The biological effects of weak electromagnetic fields – problems and solutions, first published in March 2012. Dr. Goldsworthy is an Honorary Lecturer in Biology at Imperial College London.
Electromagnetic radiation, obesity and chronic fatigue, and, the effect of electromagnetic radiation on the body's brain, respiratory and skin barriers – Dr Andrew Goldsworthy explains the links
Electromagnetic radiation, obesity and chronic fatigue
Gland cells (thyroid, adrenal etc) may be particularly sensitive to radiation because their secretions are normally produced in internal membrane systems, which can also be damaged.
Their secretions are usually released in vesicles (bubbles of membrane) that fuse with the external cell membrane and disgorge their contents to the outside (exocytosis). The vesicle membrane then becomes part of the external membrane. The resulting excess external membrane is counterbalanced by the reverse process (endocytosis) in which the external membrane buds off vesicles to the inside of the cell, which then fuse with the internal membranes.
In this way, an active gland cell may internalise the equivalent of its entire surface membrane about once every half an hour. This means that if the surface membrane is damaged directly by the fields or by electromagnetically conditioned blood, the damaged membrane will rapidly become part of the internal membrane system, upon which its normal glandular activity depends. If the damage is too severe, the cell concerned may lose its normal function. We are now seeing increasing evidence of this.
Electromagnetic effects on the thyroid gland and the endocrine system
Although electromagnetic fields frequently stimulate glandular activity in the short term, long term exposure is often harmful in that the gland ceases to work properly. This is particularly serious for the glands of the endocrine system (those that coordinate our bodily functions) since it can affect many aspects of metabolism and throw the whole body out of kilter.
An example of this is the thyroid gland, which is in an exposed position in the front of the neck. Rajkovic et al. (2003) showed that after three months exposure to power line frequencies, the thyroid glands of rats showed visible signs of deterioration. They also lost their ability to produce the thyroid hormones, which they did not recover even after the fields were switched off. Esmekaya et al. (2010) found a similar visible deterioration of the thyroid gland in rats exposed to simulated 2G cell phone radiation for 20 minutes a day for three weeks. Eskander et al. (2012) found that people living for six years within 100 metres of a cell phone base station showed a highly significant loss in their ability to produce thyroid hormones. The expected consequence of this is hypothyroidism, the most frequent symptoms of which are fatigue and obesity.
Cell phone-induced obesity can trigger many other illnesses
It may not be a coincidence that about a quarter of a million UK citizens are now suffering from what is being diagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome, and about eight out of ten are either overweight or clinically obese. The consequences of obesity include diabetes, gangrene, high blood pressure, cardiac problems, renal failure and cancer. Between them, they cause a great deal of human suffering and cost the nation’s economy a great deal of money. If just a fraction of this is due to microwave telecommunications, the cell phone companies will have a lot to answer for.
Electromagnetic effects on the adrenal gland
Augner et al. (2010) in a double blind study (where neither the subject nor the person recording the results knows whether the radiation is switched on or off) showed that short-term exposure to the radiation from a 2G (GSM) cell phone base station increased the cortisol level in the saliva of human volunteers. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is normally produced in the cortex of the adrenal glands and is controlled by the calcium level in its cells (Davies et al. 1985) so electromagnetically-induced membrane leakage letting more calcium into the cytosol should also have this effect.
Cortisol is part of a mechanism that puts the body into a “fight or flight” mode, in which more sugar is released into the blood, sensitivity to pain is reduced and the immune system is suppressed. In fact, cortisol and its relatives are used medicinally to relieve pain and also to suppress the immune system after transplant surgery. However, when exposure to base station radiation does it, it is not good news since the suppression of the immune system will also increase the risk of infection and of developing tumours from precancerous cells that might otherwise have been destroyed.
Buchner and Eger (2011) studied the effect of a newly installed 2G cell phone base station on villagers in Bavaria and found that it caused a long-lived increase in the production of adrenalin. This is an important neurotransmitter which acts on adrenergic receptors to increase the calcium concentration in the cytosol. It is also synthesised in the adrenal medulla in response to signals from the sympathetic nervous system. Adrenalin also puts the body into fight or flight mode by diverting resources from the smooth muscles of the gut to the heart muscle and the skeletal muscles needed for flight or combat. It addition, it stimulates the production of cortisol by the adrenal cortex, with all that that implies.
Some people get pleasure from the “adrenalin rush” caused by doing energetic or dangerous things, and this could be a contributory factor to the addictive nature of cell phones. However, on the down side, known effects of excess adrenalin include, headaches, cardiac arrhythmia, high blood pressure, tremors, anxiety and inability to sleep. These results confirm and explain some of the findings of Abdel-Rassoul et al.(2007) who found that people living near cell towers (masts) had significantly increases in headaches, memory loss, dizziness, tremors and poor sleep.
The effect of electromagnetic radiation on the body's tight brain, respiratory and skin junction barriers
Tight junction barriers are layers of cells where the gaps between them are sealed bytight-junctions to prevent materials leaking around their sides. They protect all of our body surfaces from the entry of unwanted materials and often protect one part of the body from being unduly influenced by the others. For example, the blood-brain barrier prevents toxins entering the brain from the bloodstream.
Normally, these barriers are closed but they are programmed to open if calcium ions enter their cells. This was demonstrated by Kan and Coleman (1988) who showed that the calcium ionophore A23187 (a substance that lets calcium ions leak into cells) opened tight junction barriers in the liver. The electromagnetic opening of the blood-liver barrier could be a contributory factor to the current outbreak of liver disease in the UK in the under forties (the cell phone generation), which is at present being blamed on alcohol abuse.
Since all tight junction barriers have basically the same design, unscheduled calcium entry resulting from electromagnetic exposure is likely to open all of them in much the same way. The opening of our tight junction barriers by electromagnetic fields can account for many modern illnesses, ranging from asthma to multiple allergies and Alzheimer’s disease.
The blood-brain barrier and early dementia
The blood-brain barrier normally prevents possibly toxic large molecules from the bloodstream entering the brain. The radiation from cell phones, even at one hundredth of the permitted SAR value, can open the blood brain barrier in rats so that protein molecules as large as albumin could enter their brains (Persson et al. 1997). Later experiments by Salford et al. (2003) showed that this was associated with the death of neurons.
We would not expect an immediate effect because the brain has spare capacity, but prolonged or repeated exposure to cell phone or similar radiation would be expected to cause a progressive loss of functional neurons and result in early dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in humans.
The extreme sensitivity of the blood-brain barrier to the radiation could mean that even sitting close to someone using a cell phone could affect you too. It may not be too surprising to find that early onset Alzheimer’s disease is now on the increase in modern society.
The respiratory barrier and asthma
Di et al. (2011) showed that exposure to weak ELF electromagnetic fields during pregnancy increased the risk of asthma in the offspring (they did not test microwaves). This can be explained by the radiation removing structural calcium from the cells of the tight junction barrier lining the respiratory tract, which then opens.
This is supported by the findings of Chu et al. (2001) who showed that either low levels of external calcium or the addition of EGTA, both of which would remove structural calcium ions from cell surfaces, caused massive increases in its electrical conductance (a measure of its permeability to ions) and also to its permeability to much larger virus particles. We would therefore expect many allergens to enter by the same route and predispose the child to asthma.
The skin barrier, allergies and multiple chemical sensitivities
The skin tight junction barrier is in the stratum granulosum, which is the outermost layer of living skin cells just underneath the many layers of dead cells (Borgens et al.1989). Also, Furuse et al. (2002) showed that mutant mice deficient in Claudin-1 (a vital component of the sealing mechanism) died within a day of birth and their skin barriers were permeable to molecules as large as 600D, which is enough to admit many unwanted foreign materials, including potential allergens.
In humans, this could be the basis of multiple chemical sensitivities, where people have become allergic to a wide range of chemicals, although they leave most of us unaffected. People suffering from multiple chemical sensitivities are often also electromagnetically intolerant and many of their symptoms are very similar.
Virtually all of our body surfaces are protected by cells with tight junctions, including the nasal mucosa (Hussar et al. 2002), the lungs (Weiss et al. 2003) and the lining of the gut (Arrieta et al. 2006). An electromagnetically-induced increase in the permeability of any of these would allow the more rapid entry into the body of a whole range of foreign materials, including allergens, toxins and carcinogens.
Loss of barrier tightness can trigger autoimmune diseases
An electromagnetically-induced increase in the permeability of any of the tight- junction barriers has been linked to the occurrence of autoimmune diseases, in which lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) of the immune system attack the body’s own components as if they were foreign materials or pathogens.
The immune system is quite complicated but basically the lymphocytes are trained and selected before they mature to recognise the body’s own cells, normally present in the bloodstream, by virtue of a chemical pattern on their surfaces (the major histocompatibility complex).
B-lymphocytes make specific antibodies that combine with foreign cells and materials that do not have this chemical pattern. This both inactivates them and marks them for ingestion and digestion by phagocytes (another type of white blood cell).
T-lymphocytes, on the other hand, kill the body’s own cells if they are infected with a virus. In both cases, the presence of the foreign material or infected cell triggers the rapid multiplication of lymphocytes that have been selected to recognise them. They can then attack it in force.
However, if the substance concerned belongs to the body itself but is normally prevented from entering the bloodstream by a tight-junction barrier such as the blood- brain barrier, when that barrier opens, it increases the likelihood of its leaking unfamiliar materials into the bloodstream and triggering an autoimmune response.
For example, Grigoriev et al (2010) showed that 30 days exposure to unmodulated 2450MHz microwave radiation triggered a small but significant increase in anti-brain antibodies in the blood of rats. In other words, the radiation had sensitised the body’s immune system to one or more components of its own brain, which could then result in an autoimmune attack on the brain and/or nervous system. An example of an autoimmune disease of the brain is Graves disease in which the pituitary gland (at the base of the brain) is affected.
In addition, an increase in the permeability of the gut barrier has been linked to several other autoimmune diseases, including type-1 diabetes, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis and irritable bowel syndrome (Arrieta et al. 2006).
For references see Dr Goldsworthy's main paper here.
Main paper first published in March 2012; extracts in May 2012
Click here for more articles on the health risks of ES