studies show an initial effect which declines with time; others show a delayed effect which may not be apparent at all in studies with short time lapses.
• Except when cancer occurs, studies show that tissue damage eventually recovers but the recovery time differs according to the source, the dose, the time and the organ of the body affected.
• Low doses exposure can have effects which are absent in high doses so these are deemed to be no effect – but are they just a different effect?
• Age appears to affect response to radiation exposure: young more vulnerable, elderly more resistant.
• Males are more susceptible to blood/brain barrier leakage and to cancer but not all studies are analysed by gender.
• Studies expect a linear response but cancer studies show a U-shaped dose/response – so are studies looking for the wrong thing?
• Different animals appear to be affected in different degrees and different ways – so if there was no effect evident were they studying the wrong species?
• An adaptive response is usually understood to mean that a low dose exposure will inhibit a pathological response to a higher dose (ie the subject will be able to tolerate the higher dose without ill effects). Is this relevant with ionising and non-ionising radiation? Or is the adaptive response effectively changing some other mechanism in the individual who has been exposed which allows/him or her to withstand the exposure better?
All of this suggests that the individual’s response to radiation exposure may depend far more on the characteristics of the individual being exposed than on the radiation exposure itself.
Rachel Nicholl suggests that the two characteristics which may be of particular importance are:
• Oxidant/anti-oxidant status.
• DNA and histone methylation
She therefore suggest the following hypothesis:
• Radiation may have both a direct and an indirect effect on living tissue but to date studies have only investigated the direct effect.
• The indirect effect will depend on, amongst other things, the oxidant/anti-oxidant and methylation status of the individual effected.
• The adaptive response may simply be the upregulation (more efficient operation) of antioxidant enzymes and methylation.
Finally, based on recent research, some lifestyle measures to combat radiation:
• Eat anti-oxidant foods - fish, fruit, vegetables, garlic, curcumin, ginger, rosemary
Human studies – a critique of the evidence. Alasdair Philips of Powerwatch
The official view of electromagnetic sensitivity is that it is ‘all in the mind’ – the nocebo effect. However, existing studies often paint a different picture.
The ECOLOG Report. 2000
Dutch TNO report. 2004.
Bamberg Report. 2005. (357 General Practice patients)
Essex MTHR ES study. 2007
EU/EC funded REFLEX project. 2005
Bioinitative Report. 2007 & 2012
Risks identified include DNA damage, loss of DNA repair mechanisms and genetic instability, neurotoxicity and carcinogenicity in humans, serious impacts on human and animal sperm and function, effects on offspring behaviour and on cranial and bone development in animals exposed during pregnancy.
Problems with most EHS studies:
• Subjects are not tested for ‘real’ sensitivity so many subjects are accepted who merely ‘think’ their symptoms are due to ES.
US and international standards for safety for microwave radiation are based on the assumption that only the thermal effects need to be considered. However, it has been known for over 30 years that pulsed electromagnetic fields are far more biologically active than non-pulsed fields, but the mechanism of action has been unclear.
However, it appears that electromagnetic fields (EMFs) can influence the voltage across the plasma membranes of individual cells, thus activating the voltage-gate calcium channels. This leads to an increase in both intracellular calcium. This excess calcium results in the symptoms of electromagnetic hypersensitivity. These symptoms are, therefore, not the result of the EMFs themselves but of the biological changes brought about by the EMFs.
The increase of intracellular calcium in turn increases the synthesis of nitric oxide (NO). This can have a therapeutic effect but, when converted into superoxide and then into peroxynitrite, causes oxidative stress and thereby, harm.
‘Harm’ can include:
This is of concern because of the enormous increase in exposure to microwave radiation in recent years.
For more details on Professor Pall’s work in this area see Electromagnetic fields act via activation of voltage-gated calcium channels to produce beneficial or adverse effects. J Cell Mol Med. Aug 2013; 17(8): 958–965.
The professor then went on to look in more detail at what he calls two modern ‘epidemics’ – autism and Timothy syndrome (autism sufferers who also have very serious heart problems and rarely live more than 10 years).
The mutation that causes Timothy syndrome is a mutation in the gene that encodes the calcium channel and causes it to be very slow in closing. As result it become hyperactive and produces excessive amounts of intracellular calcium. This suggests that the increase in calcium could cause both autism and Timothy Syndrome – and therefore that the current epidemics of both conditions could be caused by the huge increase in microwave exposure over the last 35 years. Professor Pall then quoted various studies that would appear to support his hypothesis.
He went on to look at autism in more detail pointing out that it is well accepted that what is unique about autism is its effect on the early development of synaptic connections linking neurons together. However, aberrant calcium signalling can disrupt the correct linking of synapses and therefore neurons, so there is no question that excessive VGCC activity (eg excessive calcium generated by microwave exposure) could cause autism by disrupting this process. He then cited further epidemiological data to support this theory – although he made clear that there remained other causes of autism, such as chemical exposure and perinatal infections.
None the less, Professor Pall posed the question as to whether the great autism epidemic of the last 35 years has been caused primarily by the great parallel increase in microwave exposure. He suggests that the argument is strong, but not yet conclusive.
Dr Mallery Blythe started by stressing that electromagnetic hypersensitivity was a physiological, not a psychological problem. She also pointed out that humans are ‘electrical’ beings and that we are excellent EMF conductors. So, is electromagnetic hypersensitivity a sickness or is it just super-sensitivity?
Having listed the cell damage that can occur (altered gene and protein expression, membrane disruption, blood brain barrier disruption, DNA damage etc) she went on to list the whole body/systemic results (including reduced melatonin production, immune system suppression, reproductive impairment, breakdown of blood brain barrier, oxidative stress and chronic inflammation). She then quoted the research of Drs Orjan Hallberg and Gerd Oberfeld in 2006 which estimated that by 2017 50% of the developed world’s population will suffer from some degree of EHS.
Dr Mallery Blythe listed EHS symptoms as:
• Insomnia/sleep disturbance
However, she stressed the vital importance of a detailed patient history in diagnosing EHS. It is particularly important to notice if the symptoms disappear when the suspected source is removed and whether the patient gets relief with shielding or when in the bath or shower. She noted that blood tests and other diagnostic tests could be useful but were very individual. She then went on to give her suggestions for those who are electrosensitive – although, as she pointed out, the suggestions would be of benefit to everyone!
Other treatments which may be helpful:
• Nutritional supplements – but get advice
Dr Mallery Blythe suggests that a full reversal of the symptoms of EHS can be achieved with these protocols but she does warn that a return to the adverse environment is likely to cause a relapse.
John Kelsey discussed different methods of testing cell health by measuring conductivity in the body, and explained how the sharp peaks on the waveforms created by mobile phone signals could be evened out thus reducing their biological effect. For more on devices designed to do this see Saferwave.
EMF Detection and prevention. Alasdair Philips of Powerwatch
Alasdair described various devices for measuring radio frequency and microwave exposure and suggested the following ways of reducing it:
• Assess using a good measuring device (eg ACOM2)
Remember that when dealing with electrical power you are dealing with both electric fields and magnetic fields.
Electric fields within a building are almost entirely due to wiring and the devices plugged into it. The only effective way to reduce them is to re-wire using screened cable.
Magnetic fields within a building are due to appliances and small (usually lighting) transformers, wiring faults, especially in ring mains and net and stray currents from outside sources.
Cell biochemistry is electrochemistry as our bodies are, in effect, electrical organisms. So the fact that the cells in our bodies react to external electro stimuli should not come as a surprise. However – every individual’s body is different so every individual reacts differently.
The cell membrane is made up of sodium, potassium and magnesium. Levels of intracellular calcium play an important role: large increases in intra-cellular calcium will cause apoptosis or cell death but smaller changes in levels play a vital role in signaling for a range of cell activities. If external electrical frequencies interfere with this signaling by interfering with the ‘voltage-gated calcium channels’ then the smooth operation of the cell functions can be disrupted. This can lead to all kinds of malfunctions including vascular control, sensory cell performance (including hormone receptors), cell development and division etc.
Although earlier tests have shown that there is an increase in intra-cellular calcium in people with chemical sensitivity, intracellular calcium does not appear to increase when white cells are exposed to an electric field.
However, if you takes cells from a person who is chemically sensitive to, for example, benzoate, and expose them to an electrical field, then there is a massive increase in intracellular calcium. So, is electrosensitivity ‘piggy backing’ on chemical sensitivity?
It would appear that exposure to electromagnetic fields may amplify a chemical sensitivity. A large increase in intracellular calcium should result in cell death but the presence of calcium binding proteins may prevent this. Instead it may block the ‘ATP treadmill’ (ATP is what provides energy to the body) and can displace essential magnesium, significantly disrupting th cell's signaling ability – both of which could lead to serious illness.
EMS: nutritional management. Dr Jean Monro, Breakspear Medical Group
Dr Monro described Breakspear's approach to the treatment of EMS via a very detailed patient history covering family, social background, occupational history, history of chemical and drug pollution (they regard drugs, medical and other, as a primary pollutant) plus a range of investigations including genomic tests.
Treatment includes individualised diets (gluten free, rotation, detox and specific foods), chelation therapy, nutritional support to improve the gut flora and thereby melatonin production, and low does immunotherapy.
John Kelsey described how connecting your body directly with the negatively charged free electrons which are freely available in the earth enables the cells in our body to re-balance the positive charges with which they are continually bombarded by electron-deficient free radicals.
For more on the principle and practices of earthing see the Groundology site.
John McLaren Howard described a study on five ES patients using earthing sheets over a five month period. Two had a significant improvement in symptoms, two had some improvement. In terms of intracellular calcium, it was reduced in two patients, somewhat reduced in one and there was no change in the other two.
• Glossary of common EMF/RF terms – Alasdair Philips
• Typical symptoms of electromagnetic sensitivity – Michael Bevington
First published March 2014