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Possible Mechanisms for Wireless Health Effects

Jump to: Research & Epidemiology | Scientific Mechanism
See also: Myths and Misconceptions | Detailed Report

Links to TopicsScientific Research Epidemiological Studies and
Possibly Related Symptoms
Genetic DNA breaks: Shown by ~11 studies in total including
  * Lai/Singh at the U. of Washington
  * The 7-nation REFLEX project, and
  * The U. of Vienna.
Increased microwave-induced free radical activity found by Lai/Singh and 23 other papers may be partly responsible. See other hypothesized mechanisms in the next table.
2020 update:
  * 78 studies on DNA strand breaks measured by comet assay observed an effect.
  * 240 studies on free radical activity (oxidative damage) observed an effect.
See abstracts at Bioinitiative Research Summaries Updated for 2020.

—Effects on gene expression
Increased cancer incidence around
   * Cell phones NTP (National Toxicology Program) 2018
   * Radio/TV towers (Michelozzi 2002, Cherry 2000, Dolk 1997, Hocking 1996),
   * Mobile phone base stations (Ramazzini Institute Study 2018, Eger 2004, Wolf and Wolf 2004)
   * Electricity towers (Ahlbom et al, 2000, Greenland et al, 2000, Michael Kundi)
   * Dirty electricity (Milham and Morgan)
Infertility in insects and humans (possibly as a result of DNA breaks and apoptosis involving the gametes)
— Development problems in the young
Neurological (1) Impacts EEG
(2) Changes to neurotransmitter levels
(3) The blood-brain barrier is opened, allowing toxins to cross into the brain (Allan Frey, Leif Salford, Oscar and Hawkins, and Albert and Kerns)
(4) Neuronal death (Leif Salford) and memory loss in rats (Henry Lai, Lukas H. Margaritis)
(5) Calcium efflux in brain tissue (C.F. Blackman, Ross Adey)
(6) Demyelination of rat neurons (J.C. Lin)
(7) Increase of brain glucose metabolism after 50 minutes of cell phone exposure (Volkow et al, 2011)
(8) Stress proteins (Martin Blank)
(9) Lipid peroxidation of membranes (Desai, Kesari, Agarwal 2009, Phelan et al. 1992).
— Increased symptoms near cell towers, according to investigations in multiple nations, including Headaches, Sleeping problems, Memory loss and difficulty concentrating; (Santini, Navarro, A. Bortkiewicz, Abdel-Rassoul, etc.)
— Heat shock proteins found in Alzheimer's and Parkinson's patients (may also be related to neuronal death)
Cardiological — A double-blind study showed that EHS individuals experience Tachycardia from DECT cordless phones (Magda Havas)
— Calcium efflux in animals' hearts (Schwartz et al)
— Blood cells clump in rouleaux formation, as predicted by mathematical modelling (Bo Sernelius)
— Arrhythmia, as shown in double-blind study by Magda Havas
— High Blood Pressure, as shown in a double-blind study
Immunological —Increased production of histamines and mast cell count, involved in allergic reactions, has been observed.
— Morphologically altered immune cells
— Studies on increased allergies found in mobile phone users
— Studies on Electrohypersensitivity (Olle Johansson)
Endocrine —Decrease in ACTH, cortisol, thyroid hormones, after long-term exposure (Emad F. Eskander et al, 2011)
— Decrease in serotonin and nightly melatonin, but increase in daytime melatonin from telecom mast (Kempten West)
— Increase in "depressive mood disturbances, lethargy and listlessness, appetite disturbances, inner agitation" near telecom mast (Kempten West)
Animals Impact on magnetite — Affects animal navigation (birds, bees, etc.),
— Landau University study in Germany on DECT cordless stations and bee colony collapse

Nonthermal, Nonionizing Radiation

Microwave radiation, along with powerline frequencies, are categorized as non-ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radiation does not have the power to directly break chemical bonds in the way that ionizing radiation (e.g., X-rays, UV) can. Hence, the traditional model believed by many physicists is that microwaves can only cause damage through thermal effects (heating).

Dr. Martin Pall believes that the non-thermal mechanism may be through Voltage-Gated Calcium Channels, which indirectly induces DNA breaks by increasing calcium concentrations, which may trigger downstream biological effects that increases free radicals. See more details below.

Dr. Martin Blank of Columbia University is another proponent for non-thermal effects. He observed that a cellular stress response took place in response to both ELF-EMF (power frequency magnetic fields) and RF-EMF (e.g., microwaves). Since these have very different energy levels, he suggests that the biological effects are not related to heating effects.

Dr. Devra Davis used to believe like many physicists that microwaves were not dangerous in the way that non-ionizing radiation was. However, the experimental data, such as microwave-induced DNA breaks, which has been reproduced many times, changed her mind. Since all energy is conserved, she says that energy that is not transformed into heat must somehow be transformed into potential, kinetic, or chemical energy (Davis, 56). Although the mechanism is under speculation, new scientific data hints that pulsed microwaves in modern communications may be more dangerous than continuous microwaves. To explain how this might be plausible, Dr. Davis compares steady motion, e.g., in an airplane, to a car that suddenly breaks to a stop and then starts again, and stops and starts again-- is it possible this continued on and off pulsing can somehow interfere with human cells?

Cumulative Effects

Long-term exposure to lower dosages still results in some disruption, although it may take longer to become apparent. Henry Lai notes that rats had behavioral disruption after less than an hour of high radiation (3.75W/kg @ 1.28 GHz). At lower power densities, it could take 7 hours a day for 14 weeks (0.7 W/kg @2.45 GHz) to see a behavioral disruption. Still smaller disruptions could be found with 7 hours a day of 0.14 W/kg@2.45 GHz after 90 days. Our current mobile phone standard of 1.6W/kg was based on a behavioral disruption study of monkeys, which noticed disruption after less than an hour of 4W/kg@~1.3GHz. However, a longer-term study would probably also find behavioral disruptions at lower power densities.

A Summary of Some Possible Mechanisms

Read some possible scientific mechanisms of nonthermal non-ionizing radiation in the table below.

Possible MechanismsPossible Consequences
Voltage-Gated Calcium Channel (VGCC), also known as Voltage-Dependent Calcium Channel (VDCC)Martin Pall suggested that EMF's can open voltage-gated calcium channels to stimulate (1) influx of calcium, which contributes to (2) the increase in nitric oxide and superoxide, which react to form peroxynitrite, as well as (3) the release of neuroendocrine hormones and neurotransmitters. Calcium channel blockers seem to help block these effects. See "Voltage Gated Calcium Channels: A Common Mechanism for EMF and Chemicals in Neurodegenerative diseases?".
Free Radical Increased free radical activity can result to damage not only to DNA but also to proteins (See Lai/Singh and 23 other papers since 1997) -- DNA damage, genotoxic effects, neurotransmitter dopamine damage, enzyme effects are possible consequences.
Calcium Efflux Impacts on neurological and cardiological system, membrane leakage allowing in unwanted substances, Interferes with cellular communication systems, Reduces melatonin
Magnetite and Cryptochrome Impacts navigation of animals
Electrical Electrical activity is involved in the heart and brain (EEG effects in alpha band); A study published in 2011 in the journal Nature Neuroscience reported that neurons can communicate at a distance with electric fields. Microwaves can also trigger heart arrhythmia, e.g. in frogs.
Electron Interaction Stress response in the form of stress proteins, DNA damage (Martin Blank)
Acceleration of reaction rates (Martin Blank)
Resonance As with microwave cooking, hydrogen-oxygen bonds can resonate. These bonds are also in hydrogen-bond bridges in maintenance of protein 3D structure.
Dielectric and Attractive forces Mathematical modeling from Bo Sernelius predicts that radiation would affect attractive forces between cells, resulting in clumping. Magda Havas and German students have found that blood clumping can result from microwave exposures such as cordless and cell phone use. Additionally, electromagnetic radiation may affect the properties of water.
Heating Effects At high enough levels of microwaves, heating may result in tissue destruction, cataract formation, inhibition of cell growth through depression of enzyme activity, increased membrane permeability (See Kane, 20). Microwave hearing may also result from thermoelastic expansion resulting in acoustic pressure. See references.


Many biological systems are electrical in nature:

Direct Interaction with Electrons

Martin Blank suggests the cellular stress response is a result of electrons interacting with DNA, which has been shown to be a good conductor. Displacement of electrons in DNA can result in local charging and then disaggregation, and impact protein synthesis. Effects on electrons could also be seen in chemical reactions, for power line magnetic fields, including the acceleration of reaction rates. See Pathophysiology article

Imagine also that the reorientation of charges in a complicated structure such as a protein (e.g., an enzyme) could change the protein's shape, and thus affect its biological function. See "Structural and kinetic effects of mobile phone microwaves"

Calcium Efflux

Calcium plays an extremely important role in multiple systems, e.g., release of neurotransmitters in the neurological system, and contraction of the heart in the cardiac system. Hence, one particularly interesting experimental finding is that of calcium efflux in response to microwaves, e.g. in brain and heart tissue.

It has been hypothesized that calcium efflux may affect membrane potential and ion channels, making cell membranes more susceptible. Panagopoulous-Margaritis suggests that forced-vibrational movement of free ions above a certain amplitude might trigger the irregular opening or closing of voltage-gated membrane channels. Andrew Goldsworthy explains that as a result of calcium efflux, the cell membrane may become leaky. In the presence of microwaves, the blood brain barrier and other tight-junction barriers may become more permeable to unwanted substances. Microwaves have in fact been shown to open the blood-brain barrier, which protects the brain from the entrance of unwanted substances. This leakage in return might give rise to various problems, such as allergies (immune response) and rashes, depending upon where in the body it occurs. Since microwaves penetrate directly through the body, multiple systems of the body could be affected by microwaves. See the section on Calcium Efflux.

Free Radicals

Another mechanism of damage is through the generation of reactive oxygen species and reactive nitrosative species (free radicals). Microwave-exposed human blood cells, eyes, heart tissue, immune-related cells, rat skin tissue, and rat brains were found to have higher levels of free radicals or damaging oxidative activity. When microwave exposure was combined with antioxidants, however, the antioxidants helped reduce the oxidative stress induced by the wireless radiation. Free radicals induced by microwaves may in consequence affect many other biochemical processes, including power generators for cell energy, inflammation, and eventually result in numerous symptoms and diseases. DNA and the cell membrane could be damaged through free radicals in addition to previously mentioned mechanisms. Cellular signaling mechanisms may be affected if redox mechanisms play a role in cell signaling.

Enzymes transferring electrons may be one area of interest. In particular, NADH oxidase enzyme has been found to be sensitive to radiation. The electron transfer may create the radicals. Because NADH oxidase is found in the cell nucleus, genes may also be damaged. The Fenton reaction, catalyzed by iron, has also been reported to be one way that EMF enhances free radical activity. In this reaction, hydrogen peroxide, produced in the mitochondria, is converted to hydroxyl free radicals. Cells which might be more susceptible to the Fenton reaction are (a) cells which are more metabolically active, which are more likely to have higher levels of hydrogen peroxide, (b) cells with higher concentrations of iron, such as brain cells, and (c) cells with low levels of antioxidants.

Magnetite and Cryptochrome

Magnetite crystals, used in animals for navigation, may be affected by electromagnetic fields, according to reports by B. Blake Levitt and others. Magnetite has also been found in humans in the blood brain barrier, meninges covering the brain, and sinus region, and similarly, calcite micro-crystals with piezoelectric properties are found in the pineal gland.

The protein cryptochrome, found in the eyes of various animals, may also play a role in regulating magnetic navigation, circadian rhythms, and the body clock. For more information, see the section of Effects on Animals.

Dielectric and Attractive Forces

Water, which is made up of poles of positive and negative electrical charges, is a good dielectric. A dielectric is a material which is electrically insulating due to polar molecules which reorient in an external electric field. However, this very reorienting of polar molecules may have biologically significant effects. For example, it is hypothesized that microwaves can change water by enhancing salt mobility, changing the solubility properties of water, affecting the handedness of bacteria colonies, and possibly even creating low levels of hydrogen peroxide. See Magnetic and Electric Effects on Water for more information.

Another possible biological effect is a clumping effect. The positive and negative charges of water normally create extremely weak attractive forces between cells, known as van der Waals forces. However, mathematical modelling by physicist Bo Sernelius indicates that with 850 MHz microwave fields, the attractive forces increase around 11 orders of magnitude. This might explain the blood clumping effect found in Magda Havas's simple experiment to examine her blood after cordless phone usage.


Microwave oven heating occurs by resonance of water molecules. The energy must be extremely high in order to cause heating. Nevertheless, it is possible that at lower energies, that resonance may result in other effects on protein structure, without being strong enough to cause heating.

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