FMBR Editorial: Jan, 2016
Toward an Understanding of the Biological Effects of Microwave EMF
Jerry Gin, Ph.D.
Today we are subjected to a constant barrage of microwave electromagnetic fields (EMFs) from WiFi, cell towers, mobile phones, cordless phones, radar, Smart Meters, computers, iPhones, iPads, tablets, baby monitors, microwave ovens and many other devices which make up our modern high-tech world. Typical microwave frequencies range from 50 Hz at the extremely low range (wiring) to 300 GHz. (Hertz is the number of oscillations of the perpendicular electric and magnetic fields per second; a GHz is 109 Hertz.)
The 2012 BioInitiative Report 1 describes 1,800 new studies on biological effects of EMF including DNA damage, increased production of stress proteins, reduction in free radical scavengers (melatonin), neurotoxicity, increase in the incidence of cancer, detrimental effects on fertility/sperm morphology, and interference with normal brain development. Martin Pall 2and Hardell & Sage 6 review the many thousands of papers on the biological effects of microwave EMF. In addition, about 3% of the population is electro-sensitive; these people manifest a whole host of significant problems in the presence of microwave EMF. Dr. Karl Maret has studied the high levels of micro EMFs in schools and the substantial problems electro-sensitive children face in schools (attention deficit, migraines, etc.). 3
We all know that calcium is important to the health of the body because of its role in maintaining bones and teeth. The concentration of calcium in the blood must be maintained within fairly tight limits for health (8.8 to 10.4 mg/100 ml). Within cells calcium concentrations are tightly regulated and are generally about 10,000 times lower inside the cell than outside the cell. Calcium concentration is regulated by channels which are embedded in the membranes of cells; opening and closing of the channels are voltage dependent so they are called voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs). The pharmaceutical industry knows the importance of blocking these channels to reduce calcium influx into cells and have developed whole categories of drugs to block these channels (called calcium channel blockers). Some uses of these drugs are to decrease blood pressure in patients with hypertension, to alter heart rate, to prevent cerebral vasospasm, to reduce chest pain caused by angina pectoris, and to influence the biosynthesis of aldosterone which affects hypertension.
What is not generally understood is that if too much calcium enters a cell, a host of negative consequences can occur. For the past 12 years, my partners and I at Livionex, Inc. have been conducting research on what happens to cells when they are injured. Injury causes an influx of calcium into the cell, which triggers enzymatic reactions that either cause cell death (apoptosis) or the generation of inflammatory cytokines which produce inflammation. The inflammation causes pain and tissue damage.
Dr. Martin Pall, biochemist at Washington State University, and other scientists have shown that low level microwave EMF exposure can result in VGCC activation and elevated intracellular calcium. 2, 4, 5 In a recent review 2, 5 and in two dozen studies, calcium channel blockers, which block voltage-gated calcium channels, also block the increased influx of calcium caused by EMFs. This suggests that activation of these channels is primarily responsible for the results noted in studies on the effects of EMFs. VGCCs normally open calcium channels for short periods, in the millisecond range; EMF activation can result in much longer open periods, resulting in significantly higher intracellular calcium influx.
The intracellular calcium activates a nitric oxide synthase enzyme that produces nitric oxide. At low physiological levels, nitric oxide leads to activation of enzymes to that produce a therapeutic effect. However, nitric oxide, especially at higher sustained levels, leads to formation of peroxynitrite and results in oxidative stress (free radical formation). 4 Dr. Martin Pall, 2, 4 in his review, shows that the increase in intracellular calcium can result in numerous problems:
- The oxidative stress results in single- and double breaks in DNA and thus may be contributing to cancer cell formation.
- Activation of matrix metalloproteases (MMPs) which degrades the tight cell/cell junctures and thus causes a breakdown in the blood-brain barrier.
- Double-strand DNA breaks of gamete precursor cells, resulting in a decrease in fertility, decreases in sperm count and adverse effects on sperm morphology and function.
- Activation of kinases leading to apoptosis (cell death).
- Depressed melatonin levels leading to sleep disruption.
VGCCs are present in nearly every biological system in the human body; for example, in the immune system, endocrine system, nervous system and circulatory system. In the immune system, exposure to EMFs may result in increases of allergies and inflammation. It is possible that hormone regulation, brain function and heart rhythms can all be adversely affected by exposure to EMFs.
Given that the scientific literature shows substantial biological effects of microwave EMFs, it is problematic that current national and international safety standards do not address biological hazards. The current standards are based on the false assumption that the main effect of microwave EMFs is an increase in heat, and thus the standard of safety rests upon the measurement of the temperature increase of a liquid. Scientists observe biological effects at as low as 20 microwatts/kg. Is it then really safe to irradiate humans in the 2 watts/kg range (i.e., with 100,000 times stronger radiation)? The US standard for cell phones is 1.6 watts/kg. This standard fails to account for the non-thermal biological effect described in the substantial body of scientific papers, including the opening of VGCCs by EMFs and the resulting myriad of diseases it can cause.
Recommended Safety Standards
Dr. Martin Pall's recommendation for new safety standards using biologically based testing consists of the following 3 points:
- Cell culture tests -- One possibility is to use cells known to be sensitive to EMFs and measure nitric oxide production in response to EMFs
- Biological effects on test animals -- e.g., cardiac changes such as tachycardia; increases in epinephrine/norepinephrine in blood; changes in neurological functions
- Whole animal studies such as whole body nitric oxide production as measured in the blood.
Dr. Pall's recommendations for lowering exposures by 100 to 1000-fold are as follows:
- Computers -- better shielding, especially bottoms of laptops and tablets.
- WiFi fields --improved design of antennas to reduce exposure -- today exposure levels are 1000 to 10,000 times higher than needed.
- More hard wiring of computers -- especially in schools
- Cell phones --use headsets or speakerphones; better shielding; carry in shielded pouches.
- Cordless phones -- have bases broadcast only when phone is in use; design phones with lower signal (no need for 200 ft. radius; 20 ft. will lower exposure 100 fold); redesign antennae of cordless and cell phones.
- Remove Smart Meters -- they use short high intensity pulses of microwave radiation which are very damaging 7 - VGCC activation continues long after pulse has ceased. 4
Microwave ovens -- use pulsed fields -- can lower exposures 100 fold with finer ground metal mesh over windows. (Note: test your microwave oven shielding -- place your cell phone in microwave oven and see if signal can go through shielding; at home, I have 2 microwave ovens, in one, shielding was adequate and in the other, inadequate -- the phone rang.)
2. Pall, M., "Microwave Electromagnetic Fields Act by Activating Voltage-Gated Calcium Channels: Why the Current International Safety Standards Do Not Predict Biological Hazard," Recent Res Devel Mol Cell Biol, 7 (2014): 0-00 ISBN: 978-81-308-0000-0, in press; [ http:// apps.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/view?id=7521102473 ]
3. Maret, K., "WiFi Dosimetry in a School: Preliminary Observations," Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, June 22, 2015
4. Pall ML, Electromagnetic fields act via activation of voltage-gated calcium channels to produce beneficial or adverse effects. J Cell Mol Med 17:958-965 (2013). Get PDF here.
5. Pilla, AA, "Electromagnetic Fields Instantaneously modulate Nitric Oxide Signaling in Challenged Biological Systems," Biochem Biophys Res Commun, 426: 330-3 (2012)
6. Hardell L, Sage C, Biological Effects from Electromagnetic Field Exposure and Public Exposure Standards. Biomed Pharmacother 62:104- 109 (2008)
7. Webber MM, Barnes FS, Seltzer LA, Bouldin TR, Prasad KN, Short Microwave Pulses Cause Ultrastructural Membrane Damage in Neuroblastoma Cells. J Ultrastruct Res 71:321-330 (1980).