Magnetic Field Therapy Research Results Not in Flux with WHO Standards
Research presented this week at the Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in San Diego reminds the public that our bodies are bathed in a large, but relatively weak magnetic field possessed by the Earth. Magnetic field therapy research is a controversial arena of study because many experts are at odds over what is considered to be safe, what is considered to be therapeutic, and what is harmful regarding the levels of magnetic field energy we are exposed to.
In the public eye, the question of exposure to cell phone magnetic fields and the question of pulsed magnetic field therapies being harmful or helpful respectively, has added to the confusion and concern of the more basic question of whether low-level magnetic fields really can affect the human body.
Magnetic field levels are typically measured in units of flux density (the amount of flow of magnetic energy through a point) called “microteslas” (µT). The Earth’s magnetic field for example is rated at 70 µT. In comparison, electric trains and trams exert an exposure of approximately 50 µT, overhead large power lines 20 µT and cell phones roughly between 1.0 to 6.0 µT—depending on the proximity of an individual to the source of the magnetic field.
The significance of the reminder that we are surrounded by a natural magnetic field is a point made by the research of Carlos Martino, an assistant professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and colleagues that magnetic fields that are even 2 orders of magnitude lower than that of the Earth can affect a biological response.
Martino and colleagues have found that reducing the Earth's magnetic field around tissue culture samples can inhibit growth rates of cancerous lung fibrosarcoma cells, colorectal cancer cells and primary endothelial cells in culture. According to a press release issued by the Experimental Biology 2012 meeting, Martino adds that low-level magnetic fields may modulate the production of reactive oxygen molecules, known to affect cellular proliferation and survival.
However, he has also found that not all cell types respond in the same way to low-level magnetic fields. Martino says that pancreatic cancer cells show an increase in growth rate in the same low magnetic fields, indicating different cell types react differently to changes in magnetic fields.
Martino explains that the subject is controversial. "Our research shows that exposure to different types of magnetic fields affect biological response. More importantly, the exposure levels are well below the standard levels [approved by the World Health Organization].This raises the concern of safety issues," he states.
Martino believes that his work on low-level fields and radiofrequency magnetic fields raises "the question of reassessing the standard limit of exposure because we clearly see effects both in vitro and in vivo in the low level and radiofrequency magnetic field range."
According to a statement made by the World health Organization, “It is not disputed that electromagnetic fields above certain levels can trigger biological effects. Experiments with healthy volunteers indicate that short-term exposure at the levels present in the environment or in the home do not cause any apparent detrimental effects. Exposures to higher levels that might be harmful are restricted by national and international guidelines. The current debate is centered on whether long-term low level exposure can evoke biological responses and influence people's well-being.”
The World Health Organization has concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any harm to health from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields such as from cellular phones. However, they do believe that there are gaps in knowledge about the existence of biological effects and is in need further research.
Further research toward a re-evaluation of magnetic field safety standards would be beneficial as it could also lead to further studies that reveal how magnetic fields affect cellular processes and tumor growth, which then could lead to weak magnetic field therapies for treating cancer and other medical conditions.
Currently, the molecular mechanism of how low-level magnetic fields affect cells is not well understood, but researchers such as Martino and colleagues are expanding their research from cells in culture plates to using weak radiofrequency magnetic fields on tumors in animals to add to the understanding of how low-level magnetic fields can affect the body.
For more information on magnetic field therapies see this article about a related episode on The Dr. OZ Show.
Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia
Experimental Biology 2012 Conference press release
“Reduction of the Earth's magnetic field inhibits growth rates of model cancer cell lines” Bioelectromagnetics 2010 Dec;31(8):649-55. doi: 10.1002/bem.20606. Epub 2010 Sep 9; Martino CF, et al.