Damaging Effects of EMF Exposure on a Cell

Cancer cell from EMF

Cancer cell from EMFIn the scientific community, it is common knowledge that the human body is controlled by a series of electrical impulses sent out by the brain. Through an elaborate network of nerve endings, synapses or junctions, electrical potentials are used by your body’s cells to communicate. In fact, recently researchers have found that cells’ bioelectrical communication steers growth and development.

All cells have electric potentials or some energy to move against an electric field. These potentials are related to cellular properties. Typically, there is a set electrical potential state associated with cellular maintenance or housekeeping. If an outside source disrupts a cell’s normal electrical potential, it is possible to harm it or influence its growth in an abnormal way (e.g. frogs with eyeballs on its tail).

Obviously, this and other concerns (e.g. correlation between cancer and power lines) has led to many types of research on just exactly what kind of harmful effects Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) from electronic devices have on cells.

Biology of a Cell

At Columbia University, Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) which are generally associated with with cell phones and other common electronic devices, have long been under scrutiny. In August 2009, a paper was published describing how EMF activates cellular stress response or a protective mechanism that induces the expression of stress response genes, called HSP70, and increases levels of stress proteins, called hsp70. These stress proteins help chaperone the cells repair and refold damaged proteins by transporting them across membranes. Generally, in order to activate stress response, first specific breaks in DNA strands must occur. This suggests that EMFs can actually directly interact with electrons in DNA. The authors of the paper concluded that for the protection of living cells, EMF safety limits must be changed from their current standard, which presently only specify protection against thermal effects.

In Hungary 2000, cellular responses to various forms of radiation, including EMFs, was documented as caused reversible and irreversible structural and functional changes to cells and organelles, the specialized subunits within the cells that allow it to work. Several reversible alterations occurred in the structure of cell organelles. However, perhaps more troubling, morphological signals associated with cell death were also triggered. In Italy 2005, an independent paper corroborated the Hungarian findings. Non-thermal EMF in the cell phone frequency was shown to induce apoptosis or programmed cell death in human recombinant cells.

In the Hungarian paper, signs of radiation induced damage include changes in the organization of the cell membranes.Perturbations in the composition of the cell or different membrane domains, including enzymes and binding sites. Virtually every important subunit, including the mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, Golgi complex, and lysosome system were affected in some way by EMF exposure. Morphological changes in the appearance of the cell, as viewed through electron microscope, revealed chromosomal aberrations. It is believed that this is the result of radiation causing DNA or damage to proteins in the nucleus or “brain” of the cell. Counter arguments were given that the damage done was not permanent and only part of a stress response. However, more work needs to be done in order to prove conclusive evidence of whether or not there is permanent or just temporary damage to the cell due to EMF exposure.

Figure 2. Diagram of how damage can occur to a cell. Source: Osato Research Institute.

Why Does It Matter?

Our bodies are not without defense mechanisms. If our body experiences a small amount of damage, generally that is not too bad.  We can usually cope. We have mechanisms in our body to repair such things as breaks in our DNA. Occasional breaks in DNA are actually normal and can happen through routine exposure to the environment, such as from UV radiation from the sun. However, if we receive too much damage, it may become difficult for our body’s defenses to cope with overwhelming problems. Thus, permanent changes to a cell which goes unfixed can lead to disease states.

According to the CDC, studies have shown that “workers exposed to high [electromagnetic] fields have increased cancer rates.” Although the CDC does not necessarily conclude that EMF exposure causes cancer, it does note the correlation. In the case of cancer, a damaged cell is not fixed or destroyed, instead it proliferates out of control. The cancer becomes a tumor or growth.

Figure 3. Source: Dr. Kamuran Kus, Bilkent University

Of note, cancer is not the only disease linked to EMF exposure. Currently research is being done at Harvard on a potential correlation between EMF exposure and autism. Pathophysiological damage to core processes are associated with autism spectrum conditions and EMF exposure. EMF is suggested as a contributing factor in disrupting normal bioelectrical synchronization, which aggravates autism spectrum conditions. According to the authors, evidence suggests that new public exposure standards for non-thermal EMF is necessary.

Because the human body runs on electricity, more correlation studies undoubtedly will be done. Perhaps more correlations will be uncovered. Research in the area of EMF and disease states is relatively new, but it is a trending topic. Distinguished academic institutions around the world are focused on this study and there is good reason for this high level of scientific interest. EMFs surround us everywhere!  We are exposed when we make a call on our cell phones, surf the internet, or even when we are just sipping a cup of java at our favorite coffee shop that has free WiFi. That’s why staying informed with the latest news is so important.

How to Stay Safe

In Denmark 2009, the European Environment Agency put out a review entitled “Late Lessons from Early Warnings: Towards realism and precaution with EMF?” Articles, such as these, from governmental agencies show a movement towards trying to step ahead and understand potential public and environmental hazards as soon as possible. In the paper, some of the debates on the safety level of EMF are discussed and risks and strengths of various pieces of evidence are described. Ultimately, the public is urged to help participate in risk analysis as our scientific body of knowledge on EMF is still growing. As the paper title would imply, it is important to take reasonable precautions, where lack of conclusive information is still being found.

Your body is a delicate machine made of millions cells, all of which run on electricity. Small perturbations through the dangers of cell phones and other EMF exposure can have harmful consequences as it only takes one kink in the road to take down the system. While the jury is still out, it is extremely important to play it safe and defend yourself from unnecessary radiation exposure.

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