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Interaction between electromagnetic radiation and toxic metals.


Electrically powered devices are a part of our everyday lives and present an ever-increasing risk of exposure to the electromagnetic radiation (EMR) that emanates from them. Toxic metals increasingly contaminate our air, water, soil, and food supply. Both EMR and metals affect health, and there is evidence that a combination of exposure to both of these toxicants may have adverse health consequences far greater than those associated with exposure to either heavy metals or EMR alone.

Electromagnetic Radiation

Electric fields per se are relatively innocuous and have little ability to penetrate the human body. Electrical charges in motion will produce both electric and electromagnetic fields and EMR. EMR will penetrate most things, including the human body and can have adverse health effects.

EMR is either nonionizing or ionizing. Examples of nonionizing EMR include the extremely low frequency (ELF) radiation associated with household current and power lines, as well as radio frequency (RF) radiation from cellular telephones and cellular and microwave towers. Examples of ionizing EMR include X-and gamma-radiation.

Of the nonionizing varieties of EMR, ELF (e.g., household current, power transmission lines) has no thermal characteristics (no risk of thermal damage or injury) and induces little current in tissues. Both RF (e.g., cell phones, wireless modems) and microwave EMR can induce high amounts of current in tissue and can have thermal effects. EMR in the optical range (infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light energy) can cause electronic excitation and can have photochemical effects. Ionizing radiation can break chemical bonds, damage DNA, and cause severe health effects such as mutation, cancer, and death.

An emerging consensus is that ELF and RF radiation interact with biological systems and may have adverse health consequences. Current exposure limits set by public health and safety organizations might well be due for reexamination. The Bio Initiative Report: A Rationale for a Biologically-based Public Exposure Standard for Electromagnetic Fields (ELF and RF) provides an excellent review on this topic. (1)

EMR exposure may affect numerous body systems; for example, the function of immune cells, rate of cerebral blood flow, free radical accumulation in cells, and higher blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus. (2-6)

After more than 35 years of ongoing debate in the literature, it is becoming clearer that exposures to EMF and EMR increase the risk of cancer. (7) In fact, the WHO has stated as far back as 2002 that [ELF] "magnetic fields are possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B)." (8)

Toxic Metals

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) lists arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium as numbers 1, 2, 3 and 7, respectively, in the Priority List of Hazardous Substances. (9)

Arsenic is probably best known as a potent poison. Inorganic arsenic is found in numerous industrial and commercial products, and it commonly contaminates the water supply. Inorganic arsenic is the more toxic of the two forms. Organic arsenic compounds (such arsenobetaine found in mushrooms, fish, and shellfish) generally are less toxic, although organoarsenicals have been used as chemical warfare agents (e.g., lewisite).

Cadmium contaminates soils, crops and shellfish, among many of our foods. Exposure to cadmium has been linked with cancer and chronic disease. It depletes body stores of zinc, and zinc depletion has been proposed as a possible factor (the zinc hypothesis) in premature aging. (10)

Lead is ubiquitous in our environment and has a multiplicity of commercial and industrial uses. Exposure has long been known to have numerous adverse health effects, especially in children, including effects on neurological development and on learning and behavior.

Mercury occurs naturally in the environment; however, through numerous anthropogenic activities, it is in present in ever-increasing amounts in our food chain, especially in piscivorous fish. This metal too has adverse health effects including cancer, chronic disease, and premature aging.

Blood, urine, hair, and feces, as well as drinking water, foods, and other ingested items, can be analyzed for arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury content. These analyses will provide useful information about exposure and source, absorption, excretion, and retention (body burden) of these and many other potentially toxic metals. Most commercial laboratories do not provide speciation between organic and inorganic arsenic or mercury, as this would add considerable cost to otherwise relatively inexpensive testing.

Oxidative Stress

Oxidation is a chemical reaction that transfers electrons from one substance to another and can result in the production of free radicals. Oxidative stress occurs when there is an imbalance between the production and removal of reactive oxygen species (ROS; e.g., peroxides, free radicals). EMF/EMR increases oxidative stress and depletes superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, reduced glutathione (GSH), coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), and melatonin. (11)

Oxidative stress may have both harmful and beneficial roles. It is an adverse factor in the development of many chronic diseases. However, short-term oxidative stress in cases of infection may assistthe immune system in attacking and killing pathogens. A certain degree of oxidative stress may be important in the prevention of premature aging - production of low levels of stress-response chemicals may be adaptive, defensive responses that may militate against some xenobiotic and environmental molecular damage that occurs over time. (12)

Glutathione (GSH) is the major antioxidant molecule produced by cells and is the main source of intracellular antioxidant protection in red blood cells. Melatonin, besides its many other important biological roles, is a ubiquitous and powerful antioxidant and is especially important in the protection of nuclear and mitochondrial DNA against oxidative damage. (13) Other important antioxidants include vitamins C and E.

Oxidative stress can be assessed by analysis of plasma and erythrocyte glutathione levels. The methylation process leading eventually to GSH production can be evaluated in detail by assessing elements of the methylation pathway in plasma.

Exposure to and absorption of toxic metals, such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury, are associated with the generation of ROS. Antioxidants such as GSH and melatonin function to protect cells from toxic oxygen products (ROS). Oxidative stress also may be reduced by chelation therapy with agents such as calcium disodium ethylene diamine tetra-acetic acid (CaNa2EDTA), British anti-Lewisite (BAL), sodium 2,3-dimercaptopropane 1-sulfonate (DMPS), and meso 2,3-dimercapto-succinc acid (DMSA). (14)

Interaction Between EMR and Toxic Metals

EMFs will affect the behavior of any charged objects in their vicinity, and EMFs extend indefinitely throughout space. Since metal ions are charged particles, and if physics theory holds true, EMFs and EMR should affect the behavior of metal ions present anywhere in the human body.

We all carry some potentially toxic metals, and some of these may be more toxic than others. Even things that we perceive as being "healthful," such as dietary supplements (e.g., Ayurvedic medicines) may expose users to toxic metals. (15) MRI radiation, as well as RF radiation, will significantly increase release of mercury from dental amalgam restoration. (16)

There appears to be a synergistic effect when ELF is combined with toxic chemical exposure: in a meta-analysis of 65 studies, the most evidence of a synergistic effect occurred when the EMF exposure preceded the exposure to the toxic chemical. (17) The same may be true for toxic metals and EMF/EMR; and, in evidence of this, there was noted a potential for EMF/EMR and toxic metal synergy in autistic children exposed to EMR and to metals and who showed a disproportionately increased vulnerability to oxidative stress, impaired neurological adaptability, and increased heavy metal accumulation. (18)

It appears that there may be a positive zinc-EMF/EMR synergy in that the development of oxidative stress associated with static magnetic field exposure, as evidenced by decreased glutathione peroxidase activity and increased DNA oxidation, is ameliorated by zinc administration. (19) Exposure to RF (e.g., from cellular base stations) has an adverse effect on glutathione levels such that, when exposure to EMF at power densities well below current exposure limits, GSH concentration was found to decrease significantly (p < .0001 ). (20) So, with increasing RF exposure, the capacity to excrete toxic substances, including metals, may be reduced.

Exposure to EMF/EMR can be quantified; exposure to toxic metals can be assessed in whole blood, urine, feces, and/or hair; body burden of toxic metals can be estimated in whole blood or with urine toxic metal analysis after provocation with DMPS, DMSA, EDTA, or other agents.


A synergy may exist between exposure to electromagnetic energy and to heavy metals.

* EMF / EMR can be assessed and quantified;

* exposure to both EMF/EMR and toxic metals has adverse health consequences;

* there appears to exist an adverse interaction between electromagnetic energy and toxic metals;

* exposure to, and body burden of, toxic metals can be estimated (analysis of urine, blood, stool, hair);

* detoxification capacity can be assessed (hepatic detoxification profile; methylation profile);

* the extent of oxidative stress can be evaluated (analysis of plasma and erythrocyte glutathione levels); and

* the long-term impact of oxidative stress on DNA damage and repair can be ascertained (assessment of urinary 8-hydroxy-deoxyguanosine).


(1.) Carpenter D, Sage S, eds. The Biolnitiative Report: A Rationale for a Biologically-based Public Exposure Standard for Electromagnetic Fields (ELF and RERF) [online document]. 2007. Retrieved Aug 18, 2011.

(2.) Simko M, Mattsson M. Extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields as effectors of cellular responses in vitro: possible immune cell activation. / Cell Biochem. 2004; 93(1): 82-93.

(3.) Huber R, Treyer V, Borbely A, et al. Electromagnetic fields, such as those from mobile phones, alter regional cerebral blood flow and sleep and waking EEG. I Sleep Res. 2002; 11(4): 289-295.

(4.) Huber R, Treyer V, Schuderer J, et al. Exposure to pulse-modulated radio frequency electromagnetic fields affects regional cerebral blood flow. Eta J Neurosci. 2005; 21(4); 1000-1006.

(6.) Havas M. Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: biological effects of dirty electricity with emphasis on diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Electromag alai Med. 2006; 25: 259-268.

(7.) WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer Monograph Working Group. Carcinogenicity of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. Lancet Oncol. 2011; 12(7): 624-626.

(8.) WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer. Non-ionizing radiation, part 1: static and extremely low-frequency (ELF) electric and magnetic fields. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans. 2002; 80: 338.

(9.) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. CERCLA priority list of hazardous substances [webpage]. 2007. http://www.atsdr.cdc.govicercla/071ist.html. Retrieved Sep 20, 2011.

(10.) Bin H, Garfinkel D. The cadmium toxicity hypothesis of aging: A possible explanation for the zinc deficiency hypothesis of aging. Med Hypotheses. 1994; 42(6), 380-384.

(11.) Ozguner F, Oktem F, Armagan A, Yilmas R, et al. Comparative analysis of the protective effects of melatonin and caffeic acid phenethyl ester (CAPE) on mobile phone-induced renal impairment in rat. Mo! Cell Biochem. 2005; 276(1-2): 31-37.

(12.) Gems D, Partridge L. Stress-response hormesis and aging: "That which does not kill us makes us stronger." Cell Metab. 2008; 7: 200-203.

(13.) Reiter R, Acuna-Castroviejo D, Tan D, Burkhardt S. Free radical-mediated molecular damage: mechanisms for the protective actions of melatonin in the central nervous system. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2001; (939): 200-215.

(14.) Flora S, Mittal M, Mehta A. Heavy metal induced oxidative stress & its possible reversal by chelation therapy. Indian Med Res. 2008; 128: 501-523.

(15.) Saper R, Kales S, Paquin J, et al. Heavy metal content of Ayurvedic herbal medicine products. JAMA. 2004; 292: 2868-2873.

(16.) Mortazavi S, Daiee E, Yazdi A, et al. Mercury release from dental amalgam restorations after magnetic resonance imaging and following mobile phone use. Pak J Biol Sci. 2008; 11(8): 1142-1146.

(17.) Juutilanen J, Kumlin T, Naarala J. Do extremely low frequency magnetic fields enhance the effects of environmental carcinogens? A meta-analysis of experimental studies. Ing J Radiat Biol. 2006; 82: 1-12.

(18.) Mariea T, Carlo G. Wireless radiation in the etiology and treatment of autism: Clinical observations and mechanisms. I Aust Coll Nutr & Env Med. 2007; 28(2): 3-7.

(19.) Amara S, Abdelmelek H, Carrel C, et al. Zinc supplementation ameliorates static magnetic field-induced oxidative stress in rat tissues. Environ Toxic& Pharmacol. 2007; 23(2): 193-197.

(20.) Yurekli A, Ozkan M, Kalkan T, et al. GSM base station electromagnetic radiation and oxidative stress in rats. Elearomagn Biol Med. 2006; 25(3): 177-188.

Chuck Masur, MD, is the scientific support physician at Doctor's Data Inc. He earned his MD at the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, and did postgraduate training at Family Medicine and Public Health, both at the University of Calgary, and Primary Health Care and Community-Based Development, Mahidol University, Salaya, Thailand. He was a full-service family medical practitioner for most of 30 years in remote, rural, and urban settings in Alberta, including 10 years of practice experience in complementary and alternative medicine. He has also lived and worked as a health consultant and researcher in Central and South America, the Middle East, and Asia.

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Author:Masur, Charles
Publication:Townsend Letter
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2012
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