|Home • Products • Services • About Us • Contact Us • View Cart|
(September 25, 2008) Cell Phone Use and Tumors: What the Science Says
(May 29, 2008) Cell Phone Use by Children and Youth
Download PDF: Child Cell Phone Usage
Electromagnetic fields 2007
4. Leakage of calcium ions into neurones (brain cells) generates spurious action potentials (nerve impulses) accounting for pain and other neurological symptoms in electro-sensitive individuals. It also degrades the signal to noise ratio of the brain making it less likely to respond adequately to weak stimuli. This may be partially responsible the increased accident rate of drivers using mobile phones.
Firstly, it is not only humans that are affected. Well-researched responses in other organisms include the more rapid growth of higher plants (Smith et al. 1993; Muraji et al. 1998; Stenz et al. 1998), yeast (Mehedintu and Berg 1997) and changes in the locomotion of diatoms (McLeod et al. 1987). The last two are significant because they are both single cells, implying that the effects occur at the cellular level. Furthermore, we can explain virtually all of the electromagnetic effects on humans in terms of changes occurring at the cellular level that may then affect the whole body.
Field strength: - An electromagnetic field consist of an electrical part and a magnetic part. The electrical part is produced by a voltage gradient and is measured in volts/metre. The magnetic part is generated by any flow of current and is measured in tesla. For example, standing under a power line would expose you to an electrical voltage gradient due to the difference between the voltage of the line (set by the power company) and earth. You would also be exposed to a magnetic field proportional to the current actually flowing through the line, which depends on consumer demand. Both types of field give biological effects, but the magnetic field is more damaging since it penetrates living tissue more easily. Magnetic fields as low as around one microtesla (a millionth of a tesla) can produce biological effects. For comparison, using a mobile (cell) phone or a PDA exposes you to magnetic pulses that peak at several tens of microtesla (Jokela et al. 2004; Sage et al. 2007), which is well over the minimum needed to give harmful effects. Because mobile phones are held close to the body and are used frequently, these devices are potentially the most dangerous sources of electromagnetic radiation that the average person possesses.
The first clue came from Suzanne Bawin, Leonard Kaczmarek and Ross Adey (Bawin et al. 1975), at the University of California. They found that exposing brain tissue to weak VHF radio signals modulated at 16Hz (16 cycles per second) released calcium ions (electrically charged calcium atoms) bound to the surfaces of its cells. Carl Blackman at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in North Carolina followed this up with a whole series of experiments testing different field-strengths and frequencies (Blackman et al. 1982) and came to the surprising conclusion that weak fields were often more effective than strong ones. The mechanism was unknown at the time and it was thought to be a trivial scientific curiosity, but as we will see, it has huge significance for us all.
Calcium ions bound to the surfaces of cell membranes are important in maintaining their stability. They help hold together the phospholipid molecules that are an essential part of their make-up (see Ha 2001 for a theoretical treatment). Without these ions, cell membranes are weakened and are more likely to tear under the stresses and strains imposed by the moving cell contents (these membranes are only two molecules thick!). Although the resulting holes are normally self-healing they still increase leakage while they are open and this can explain the bulk of the known biological effects of weak electromagnetic fields.
Leaks in the membranes surrounding lysosomes (tiny particles in living cells that recycle waste) can release digestive enzymes, including DNAase (an enzyme that destroys DNA). This explains the serious damage done to the DNA in cells by mobile phone signals. Panagopoulos et al. (2007) showed that exposing adult Drosophila melanogaster (an insect widely used in genetic experiments) to a mobile phone signal for just six minutes a day for six days broke into fragments the DNA in the cells that give rise to their eggs and half of the eggs died. Diem et al. (2005) also found significant DNA fragmentation after exposing cultured rat and human cells for 16 hours to a simulated mobile phone signal. See also the “Reflex Project” in an on-line brochure entitled “Health and Electromagnetic Fields” published by the European Commission. You can find it at http://tinyurl.com/yxy4ld . It shows that exposing human cells for 24 hours to simulated mobile phone signals gave DNA fragmentation similar to that due to the gamma rays from a radioactive isotope! (Gamma rays also make lysosome membranes leak).
The biological effects of electromagnetically induced DNA fragmentation may not be immediately obvious in the affected cells, since fragments of broken DNA can be rejoined and damaged chromosomes (elongated protein structures that carry the DNA) can be reconstituted. However, there is no guarantee that they will be rejoined exactly as they were. Pieces may be left out (deletions) joined in backwards (inversions) swapped between different parts of the chromosome (translocations) or even attached to the wrong chromosome. In most cases, the new arrangement will work for a while if most of the genes are still present and any metabolic deficiencies can often be made good by the surrounding cells. However, things go badly wrong when it comes to meiosis, which is the process that halves the number of chromosomes during the formation of eggs and sperm.
How calcium controls metabolism
Apart from its role in maintaining membrane stability, the calcium concentration actually inside cells controls the rate of many metabolic processes, including the activity of many enzyme systems and the expression of genes. The concentration of calcium ions in the cytosol (the main part of the cell) is normally kept about a thousand times lower than that outside by metabolically-driven ion pumps in its membranes. Many metabolic processes are then regulated by letting small amounts of calcium into the cytosol when needed. This is normally under very close metabolic control so that everything works at the right time and speed. However, when electromagnetic exposure increases membrane leakiness, unregulated amounts of extra calcium can flood in. Just what happens then depends on how much gets in and what the cells are currently programmed to do. If they are growing, the rate of growth may be increased. If they are repairing themselves after injury, the rate of healing may be increased but if there is a mutant precancerous cell present, it may promote its growth into a tumour.
Calcium leakage and brain
Normal brain function in humans depends on the orderly transmission of signals through a mass of about 100 billion neurones. Neurones are typically highly branched nerve cells. They usually have one long branch (the axon), which carries electrical signals as action potentials (nerve impulses) to or from other parts of the body or between relatively distant parts of the brain (a nerve contains many axons bundled together). The shorter branches communicate with other neurones where their ends are adjacent at synapses. They transmit information across the synapses using a range of neurotransmitters, which are chemicals secreted by one neurone and detected by the other. The exact patterns of transmission through this network of neurones are horrendously complex and determine our thoughts and virtually everything we do.
The symptoms of hypocalcemia are remarkably similar to those of electrosensitivity. If you think you may be electrosensitive, how many of these do you have? If you have any of them, it may be worth having your blood checked for ionised calcium. It is possible that at least some forms of electrosensitivity could be due to the victims having their natural blood calcium levels bordering on hypocalcemia. Electromagnetic exposure would then remove even more calcium from their cell membranes to push them over the edge and give them symptoms of hypocalcemia. If this is correct, conventional treatment for hypocalcaemia may relieve some if not all of these symptoms.
Only a small proportion of the population is electrosensitive in that they show obvious symptoms from electromagnetic exposure. However, everyone may affected without being aware of it, e.g. when using a mobile phone. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, you are four times more likely to have an accident if you use a mobile phone while driving. This is not due to holding the phone since using a hands-free type makes no difference. It is also not due to the distraction of holding a conversation, since talking to a passenger does not have the same effect. This leads us to the conclusion that the electromagnetic radiation from the phone is the most likely culprit.
This fits with the notion that
spurious action potentials triggered by electromagnetic radiation creates a sort
of “mental fog” of false information that makes it harder for the brain to
recognise weak but real stimuli. For example, a driver using a mobile phone may
still see the road ahead using the strong images from the central part of the
eye but may be less aware of weaker but still important images coming from the
side. He may also be less able to conduct relatively complex tasks such as
judging speed and distance in relation to other moving vehicles. This needs a
lot of “computing power” and will therefore be more susceptible to random
interference. Although an experienced driver may do much of his driving
automatically, his brain still has to do just as much work as if he were still
learning; it is just that he is unaware of it. Therefore, an old hand at driving
is just as likely to be forced into making a mistake when using a mobile while
driving as a novice, so don’t imagine you can get away with it just because you
have been driving for years. Another important point is that, if this theory is
correct, and the electromagnetic signal is mainly to blame, not only is it
inadvisable to use a mobile yourself while driving, but your passengers should
not use them either since their radiation may still affect your own driving.
The theory behind it all
We have seen that weak
electromagnetic fields can remove calcium from cell membranes and make them
leak. If we theorise about the mechanism, we can explain many of the seemingly
weird characteristics of bioelectromagnetic responses. These include why weak
fields can be more effective than strong ones, why low frequencies are more
potent, why pulses do more damage than sine waves and what is special about
16Hz. The following hypothesis was proposed by Goldsworthy (2006).
The role of eddy currents
The membrane: - Most biological membranes are negatively charged, which makes them attract and adsorb positive ions. However, these ions are not stuck permanently to the membrane but are in dynamic equilibrium with the free ions in the environment. The relative amounts of each kind of ion attached at any one time depends mainly on its availability in the surroundings, the number of positive charges it carries and its chemical affinity for the membrane. Calcium normally predominates since it has a double positive charge that binds it firmly to the negative membrane. Potassium is also important since, despite having only one charge, its sheer abundance ensures it a good representation (potassium is by far the most abundant positive ion in virtually all living cells and outnumbers calcium by about ten thousand to one in the cytosol).
The main effect, electromagnetic treatment is to change the normal chemical equilibrium between bound calcium and potassium in favour of potassium. Even very weak fields should have at least some effect. This effect should increase with increasing field-strength, but only up to a point. If the field were strong enough to dislodge large quantities of potassium too, there will be less discrimination in favour of calcium. This gives an amplitude window for the selective release of calcium, above and below which there is little or no observable effect.
The hypothesis also explains why only
frequencies from the low end of the spectrum give biological effects and why
pulses and square waves are more effective than sine waves. Only if the
frequency is low will the calcium ions have time to be pulled clear of the
membrane and replaced by potassium ions before the field reverses and drives
them back. Pulses and square waves work best because they give very rapid
changes in voltage that catapult the calcium ions well away from the membrane
and then allow more time for potassium to fill the vacated sites. Sine waves are
smoother, spend less time at maximum voltage, and so allow less time for ion
The hypothesis also explains the
curiosity that some frequencies are especially effective, with 16Hz being the
most obvious. This is because 16Hz is the ion cyclotron resonance frequency for
potassium in the Earth’s magnetic field. (See Box). When exposed to an
electromagnetic field at this frequency, potassium ions resonate, absorb the
field’s energy and convert it to energy of motion. This increases their ability
to replace calcium on cell membranes. Although the extra energy gained by each
potassium ion may be small, the fact that there are about ten thousand of them
competing with just one calcium ion for each place on the membrane means that
even a slight increase in their energies due to resonance will have a
Amplitude modulated and pulsed
radio waves also work
Amplitude modulated and pulsed radio waves consist of a high frequency “carrier” wave whose strength rises and falls in time with a lower frequency signal. This is the basis of AM radio transmissions, where the low frequency signal comes from an audio source. The receiver demodulates the signal to regenerate the audio. Unmodulated carrier waves usually have little or no biological effect, but if modulated at a biologically-active low frequency (such as 16Hz) they give marked effects (Bawin et al. 1975). This has posed problems for scientists trying to work out how living cells could demodulate radio signals to regenerate the low frequency and elicit a biological response.
How calcium loss makes holes in
Cell membranes are made of sheets of fatty materials called phospholipids surrounding islands of protein. The proteins have a variety of metabolic functions, but the main role of the phospholipids is to fill the spaces between them and act as a barrier to prevent leakage. Calcium loss weakens the phospholipid sheet and makes it more likely to leak; but how does it do this?
Calcium pumps: - Cells have to
be able to pump out any extra calcium that has entered their cytosols to reset
the low cytosolic calcium level every time it is disturbed by a programmed
calcium influx. They should therefore be able to respond to unprogrammed calcium
influx due to electromagnetic exposure. This should minimise any unwanted
metabolic effects, but the scope to do this is limited. If it were too
effective, it would also prevent legitimate cell signalling.
Gap junction closure: - If
calcium extrusion fails and there is a large rise in internal calcium, it
triggers the isolation of the cell concerned by the closure of its gap junctions
(tiny strands of cytoplasm that normally connect adjacent cells) (Alberts et al.
2002). This also limits the flow of eddy currents through the tissue and so
reduces the effects of radiation.
Heat shock proteins: - These were first discovered after exposing cells to heat, but they are also produced in response to a wide variety of other stresses, including weak electromagnetic fields. They are normally produced within minutes of the onset of the stress and combine with the cell’s enzymes to protect them from damage and shut down non-essential metabolism (the equivalent of running a computer in "safe mode"). When the production of heat shock proteins is triggered electromagnetically it needs 100 million million times less energy than when triggered by heat, so the effect is truly non thermal (Blank & Goodman 2000). Their production in response to electromagnetic fields is activated by special base sequences (the nCTCTn motif) in the DNA of their genes. When exposed to electromagnetic fields, they initiate the gene’s transcription to form RNA, which is the first stage in the synthesis of the protein (Lin et al. 2001).
In the latter part of this article, I
have explained how weak electromagnetic fields can interact with cell membranes
to weaken them and make them more permeable. As with all theories, it will be
subject to modification and refinement as time goes by, but some facts are
already inescapable. There is undeniable experimental proof that weak
electromagnetic fields can remove bound calcium ions from cell membranes. There
is also no doubt that bound calcium ions are essential for the stability of
these membranes. Consequently, their loss will increase temporary pore formation
under the mechanical stresses from pressure differences within the cell and
abrasion by its moving contents. This very simple conclusion can account for
virtually all of the known biological effects of electromagnetic fields,
including changes in metabolism, the promotion of cancer, genetic damage, loss
of fertility, deleterious effects on brain function and the unpleasant symptoms
experienced by electrosensitive individuals. However, it seems possible that at
least some cases electrosensitivity could be due to low levels of ionised
calcium in the blood exacerbating the electromagnetic effects. If so, it may be
possible to relieve some or all of the symptoms by conventional treatment for
Ion Cyclotron Resonance
Abraham Liboff, in the mid 1980s, developed the idea that the frequency windows for the biological effects of electromagnetic fields were in some way due to ion cyclotron resonance, but he didn’t link it to membrane stability (Liboff et al.1990). Ion cyclotron resonance occurs when ions move in a steady magnetic field such as that of the Earth. The field deflects them sideways and they go into orbit around its lines of force at a characteristic “resonant” frequency, which depends on the charge/mass ratio of the ion and the strength of the steady field. Exposing them to an oscillating electric or a magnetic field at their resonant frequency lets them absorb its energy and they gradually increase the size of their orbits and their energy of motion. The resonant frequency for potassium in the Earth’s magnetic field is close to 16Hz. According to my hypothesis, electromagnetic fields at this frequency specifically increase the ability of potassium ions to bombard cell membranes and replace bound calcium. This increases the biological hazards of electromagnetic exposure near 16Hz and has already caused concern about the safety of the TETRA mobile telecommunications system, which transmits pulses at 17.6Hz.
Bawin SM, Kaczmarek KL, Adey WR
(1975) Effects of modulated VHF fields on the central nervous system. Ann. N.Y.
Acad Sci 247: 74-81
Bawin SM, Adey WR (1976) Sensitivity
of calcium binding in cerebral tissue to weak environmental electric fields
oscillating at low frequency. Proc Nat Acad Sci USA 73: 1999-2003
Blackman CF (1990) ELF effects on calcium homeostasis. In: Wilson BW, Stevens RG, Anderson LE (eds) Extremely Low Frequency Electromagnetic Fields: the Question of Cancer. Battelle Press,
Columbus, Ohio, pp 189-208
Blackman CF, Benane SG, Kinney LS,
House DE, Joines WT (1982) Effects of ELF fields on calcium-ion efflux from
brain tissue in vitro. Radiat. Res. 92: 510-520
Blank M, Goodman R (2000) Stimulation
of stress response by low frequency electromagnetic fields: possibility of
direct interaction with DNA. IEEE Trans Plasma Sci 28: 168-172
Diem E, Schwarz C, Aldkofer F, Jahn
O, Rudiger H (2005) Non-thermal DNA breakage by mobile phone radiation (1800
MHz) in human fibroblasts and in transformed GFSH-R17 rat granulosa cells in
vitro. Mutation Research/Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis 583:
Goldsworthy A (2006) Effects of
electrical and electromagnetic fields on plants and related topics. In: Volkov
AG (ed) Plant Electrophysiology – Theory & Methods . Springer-Verlag Berlin
Heidelberg 2006. Pp 247-267.
Ha B-Y (2001) Stabilization and
destabilization of cell membranes by multivalent ions. Phys. Rev. E. 64: 051902
Jokela K, Puranen L, Sihvonen A-P
(2004) Assessment of the magnetic field exposure due to the battery current of
digital mobile phones. Health Physics 86: 56-66.
Liboff AR, McLeod BR, Smith SD (1990)
Ion cyclotron resonance effects of ELF fields in biological systems. In: Wilson
BW, Stevens RG, Anderson LE (eds) Extremely Low Frequency Electromagnetic
Fields: the Question of Cancer. Battelle Press, Columbus, Ohio, pp 251-289
Lin H, Blank M, Rossol-Haseroth K,
Goodman R (2001) Regulating genes with electromagnetic response elements. J
Cellular Biochem 81: 143-148
Matthews EK (1986) Calcium and
membrane permeability. British Medical Bulletin 42: 391-397
McLeod BR, Smith SD, Liboff AR (1987)
Potassium and calcium cyclotron resonance curves and harmonics in diatoms (A.
coffeaeformis). J Bioelectr 6: 153-168
Mehedintu M, Berg H (1997)
Proliferation response of yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae on electromagnetic
field parameters. Bioelectrochem Bioenerg 43: 67-70
Melikov KC, Frolov VA, Shcherbakov A,
Samsonov AV, Chizmadzhev YA, Chernomordik LV (2001) Voltage-induced
nonconductive pre-pores and metastable single pores in unmodified planar lipid
bilayer. Biophys J 80: 1829-1836
Muraji M, Asai T, Wataru T (1998)
Primary root growth rate of Zea mays seedlings grown in an alternating magnetic
field of different frequencies. Bioelectrochem Bioenerg 44: 271-273
Panagopoulos DJ, Chavdoula ED, Nezis
IP, Margaritis LH (2007) Cell death induced by GSM 900-MHz and DCS 1800-MHz
mobile telephony radiation. Mutation Research 626: 69-78
Sage C, Johansson O, Sage SA (2007) Personal digital assistant (PDA) cell phone units produce elevated extremely low frequency electromagnetic field emissions. Bioelectromagnetics. DOI 10.1002/bem.20315 Published online in Wiley InterScience (www.interscience.wiley.com)
Smith SD. McLeod BR, Liboff AR (1993)
Effects of SR tuning 60Hz magnetic fields on sprouting and early growth of
Raphanus sativus. Bioelectrochem Bioenerg 32: 67-76
Stenz H-G, Wohlwend B, Weisenseel MH
(1998) Weak AC electric fields promote root growth and ER abundance of root cap
cells. Bioelectrochem Bioenerg 44: 261-269
Wilson BW, Stevens RG, Anderson LE eds (1990) Extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields: the question of cancer. Battelle Press, Columbus, Ohio
Technologies © 2006