The increasing use of electronic and electric devices such as televisions, computers, mobile devices, cell phones, and recent 5G towers significantly elevated our bodies' exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMG-EMFs).
Effects of EMF Exposure in our Daily Life
The health risks of constant EMF exposure have become an important topic for public health and a safer environment. The history of non-natural sources of electromagnetic radiation and fields is relatively new and covers only the last hundred years. However, the sources of electromagnetic radiation, especially telecommunication systems (radio, television, internet, Wi-Fi and 5G) and electrical devices are getting utilized more and more in our daily lives, that non-stop EMF exposure became unavoidable.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies electromagnetic fields (EMFs) as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans that might transform normal cells into cancer cells. Moreover, many studies show that exposure to EMFs disturbs brain functions, hormones, fertility, and enzyme activity, depending on the exposure's frequency and duration.
Effects of EMF Exposure on Melatonin Production
The crucial melatonin hormone is produced in the pineal gland in the brain by circadian rhythm. Its daytime level goes almost zero and makes its peak in the middle of the night during sleep. Melatonin plays a vital role in controlling many processes like sleep, metabolism, reproduction and cognitive function. Additionally, melatonin is also involved in regulating the immune system, cardiovascular health and cancer development.
The pineal gland's melatonin secretion is particularly sensitive to electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic field signals. We are widely exposed to magnetic fields with a frequency of 50 Hz (in Europe) or 60 Hz (in North America) generated by the electrical devices around us. These dense electric and magnetic signals are sensed as light by the cells in the pineal gland, and consequently, the melatonin production gets decreased. The decrease depends on the exposure time and frequency of EMFs. Since the exposure is almost non-stop in today’s environment, that may lead to long-term adverse health effects.
Most of the studies on the effects of melatonin on humans have been conducted in the presence of EM fields, focusing on the impact of the workplace or residential exposures. Since the exposure duration and intensity of the signals have a significant role in the adverse effects of EMFs on health, it is complicated to evaluate humans' long-term exposure to reliable studies.
Health Effects of Melatonin Suppression
Suppression of melatonin hormone leads to physiological disturbances such as sleep disorders, depression, stress, and cancers. Clinical studies on humans showed decreased melatonin levels with exposure to EMFs, especially those of higher frequencies emitted from mobile devices.
Melatonin is also a potent antioxidant capable of reducing harmful free radicals. Exposure to electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic fields disturb not only melatonin but also cortisol rhythms. These are two major hormones of the circadian system on sleep.
The decreased melatonin metabolites in urine were observed in the workers exposed to high-frequency magnetic fields due to their work. Exposure to a 60 Hz magnetic field or bright light in the home environment showed profoundly decreased pineal gland activity in women by one study. The level of melatonin production was lower in infants kept in incubators and rose when they were moved to a place free from electrical devices.
Research Studies on the Effects of EMF on Babies and Children
Reliable experimental studies also show cells and organs are more vulnerable to EMFs at their earlier stage of life. Especially in the prenatal period, the embryo and the fetus are susceptible to any external factors. The effects of EMF exposure in the fetal period can vary but can involve cognitive function, memory impairment, and DNA damage in neuronal tissue. Some researchers linked EMF exposure in the prenatal stage to autistic spectrum disorders (ASDs).
Some experts have also reported the damaging effect on DNA molecules in EMF-exposed cells. Other studies have suggested no such damage in EMF-exposed cells. These conflicting findings may be attributed to the differences in the apparatus used to generate electromagnetic fields, experimental design, exposure time, genetic endpoints, and biological materials such as cell lines and animal species, strain, age, etc.
As DNA damage is often one of the causes of cancer disease, more serious studies should be conducted on the effect of EMF on genetic material.
Additional research is also necessary where it includes older populations. Research is also needed to evaluate electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic fields' interactions in different frequency range to examine their effects on human beings.
Author: Tina Ureten, MD, RDMS, RDCS