by Dr. Mercola, 29 April 2018
|(Choice of image by Editor, "Towards Better Health")|
- Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) include electric, magnetic and higher frequency radio fields
- While the literature discriminates between low- and high-frequency fields, microwaves, electric and magnetic fields, all of these have similar biological effects
- Even low magnetic fields, such as 60 Hertz, can have drastic effects on cancer cells in culture. Effects begin around 20 nanotesla, and are fully developed around 50 nT
- At levels over 160 nT, magnetic fields have been shown to affect sperm production
- EMFs impair the flow of protons through ATP synthase. This increases mitochondrial membrane polarization, triggering a massive increase in reactive oxygen species. This oxidative stress causes most of the damage
Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) have been shown to cause biological damage and even cancer, but exactly how does this happen? In this interview, Paul Héroux, Ph.D., a researcher and professor of toxicology and health effects of electromagnetism at the faculty of medicine at McGill University in Montreal, helps answer that question.
Originally trained as a physicist, he eventually ended up studying electrical power transmission lines, the topic of his Ph.D., and in the course of working for a power utility, he started investigating the health effects associated with the fields emitted from power lines.
“I got involved in biology, followed courses in medicine and became, so to speak, a different person from what my supervisors initially would have expected me to be,” he says. In time, he became a specialist on the effects of magnetic fields on the human body, and joined the Faculty of Medicine to help protect health and the environment.
Types of EMFs
Broadly speaking, EMFs include electric, magnetic and radio frequency fields. While the literature tends to discriminate between low-frequency fields, high-frequency fields, microwaves, electric fields and magnetic fields, all of these have certain commonalities that allow you to lump them together, at least in terms of their biological action.
“It's true that frequency influences the effects,” Héroux says, “but basically … I could, using an electric field or a magnetic field, produce the same effect in a cell. Most higher frequency signals have enough low-frequency components to have a lot in common with low-frequency components.
The practical aspect of this is that usually the fields have an effect maybe in one application, but they are mirrored in other applications as well. There's a type of great unifying view that you can have about these fields.”
Nonthermal Effects Matter
It’s important to realize that the damage EMFs cause has nothing to do with thermal effects. At typical exposures, EMFs do not create heat, which has been the telecommunication industry’s main defense and argument for the safety of cellphone radiation. However, hundreds of researchers have in fact noted biological effects both at low and high frequencies.
“Covering the whole spectrum, there is no doubt that there are biological effects,” Héroux says, adding “There’s no doubt there are substantial health effects that we have been experiencing for a long time, and that have been increasing our health bills. Initially, I got into this field because a power utility asked me to design an instrument that would measure electromagnetic fields on the workers. I designed a dosimeter that was a very successful unit.
After that, I imagined maybe this would be followed up with basic work on the biology of the phenomenon, but obviously, the utility was not very interested in that. Essentially, about at that time, I went to McGill University … and started to do research. I had a student in the lab who was working on the toxicity of metals, who came to me one day and said, ‘Why don't you give me a subject that would be a little more spectacular than the toxicity of metals?’…
This student started to work on magnetic fields. The results that came out of these experiments were quite spectacular. The effects were very, very strong. From then on, I felt I could not ignore this and that I had to bring this to the attention of the world.”
What they discovered was that even small levels of magnetic fields, such as 60 Hertz (Hz), can have drastic effects on cancer cells in culture. Research published as early as 1985 showed quite clearly that these fields were also able to suppress metabolism. Some 15 years later, Héroux duplicated those results, and was able to determine the mechanism behind it.
You’re in Potentially Hazardous Fields Most of the Day, Every Day
In the research Héroux and his student did on cancer cells, using a field of 60Hz, effects began around 20 nanotesla (nT), which is 0.02 microtesla (mT) or 0.2 milligauss (mG),1 and were fully developed around 50 nT. At levels over 160 nT, magnetic fields have also been shown to affect sperm production — and male fertility declined by about 50 percent between 1973 and 2013. Recent research2 also reveals prenatal exposure to power-frequency fields can nearly triple a pregnant woman’s risk of miscarriage.
These are environmental fields that most people spend a majority of their time in. Based on my own measurements, a vast majority of people never actually leave these fields; they remain in them continuously. Simply living in a home wired for electricity makes it difficult to avoid these fields — unless you take remedial action, such as turning off your circuit breaker at night. As noted by Héroux:
“Our environment is essentially filled with these disturbances to our metabolism. From the point of view of industry, this is wonderful because this contamination, being evenly spread and present everywhere, becomes the new normal. In other words, if you don't want to be caught [poisoning] the population, expose them all at the same time so that there is no reference population.
Sam Milham, whom I recently interviewed on the topic of dirty electricity, did some amazing investigative epidemiological work showing radical differences in disease prevalence between rural and urban populations between 1900 and 1950. Once that rural population became electrified, their disease rates converged with the urban ones, to the point that they are now near-identical. “I strongly believe that to be one of the most important observations of this century,” Héroux says.
Mechanism of Action — How EMFs Cause Harm
The mechanism of action proposed by Héroux involves the enzyme ATP synthase, which passes currents of protons through a water channel (similar to current passing through a wire). The protons have to go through about 20 molecules of water to get through this channel. ATP synthase is extremely ancient and common to all living systems. It basically generates energy in the form ATP from ADP, using this flow of protons.
Magnetic fields can change the transparency of the water channel to protons, thereby reducing the current. As a result, you get less ATP, which can have systemwide consequences, from promoting chronic disease and infertility to lowering intelligence. Héroux explains:
“When you impair the flow of protons to ATP synthase, you increase mitochondrial membrane polarization … If you increase the polarization of the mitochondria by 14 percent, you will have a 70 percent increase in the reactive oxygen species coming out of complex one, which is the leading edge of the oxidative phosphorylation chain.
Essentially, my explanation is that by physical action on water, you can change the transparency of the most critical enzyme in the human body, modulate the amount of ATP, increase the escape of electrons from complex one; thereby explaining practically all of the observations related to EMF. Of course, the moment ATP is perturbed in a cell, there are calcium signals being emitted all over the place, because calcium is possibly the most critical intracellular messenger.”
EMFs Triggers Massive Oxidative Stress
Although slightly different from Martin Pall's work, which shows that EMFs activate voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) in the outer membrane of the cell, it is consistent with increased oxidative stress and decreased ATP. Pall believes that when activated by EMFs, these VGCCs open up, allowing for a massive influx of calcium. This excess intracellular calcium and associated calcium signaling are responsible for most of the biological effects we see.
Héroux is not convinced that low fields can substantially alter the behavior of VGCCs or the behavior of calcium ions in solution. He believes it’s not calcium ions that are being directly acted on. Rather, what’s being acted on are electrons and protons, which are far more sensitive to magnetic fields. Still, the outcome is the same. In a nutshell, what we’re talking about here is the creation of excess oxidative stress, which in turn can damage cell membranes and proteins, and break DNA bonds.
It's not the energy in the electromagnetic frequency that catalyzes this process, rather it’s secondary damage from the oxidative stress EMF triggers. According to Héroux, a lot of the free radical detoxification reactions involve the transfer of protons, and EMFs not only increase free radicals but also reduce our ability to get rid of them. Héroux explains:
“The energy of the field itself is irrelevant, in a sense. The idea that you have to reach ionization potential [such as an X-ray] to create [damage] is totally wrong. You create damage because you're leaking electrons out of the phosphorylation chain. Perhaps more significantly, by altering metabolism and the production of ATP, you are confusing the programming of metabolism that has been developed over the last 2 billion years.
Our species can evolve and is successful in great part because we were successful at generating large amounts of ATP. If you touch that, you're going to have disturbances of metabolism that will occur over chronic exposure, which will result in increased rates of diabetes.
That is probably true for all types of electromagnetic radiation, be it power frequency, AM, FM or television signals. All of these have in common the property that they have fields that can affect these charges. The view that these electromagnetic fields are innocuous to biological systems is simply wrong.”