Extremely low frequency (ELF) radiation

In my last post I described the electromagnetic spectrum.  In that spectrum, I pointed out that electromagnetic radiation can range in intensity and frequency as a wave from high energy gamma waves (emitted from sources such as nuclear decay) through to long wave length, low energy radio waves.  At the very end of those low energy radio waves lies a spectrum known as extremely low frequency (ELF) radiation (0-300 Hz).  It has traditionally been said that the only parts of the spectrum that can have any health effects are those of ionizing radiation (ultraviolet C through to gamma rays).  The reason ionizing radiation can have health effects is that the amount of energy contained in the photons of gamma rays and X-rays can dislodge an electron from an atom or molecule – leading to increased free radical production and things like DNA damage.  The other objective sign researchers have looked for as evidence of harm with exposure to radiation is the generation of heat in tissues. Generally it has been thought that  since non-ionizing radiation does not generate appreciable tissue heat and does not possess photons of sufficient energy to cause ionization leading to things like DNA damage, they are regarded as safe.  Perhaps we need to take a closer look at the evidence and look for the possibilities of more subtle effects that can most definitely lead to disease.  

ELF radiation is emitted from sources such as appliances using 110 or 220 volts, current flowing through house hold wiring or overhead power lines, the sun, cosmic radiation sources, lightning strikes, geomagnetic pulsations, etc.  The majority of health research which has examined potential effects from exposure to ELF fields has looked at the relationship between disease and exposure to overhead power lines and household wiring.  As electrons move through these wires, an invisible magnetic field is generated.  Since the electrons are contained in the wire, their effects are easily mitigated.  It is the effects of the magnetic field which are of concern.  The magnetic field lines radiate out from the wire and easily penetrate through walls, floors, and most household construction.  As you can imagine, they easily pass right through us too.  

So, what effect could an invisible magnetic field generated by a 110 v source at 60Hz possibly have on humans?  If we choose to use the same criteria for health effects (DNA damage and tissue heating) as with ionizing radiation, we will miss the signs.  Research has shown that there are cellular physiological effects with exposure to ELF.  Ivancsits et al (2005) found that certain human cells in a lab experiment when exposed to ELF radiation exhibited DNA damage.  While experiments on cells in a lab do not necessarily have the same effects on a human, it is a sign that ELF can damage DNA in cells.  It is unlikely that in vivo (exposure to human body) exposure to ELF directly causes DNA damage.  As described by Simko and Mattsson (2004), it is likely that DNA damage could occur through indirect pathways of free radical production which eventually causes DNA damage.  These authors further describe how an excess of free radicals leads to a decrease in the production of melatonin – a powerful free radical scavenging hormone produced in the pineal gland.  It has been described by several authors including Lerchl et al (1991) that exposure to ELF causes ions such as calcium to vibrate to match the exposure frequency.  Ions are extremely important to cell function.  In fact certain hormones such as melatonin cannot be manufactured without natural flow of ions in and out of the cell membrane.  

In conclusion, there is evidence to suggest that ELF can have health effects.  While these effects such as increased free radicals, decreased melatonin, ion dysfunction leading to altered cellular physiology may appear to be benign, it is unequivocal that these effects over a longer period of time can lead to disease.  Since you cannot remove all the wires and appliances from your home or work – it is not a question of eliminating exposure but rather how can you limit the exposure.  My next post will discuss some simple ways to mitigate ELF and boost your body’s own defenses.



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