A new study from Greece sheds light on how electromagnetic fields (EMFs) affect health and raises questions about whether researchers have been looking for answers in the right places all this time. We are surrounded by electromagnetic fields from an increasing range of devices. These include the low-frequency electric and magnetic fields, also called ELF (extremely-low frequency) fields, emitted by powerlines, substations, wiring, meter boxes, appliances and so on. They also include the high-frequency fields – also known as radiofrequency (RF) radiation – from mobile phones, phone towers, modems, tablets, and other communications devices.
However, keep in mind that all wireless communication high-frequency fields include low frequency fields as well.
Decades of research show that exposure to both these fields is associated with health problems and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified both as Class 2B (possible) carcinogens. Low-frequency fields have been particularly linked with childhood leukemia. High-frequency fields have been linked with brain tumours and skin cancer. Both have been linked with cancer, genetic damage, infertility and symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, sleep problems, often known as electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
It is not only humans that are affected by exposure. Studies have found effects on animals (mammals, birds, insects) as well.
In a new paper, Dr Dimitris J. Panagopoulos, a biophysicist from the National Centre for Scientific Research in Athens, and his team reveal how these effects occur.
The authors say that the extensive research on EMFs ‘point towards the same direction, ie, that human-made EMF exposure causes OS [oxidative stress] and DNA damage that may lead to cancer, reproductive declines and related diseases.’ As well as cancer, DNA damage can cause neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, autoimmune problems and aging. It can also lead to mutations in offspring.
Significantly, this damage occurs at levels of exposure significantly below those permitted by Australian and international standards.
Panagopoulos and his team were interested to find out just how EMFs cause this damage. ‘There must be a unique property of the human-made EMFs that makes them capable of inducing adverse biological/health effects and ionization, in contrast to natural infrared and visible light,’ they said.
There is. The study shows that these fields are polarised and coherent and that polarisation/coherence allows them to exert parallel and coherent forces on electrically charged molecules in the body. And change their behaviour.
Some of these electrically charged molecules include the voltage gated channels that allow calcium, sodium, potassium and other critically important ions to pass through the cell membranes in or out of the cells. You can think of these channels as boom gates that allow certain vehicles to pass. If there’s a problem with the way it operates, some cars and trucks will pass and others won’t, potentially creating traffic problems or food shortages downstream.
Similarly, if there is a problem with the passage of sodium, calcium or potassium through these channels, there will be biological problems within our cells and bodies. This can include the oxidative stress and DNA damage, as discussed earlier, and other biological damage as well.
Importantly, the authors say that they have identified the particular field that causes this damage. The culprit, they say, is the low-frequency electric field. ‘…it is the direct ELF electric fields …, not the magnetic, neither the radiofrequency fields themselves that are the bioactive components, in contrast to what has been considered before by health agencies.’
‘This evidence shows that ELF electric fields penetrate enough to induce effects into living tissue, even at very low field intensities,’ the paper says.
Yet the low frequency electric field has been ignored in most research. It is the low-frequency magnetic fields and the radiofrequency fields that have generally been measured in epidemiological studies.
Low-frequency electric fields are emitted by wiring and electrical equipment, as we saw earlier. They are also present with radiofrequency signals because ELF signals can exist as part of the modulated signal. In other words, the electric fields are the part of the signal that carry the information to be transmitted.
‘To the best of our knowledge, the present study provides for the first time a complete and precise biophysical/biochemical picture to explain the great number of experimental and epidemiological findings connecting human-made EMF exposure with DNA damage and related pathologies such as cancer, infertility, and neurodegenerative diseases,’ the paper concludes.
The study has great importance for our understanding and measurement of electromagnetic fields in the future.
Panagopoulos DJ, Karabarbounis A, Yakymenko I, and Chrousos GP: ‘Human-made electromagnetic fields: Ion forced-oscillation and voltage-gated ion channel dysfunction, oxidative stress and DNA damage (Review)’. Int J Oncol 59: 92, 2021