by Joseph Mercola
Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) include electric,
magnetic and higher frequency radio fields
While the literature discriminates between low- and
high-frequency fields, microwaves, electric and
magnetic fields, all of these have similar
Even low magnetic fields, such as 60 Hertz, can have
drastic effects on cancer cells in culture.
Effects begin around 20 nanotesla, and are fully
developed around 50 nT
At levels over 160 nT, magnetic fields have been
shown to affect sperm production
EMFs impair the flow of protons through ATP synthase.
This increases mitochondrial membrane polarization,
triggering a massive increase in reactive oxygen
species. This oxidative stress causes most of the
Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) have been shown to cause biological
damage and even cancer, but exactly how does this happen?
In this interview,
Paul Héroux, Ph.D., a researcher and professor of toxicology and
health effects of electromagnetism at the faculty of medicine at
McGill University in Montreal, helps answer that question.
Originally trained as a physicist, he eventually ended up studying
electrical power transmission lines, the topic of his Ph.D., and in
the course of working for a power utility, he started investigating
the health effects associated with the fields emitted from power
"I got involved in
biology, followed courses in medicine and became, so to speak, a
different person from what my supervisors initially would have
expected me to be," he says.
In time, he became a
specialist on the effects of magnetic fields on the human body, and
joined the Faculty of Medicine to help protect health and the
Types of EMFs
Broadly speaking, EMFs include electric, magnetic and radio
While the literature
tends to discriminate between low-frequency fields, high-frequency
fields, microwaves, electric fields and magnetic fields, all of
these have certain commonalities that allow you to lump them
together, at least in terms of their biological action.
"It's true that
frequency influences the effects," Héroux says, "but
basically... I could, using an electric field or a magnetic
field, produce the same effect in a cell. Most higher frequency
signals have enough low-frequency components to have a lot in
common with low-frequency components.
The practical aspect of this is that usually the fields have an
effect maybe in one application, but they are mirrored in other
applications as well.
There's a type of
great unifying view that you can have about these fields."
It's important to realize that the damage EMFs cause has nothing to
do with thermal effects.
At typical exposures,
EMFs do not create heat, which has been the telecommunication
industry's main defense and argument for the safety of
However, hundreds of
researchers have in fact noted biological effects both at low and
"Covering the whole
spectrum, there is no doubt that there are biological effects,"
Héroux says, adding "there's no doubt there are substantial
health effects that we have been experiencing for a long time,
and that have been increasing our health bills.
Initially, I got into
this field because a power utility asked me to design an
instrument that would measure electromagnetic fields on the
workers. I designed a dosimeter that was a very successful unit.
After that, I imagined maybe this would be followed up with
basic work on the biology of the phenomenon, but obviously, the
utility was not very interested in that.
Essentially, about at
that time, I went to McGill University... and started to do
I had a student in
the lab who was working on the toxicity of metals, who came to
me one day and said,
‘Why don't you give me a subject that would
be a little more spectacular than the toxicity of metals?'…
This student started to work on magnetic fields. The results
that came out of these experiments were quite spectacular. The
effects were very, very strong.
From then on, I felt
I could not ignore this and that I had to bring this to the
attention of the world."
What they discovered was
that even small levels of magnetic fields, such as 60 Hertz (Hz),
can have drastic effects on cancer cells in culture.
Research published as
early as 1985 showed quite clearly that these fields were also able
to suppress metabolism. Some 15 years later, Héroux duplicated those
results, and was able to determine the mechanism behind it.
Potentially Hazardous Fields Most of the Day, Every Day
In the research Héroux and his student did on cancer cells, using a
field of 60Hz, effects began around 20 nanotesla (nT), which is 0.02
microtesla (mT) or 0.2 milligauss (mG),1 and were fully
developed around 50 nT.
At levels over 160 nT,
magnetic fields have also been shown to affect sperm production -
and male fertility declined by about 50 percent between 1973 and
Recent research 2
also reveals prenatal exposure to power-frequency fields can nearly
triple a pregnant woman's risk of miscarriage.
These are environmental fields that most people spend a majority of
their time in.
Based on my own measurements, a vast majority of
people never actually leave these fields; they remain in them
Simply living in a home wired for electricity makes it
difficult to avoid these fields - unless you take remedial action,
such as turning off your circuit breaker at night.
As noted by Héroux:
"Our environment is
essentially filled with these disturbances to our metabolism.
From the point of view of industry, this is wonderful because
this contamination, being evenly spread and present everywhere,
becomes the new normal.
In other words, if
you don't want to be caught [poisoning] the population, expose
them all at the same time so that there is no reference
Sam Milham, whom I recently interviewed on the topic of dirty
electricity, did some amazing investigative epidemiological work
showing radical differences in disease prevalence between rural
and urban populations between 1900 and 1950.
Once that rural
population became electrified, their disease rates converged
with the urban ones, to the point that they are now
believe that to be one of the most important observations of
this century,' Héroux says."
Action - How EMFs Cause Harm
The mechanism of action proposed by Héroux involves the enzyme
ATP synthase, which passes currents of protons through a water channel
(similar to current passing through a wire).
The protons have to go
through about 20 molecules of water to get through this channel.
ATP synthase is extremely
ancient and common to all living systems. It basically generates
energy in the form ATP from ADP, using this flow of protons.
Magnetic fields can change the transparency of the water channel to
protons, thereby reducing the current. As a result, you get less
ATP, which can have system-wide consequences, from promoting chronic
disease and infertility to lowering intelligence.
"When you impair the
flow of protons to ATP synthase, you increase mitochondrial
If you increase the
polarization of the mitochondria by 14 percent, you will have a
70 percent increase in the reactive oxygen species coming out of
complex one, which is the leading edge of the oxidative
Essentially, my explanation is that by physical action on water,
you can change the transparency of the most critical enzyme in
the human body, modulate the amount of ATP, increase the escape
of electrons from complex one; thereby explaining practically
all of the observations related to EMF.
Of course, the moment
ATP is perturbed in a cell, there are calcium signals being
emitted all over the place, because calcium is possibly the most
critical intracellular messenger."
Massive Oxidative Stress
Although slightly different from Martin Pall's work, which
shows that EMFs activate voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCCs) in
the outer membrane of the cell, it is consistent with increased
oxidative stress and decreased
Pall believes that when
activated by EMFs, these VGCCs open up, allowing for a massive
influx of calcium. This excess intracellular calcium and associated
calcium signaling are responsible for most of the biological effects
Héroux is not convinced that low fields can substantially alter the
behavior of VGCCs or the behavior of calcium ions in solution.
He believes it's not
calcium ions that are being directly acted on. Rather, what's being
acted on are electrons and protons, which are far more sensitive to
Still, the outcome is the
same. In a nutshell, what we're talking about here is the creation
of excess oxidative stress, which in turn can damage cell membranes
and proteins, and break DNA bonds.
It's not the energy in the electromagnetic frequency that catalyzes
this process, rather it's secondary damage from the oxidative stress
According to Héroux, a
lot of the free radical detoxification reactions involve the
transfer of protons, and EMFs not only increase free radicals but
also reduce our ability to get rid of them.
"The energy of the
field itself is irrelevant, in a sense.
The idea that you
have to reach ionization potential [such as an X-ray] to create
[damage] is totally wrong. You create damage because you're
leaking electrons out of the phosphorylation chain.
significantly, by altering metabolism and the production of ATP,
you are confusing the programming of metabolism that has been
developed over the last 2 billion years.
Our species can evolve and is successful in great part because
we were successful at generating large amounts of ATP.
If you touch that,
you're going to have disturbances of metabolism that will occur
over chronic exposure, which will result in increased rates of
That is probably true for all types of electromagnetic
radiation, be it power frequency, AM, FM or television signals.
All of these have in common the property that they have fields
that can affect these charges.
The view that these
electromagnetic fields are innocuous to biological systems is
Cells With Magnetic Fields
While much of Héroux's research has revolved around validating the
mechanisms of action, he's currently trying to design a technique
using low frequency magnetic fields to kill cancer cells.
"If I can do this in
vitro, in a powerful way, then this should be transferable
fairly easily in animals," he says. "In the past, we were able
to kill cancer cells within one day or two, simply by selecting
the correct magnetic field."
Héroux believes this
strategy should work on most cancer cells, but he's only tested the
ability to suppress metabolism in two different types of cancer
cells so far.
Cancer cells have the
peculiar characteristic that they have crests of very high demand
ATP, meaning at a certain point in their development, they
require very high amounts of energy to keep thriving.
By suppressing ATP synthase, which produces 80 to 90 percent of the
ATP in a cell, the cancer cell is not going to be able to survive.
And, as mentioned,
suppressing ATP synthase is what magnetic fields do.
"If you add a little
glycolytic suppression in there, this [cancer] cell will have
practically nowhere to go," he says.
If this turns out to be a
viable strategy, it would likely be a far safer alternative to
ionizing radiation or radiotherapy currently used.
Certain fields also have other beneficial uses. Pulsed fields have
been successfully used to help regenerate bone, for example.
electromagnetic field) devices also use
either electrical or magnetic pulses.
"The first people who
looked for biological stimulation were using electric fields,
but magnetic fields have substantial advantages because they
penetrate the body fairly easily compared to electric fields,"
"Usually, [PEMF devices] are designed to enrich in bandwidth the
signal that is going into the biological system, because they
are meant to alert... biological systems that change is needed.
Having pulses creates
a wide bandwidth that solicits a lot of biological systems
Mitigation Strategies for Daily Exposures
As mentioned, it's very difficult to get below 40 nT (0.4 mG)
indoors, and even at this level ATP synthase is being suppressed
which, again, produces oxidative stress.
So, what can you do to
mitigate this kind of exposure?
"I think the damage
is serious to cells and is extensive. I believe, like Milham
does, that cancer rates have been influenced by these chronic
Agency for Research on Cancer... confirms a connection between
childhood leukemia and fields of, say, 100 nT. So, if you have
children, make sure they are not exposed to high magnetic fields
a lot of the time.
In other words, make sure their beds are not near a baseboard
If you can, get an
inexpensive instrument and make sure your young children are not
at three- or fourfold risk of leukemia because of this
uncontrolled agent that we have in your houses."
As a general rule,
magnetic fields are typically associated with electric fields, so if
you have an electric cord coming out of your wall or a transformer
(i.e., a charging device), you'll have pretty high magnetic fields
in addition to electric fields, and you'll want to minimize both.
Cellphone chargers, for
example, are not grounded, which massively worsens the field, and
you don't reach relatively safe levels until you're about 3 feet
away from the charger.
As noted by Héroux, most all portable charging devices are designed
to be very light and compact, and do not have any kind of
This allows them to leak
power, and for the devices they're powering, power leakage is not
"It's an engineering
design based on the false information that these fields spewing
into the environment don't matter," he says.
So, to avoid excessive
exposure, charge your electronics in an area of your home as far
away from where you spend most of your time as possible.
Also make sure your
cellphone and tablets are in airplane mode, and do not have
Bluetooth or Wi-Fi activated, when not in use.
For additional remedial
action steps, please see "The Importance of EMF Remediation in the
Treatment of Chronic Disease," and "The Real Dangers of Electronic
Devices and EMFs."
Is an Important Health Consideration
The evidence that EMFs cause harm is both clear and convincing, and
we all need to take precautions to protect ourselves.
Héroux also believes we
need to do more to convince engineers to take the matter seriously
and design devices and technologies that offer better protection.
"Ultimately, we will
have to convince them that these fields are dangerous," he says.
"Otherwise, it will always be an individual effort, which will
be very difficult to sustain."
an electrical engineer who runs Power U.K. in England, is currently
in the process of contacting a number of companies that make plugin
transformers (device chargers) to create a grounded, shielded
They just don't make them
anymore, but they certainly can. We can go back to the old ones.
If there's a demand, as I hope to create through these educational
efforts, companies will start to produce them. So, it's really just
a matter of creating awareness, and continuing to ask manufacturers
for grounded and shielded devices.
Hopefully, this and my
many other expert interviews have inspired you to take action to
protect your health, and the health of your loved ones.