Multiple Wave Oscillator
Georges Lakhovsky, Bioelectric Pioneer
ELECTROMAGNETIC EFFECTS ON HUMAN BEHAVIOR
by Steve Mizrach
The question of what influence Extra-Low Frequency (ELF) Electromagnetic (EM)
fields have on behavior of organisms can only be understood in light of the
fledgling field of radiobiology. The theory that one's mind is being controlled
by waves being beamed by some ultrasecret conspiracy is one found among almost
every stripe of paranoid; lest we excite such individuals, we must tread
very carefully. Since 60 Hz ELF fields surround almost all electrical appliances,
and are particularly acute near power transformers, if a risk exists, it
must be dealt with; yet our lives are extensively dependent on electrical
power, and altering our demand for it is something that requires definitive
proof of a health risk.
It was an individual named Luigi Galvani who first noted that the muscles of
a frog's leg responded to electrical stimulation. Later researchers of the
18th century would discuss a great deal about 'animal electricity,' and a
French philosopher named La Mettrie adjudged from this electrical basis of
life that organisms could really be seen as machines. Electricity was 'in
the air,' during the 18th and 19th century, so much so that the 'spark of
life' could be seen as electrical, and novels like Frankenstein could be
written where a 'modern Prometheus' gave life to dead matter through a stroke
of lightning. A diletantte called Mesmer claimed to discover an 'animal magnetism'
through which he could cure his patients' ailments; that other savant of
electricity, Benjamin Franklin, was called over to investigate and discovered
Mesmer to be a charlatan. Yet 'mesmerism' still exists, an unexplained phenomenon
owed less to Mesmer than one of his disciples, a Frenchman named Charcot.
(He was one of the first investigators to examine the psychology of 'memerized'
patient, and the physiology of the trance state.) One of the powerful debates
of the late 19th century involved 'vitalism'- was there some unique, vitalizing
energy that made organisms different from dead matter? As chemists found
that they could easily and artificially create organic substances such as
urea, the vitalist position fell out of favor, and Joseph Needham, a biochemist,
proclaimed in the early 1930s that "the vitalist position was firmly
and finally refuted."
During this time when mechanical explanations of life were proliferating,
the world was slowly becoming electrified. Tesla and Edison argued back and
electrocuting animals with each other's form of current (AC or DC) for evidence,
as to whose form of power was more dangerous; but as power lines slowly began
to cover the globe, the question as to what effect they might have was largely
ignored. Only recently had a clerk named Maxwell showed that electrical and
magnetic fields were largely aspects of the same force, electromagnetism. And
as Marconi made possible the transmission of radiofrequency (RF) waves, the
human species suddenly became bathed in a sea of EM radiations it had never
been exposed to, with the ozone layer filtering out many non-visible frequencies.
Then in 1939, a genius or a crank (depending on how you look at it) named George
Lakhovsky released a tract entitled The Secret of Life: Cosmic Rays and Radiations
of Living Beings. There had been some discussion before his time of possible
'mitogenic' rays or "N" rays having influences on the growth and
development of organisms, but it had been largely ignored.
Lakhovsky theorized that "the cell, essential organic unit in all
living beings, is nothing but an electromagentic resonator capable of
absorbing radiations of all frequencies." Lakhovsky suggested that
cells were 'oscillating circuits,' that had natural frequencies of resonance.
Having observed orientation in animals and other phenomena, Lakhovsky
concluded that some of the semi-crystalline matter within the cell nucleus
might exhibit electrical conductance. He coined the study of such properties
'radiobiology.' Following Lakhovsky, neovitalism had a raging revival.
Wilhelm Reich claimed to discover a biological energy called orgone ,
closely related to but distinct from electrical energy. Professors Saxton
and Burr at Yale used a supra-sensitive voltmeter to measure electrical
capacitance in the skin and claimed to discover that it changed according
to health and other biological changes. Professor Seymour Kirlian in
the Soviet Union discovered a photographic technique that made manifest
fantastic electrical displays around living organisms, also apparently
correlated with their vital state and health.
In that time of tumult and distrust of public authority, the 1960s,
many people began to become alarmed at the spreading growth of microwave
transmission towers. Openly and aloud, they wondered what health effects
the EM fields these towers generated might have on people nearby. And
so many scientists, not just those on the fringe, began to investigate
the relationship of EM and life, in earnest. Then, in 1977 a muckraker
named Paul Brodeur stepped on the scene, publicizing a little-known study
by epidemiologists Nancy Wertheimer and Ed Leeper made in 1975 which
claimed to find a higher than normal incidence of childhood leukemia
in those houses closest to secondary electrical wires (leading from transformers)
where the highest ELF strength levels were also found. The matter bounced
back and forth; as recently as 1989, the question of ELF fields radiated
by electric blankets for pregnant mothers and by Video Display Terminals
(VDTs) for office workers became an issue of public health concern.
Hence we shall closely examine one question in particular: what role
do ELF fields play in the behavior of organisms? And is that role significant
enough to consider ELF fields a risk? And what can be done if they are?
Scientists have usually been wary of any suggestion that nonionizing radiation
might have biological effects. Ionizing radiation, which usually involves radioactive
decay of unstable isotopes, usually generates dense alpha and beta particles
(which are really atomic helium nuclei) which can impact on tissue and have
significant repercussions. Nonionizing (that is, EM) radiation involves only
massless photons, of varying energy, which as bosons (carriers of force) really
are quanta of information. Up until the 1960s, it was thought that the only
effects such energy could have would be thermal, i.e. raise the temperature
of organisms. It is only due to the growing influence of cybernetics and system
theory that the informational aspect of organisms is becoming more appreciated,
and it is precisely from the perspective of EM radiation as a carrier of information
in the organism that effects are being studied.
EM fields present a particular problem because in the 'real world' such fields
do not spread out evenly over space. Dosimetry depends a great deal on how
close one is to the center of the field, orientation, parts of the body exposed,
shielding of the object, and other conditions. Strangely, exposure in ELF fields
almost seems to work against typical force laws: it decreases near the generator,
increases over a particular zone, and then falls off again toward the periphery
of the field. Those ELF fields generated by various electrical carriers and
devices are often rapidly alternating in flux and intensity. Many of these
unpredictable conditions can be hard to take account of in the laboratory,
which is a further obstacle to research.
Negative findings certainly do abound in the field. There are many studies
that report that periodic daily exposure of cats to PF (power-frequency)
60 Hz fields for 6 to 8 months shows little or no change in behavior.
However, the inadequacy of many of these results is due to the same problem
that occurs with tests of low-level ionizing radiation. People can be
exposed to such fields for years , not just months, and the studies of
long-term effects over 20 or 30 years just have not been done. Likewise,
the interaction and superposition of such artificial ELF fields with
natural ambient EM radiation (such as occurs in the real world but not
behind lead laboratory walls) has not been examined - the possibility
of a synthetic effect. And in many cases the researchers ignored entirely
behavioral changes of a very subtle nature, which would have been noticed
by better schedulre-controlled procedures. Nevertheless, negative data
is there and cannot be dismissed; however, this paper concerns itself
with positive results, and searches for possible mechanisms for such
Perhaps the longest recognized EM effects on human subjects have been perceptual
changes. One of the earliest students of magnetic effects, D'Arsonval, noted
that placing a changing magnetic fields near a subject's head caused them to
see sparkling motes of light. These motes, known as phosphenes , appear when
the eyes are closed tightly, and also immediately after one stares at a bright
light. They appear to be fundamental 'building blocks' of vision and are prominent
during hallucinogenic states as well. Audial effects have also been noted;
many persons report an audible clicking sound in their ears or a hissing noise
when they are exposed to a radar beam. It is possible that this sound may result
from small 'shock-waves' in the fluids of the cochlea in the inner ear, which
may also explain the occasional distortion of balance or orientation caused
by a RF beam. Apparently, even deaf people can hear microwaves pulsed at
300-3000 MHz as booming, hissing, clicking, or buzzing. In addition to auditory
sensations, vestibular sensations were often noted as being similar to seasickness;
the researcher suspected that temporal-lobe stimulation in the brain might
be responsible. Many Navy radar operators, who worked with cathode-ray screens
analogous to modern VDTs, reported problems of perceptual fatigue: blurred
vision, irritated, watery eyes, visually-related headaches. The problem
with the study, and others similar to it, was that it did not really isolate
possible eyestrain and other stress-related factors from ones related to screen
radiation. Other sensory changes have been noted; one scientist even claims
that auditory hallucination can occur infrequently when one is exposed to an
extremely strong pulse of EM radiation.
Another class of ELF EM effects include circadian rhythm changes, which in
turn affect biological clocks. Visible-frequency (VF) light has long been known
as an important zeitgeiber with biological rhythms. Strong natural light can
be an effective treatment for seasonal depression, jet-lag, and other circadian
disorders.  It may be the case that non-VF EM frequencies may alter those
rhythms. Rabbits exposed to 2950 MHz microwaves showed changes in both the
amplitude and phase of the circadian rhythm of cell division. In a test
of monkeys exposed for 2 weeks to 39 kV/m ELF fields, 75% showed significant
changes in their circadian cycles. Rhythms of oxidative metabolism were
phase shifted in male mice after exposure to ELF fields; most importantly,
nighttime synthesis of biosynthetic enzymes in the pineal gland was reduced.
It is possible that even EEG rhythms may be altered by EM induction. When fields
are at the upper theta range (7 Hz), increased EEG activity in the 6-8 Hz range
in the hippocampus, amygdala, and centrum meridianum is noted. It is possible
that some of these alterations of biological rhythms may explain complaints
of insomnia and changed sleep habits noted in Soviet ELF epidemiological studies,
as well as sexual dysfunction (it is known that sexual arousal and performance
is closely tied to somatic rhytms as well.)
A significant category of behavioral response to EM radiation has been
changed levels of activity or response/ reactivity. In many cases, an
avoidance reaction to the ELF fields itself has been noted. Animals will,
in many cases, make a deliberate effort to step out of the field. In
a 60 Hz field at 75 to 100 kV/m, rats and swine would avoid exposure,
and during their inactive period would never spend time in the field.
(Humans are apparently able to detect and register 50 Hz fields in the
0.35 kV/m to 27 kV/m range, but do not normally display an escape reaction.)
Albino rats tested in Eastern bloc countries given long-term ELF exposure
showed lowered reactivity to electric footshock and deficits of performance
in the shuttlebox. John Ott notes that hyperkinetic activity among
schoolchildren increases considerably under the multiple frequencies
given off by flourescent lighting. Rabbits irradiated during four months
with microwaves at 10 mW/cm sq. for 60 min. daily showed an inhibition
of conditioned reflexes, and even a lack of conditioned reflexes.
Rats and monkeys exposed to a 2450 MHz field showed disrupted performance
on all operant schedules. People exposed to 2-12 Hz fields showed
an increase in reaction time latency. Reduced locomotion and exploratory
behavior were noted in animals in a 40 MHz field by D'Andrea; sexual
behavior and dopamine/opiate-related responses were noted by Frey and
Wesler to be altered in pulsed microwave fields; wild mallard ducklings
were shown to alter fixed-time, schedule-controlled behavior in 3-16
Perhaps the most interesting influence of EM fields on animals is changes
in navigational/ orientational ability. Scientists have only become recently
aware of the ability of many animals to navigate utilizing the geomagnetic
field. Homing pigeons, for example, often were 45 to 180 degress off
course if they had bar magnets attached to their heads. Birds have piezoelectric
elements in their feathers; marine vertebrates such as rays and eels
also apparently utilize EM emissions for navigation, showing extreme
confusion when a ferromagnetic substance is introduced into their tank.
It has been found that honeybees, which rely on geomagnetism, build bizarre,
misshapen combs in strong ELF fields. Many microbes display a northward-swiming
behavior that is reversed upon introduction of a Helmholtz coil.
Machin noted that an electric fish, Gymnarchus niloticus , would respond
to a magnet inducing a gradient of 0.15 mV/cm; the solid state properties
of its bone fine structure may act as an oscillator. The question
as to whether an EmF receptor might exist in humans has been tested,
and it even appears to a small degree that humans may rely on EM cues.
Children driven out on a school bus, blindfolded, with bar magnets atop
their heads, had much more difficulty pointing the way home than a control
group without such magnets.
Last, but certainly not least,
is the question as to how ELF fields may or may not cause discomfort,
pain, and/or reduction in "quality
of life." Needless to say, studies in this area have frequently
been nonconclusive and highly controversial. Long-term exposure to 10
mW/cm fields produced occupational complaints in an Eastern bloc survey
including dizziness and vertigo, headache, restlessness, eye pain, mood
changes and irritability, nervous tension, memory loss, epigastric pain,
depression, hypochondria, and fear. A survey of Ed Leeper of electric
powerline workers found that there was a statistically greater incidence
of suicide and depression among those workers who actually worked near
transformers or other sources of strong ELF fields than a control group
who did not work near such ELF sources. (One researcher examined 438,000
deaths of workingmen and found that the PMR (proportionate mortality)
for leukemia was greater in ten out of eleven occupations linked to EM
field exposure.) Yet another study by Marino found that job quitting
rate in electrical-related professions was incredible, and he substantiates
much of his argument by pointing out the extreme rates of health insurance
for such occupations. The problem with these studies is simple; many
variables impinge on the "quality of life" in a human subject,
and also on his willingness to make complaints. Until good controlled
studies arise to isolate out these uncontrolled variables, the Soviet
studies and others need corroboration.
In order to understand behavioral changes in organisms exposed to ELF fields,
we have to begin to grapple with some of the neural mechanisms involved. An
EPRI study noted that electric fields depress in rats the synthesis of melatonin
by the pineal gland. As melatonin production is keyed to the regulation of
the circadian 'clocks' and also the growth rate of cancer, one causal link
may already have been found. The same study also found that at the cellular
level, there may be altered control functions involving RNA. The researcher
W. Ross Adey thinks that protein strands might act as 'Trojan horses' allowing
weak electrical signals to pass through the barrier of the cell's membrane
potential; and generating rhythmic waves travelling as oscillations through
the fluid-filled spaces of the brain. Also, exposure to 8 kV/m fields has been
found to show positive changes in catecholamine and acetylcholine neurotransmitters
in the brain. There has been much research in EM transmission as a form
of biocommunication and/or informational transfer, and Adey's research suggests
that the 'signal-to-noise' ratio may be considerably distorted in the brain
and elsewhere by external EMF sources.
An important area of EM effects in organisms is, of course, thermoregulatory
changes. As the ambient temperature of an organism increases, it will undertake
behaviors to attempt to attain homeostasis. At a frequency of 360 MHz, significant
'hot spots' in the tail, rectum, and brain area of rats emerged - the SAR of
the tail reaching as much as 50 times the intensity of the whole-body SAR.
Since vasodilation in the tail is a primary thermoregulatory mechanism of rats,
RF-induced localized heating of the tail could severely impair overall thermoregulation.
Possible thermoregulatory changes might result in alterations of diet, avoidance
of EM exposure, or other actions in an attempt to make up for caloric changes
Changes in temperature may not be as important as ionization resulting
from the attendant 'charging' that occurs in an ELF field. Although often
overemphasized, positive ionization has been noted to show an increase
in sympathetic nervous system activity and attendant heart rate/ energy
expenditure, whereas negative ionization creates a relaxation response
by affecting the parasympathetic division. (It is for this reason that
atmospheric changes - such as the increasing positive ionization before
a thunderstorm - often create behavioral changes.) One researcher strongly
suspects that ionization effects may play a role in EM behavioral effects.
He correlated response to 2400 Hz fields with blood ionization.
Yet another important factor is genetic, teratogenic (pre-natal) effects.
It is possible that many behavioral alterations may result from ELF disruption
of the genetic code involving hereditarily-linked behaviors. (Concern
over ELF pre-natal effects has meant the release of a NIH warning for
pregant mothers to avoid electric blankets.) When mother rats were exposed
to 6000 MHz fields at 35 mW/cm for 8 hours daily throughout their pregnancy,
pups were born exhibiting differences in eye opening, postnatal growth,
water T-maze performance, and activity in an open field test.  When
Leghorn chicken eggs were exposed to 100 Hz, 1.2 uT fields, abnormalities
in the cephalic and truncal nervous systems at high intensities were
noted, and the researcher linked this to changes in observed glycosaminoglycans,
which have electrostatic properties and are involved in morphogenesis
and cell differentiation. One researcher noted the electro-orientational
nature of the formation of blastosomes in the developing foetus, and
found that ELF fields did play some role in organ formation and differentiation.
Most of the cellular studies involving ELF effects suggest that it is
the cell membrane that is involved. There has been found a 10 to 20%
alteration in calcium exchange from chick or cat brain tissues exposed
to ELF fields. Neurons may be a type of cell particularly vulnerable.
A transient change in the neuron firing rate of Aplysia neurons was noted
during exposure to frequencies at 1 Hz and .25 V/m RMS. EM fields
clearly play a role in nerve regeneration; three mechanisms proposed
for neurite promotion by ELF fields include redistribution of cytoplasmic
material; alteration of membrane potential assymetry; and electrophoretic
redistribution of charged surface molecules in the plasma membrane.
Since there are specialized receptors in the retina to respond to VF
(visible frequency) radiation, it is possible that there may be receptors
in the brain or other parts of the nervous system that react to non-VF
EM radiation. One researcher discovered that neuronal activity near the
temporal lobe increased dramatically when the brain was exposed to low-frequency
fields of alternating intensity, but could not establish a brain area
specific to this activity. There would have to be some adaptational
significance for such a receptor, but biologists can only speculate on
the survival value of an EM receptor in humans. Another scientist considered
that such a receptor might have evolved to function in times when the
atmosphere failed to block out more harmful radiation wavelengths, and
remains as a vestigial holdover. In general, studies in this area
simply have not been done, simply because scientists do not see the evolutionary
advantage conferred by such a structure, particularly in humans.
Within radiobiology, as in any other field, there is a considerable 'fringe'
dealing with issues largely based on rumor, speculation, anecdotal evidence,
and making a spectacle of various evidence. There is little data to support
some of these wild controversies, and to be fair to their proponents, even
mentioning them to 'mainstream' radiobiologists is guaranteed to generate contention.
Such issues include several questions. Does the EM radiation of celestial bodies
such as the sun and moon influence behavior? (To many scientists this smacks
of astrology.) Do human beings have a surrounding EM field? (The so-called
Kirlian 'aura')? Has electromagnetism been used during the Cold War as a weapon
by the superpowers? (Once again, great fodder for paranoiacs and propagandists.)
These questions are definitely on the 'fringe,' but radiobiology has little
to say on them either way, for the moment.
The possibility that behavior changes might be produced by EM radiations in
the environment has led to all sorts of speculations. Many researchers have
tried to compare outbreaks of wars, societal collapses, and other mass behavioral
changes with sunspots, claiming that the changing surface of the sun results
in increased emission of RF and other wavelengths reaching Earth. It is known
that changes in the sun's output does create some biological changes, such
as in tree ring formation, but behavioral links have not been fully established.
Yet others claim that the moon may exert an influence on geomagnetism, which
in turn can affect behavior, producing 'lunacy.' Studies of asylum admissions
and homicide reports during the full moon in Dade County show, somewhat inconclusively,
that the moon may drive us to madness after all. (What is known is that there
are definite external EM zeitgiebers to many biological clocks... behavioral
influences are harder to prove.)
The question as to whether humans might have an electromagnetic sense
is also rather controversial. It does appear that people are somewhat
sensitive to the orientation of the geomagnetic field. However, dowsers
and members of geomantic societies (such as the feng-shui practicioners)
claim that humans are extremely sensitized to geomagnetism, and recently
there has been some speculation that this may be due to the presence
of an EM field surrounding the human body. The Kirlian 'aura' photgraphs
show dramatic discharges from the human body (although how much this
has to do with an intrinsic field is in dispute) and the Soviets recently
have devoted congresses to the topic of 'bioplasma,' i.e. the notion
of a human energy field. Acupuncturists claim they can identify meridians
of energy flow along the body; these may possibly correspond to the DC
current flow observed during limb regeneration, (just how much the Chinese
ch'i corresponds to Western concepts is difficult to say) and may explain
the success reported in electrifying the needles. In general, the reputableness
of this human EM-field literature is scanty.
Another area where there has been a great deal of speculation is regarding
the possibility of an electromagnetic 'Cold war' going on between the
superpowers even during apparent detente. When it was found that the
Soviets were 'zapping' the U.S. Embassy in Moscow with low-intensity
microwaves, all sorts of people started suggesting, in typical paranoid
fashion, that they might be 'beaming' ELF waves as an attempt at 'mind
control,' or at least to make life tough for the ambassadors. (In all
likelihood, it was all probably part of an ongoing 'bugging' campaign
by the Russians.) In any case, both countries do have an Electromagnetic
Warfare division, and many people do suspect that ELF-based weapons designed
to confuse, disorient, or weaken the morale of the enemy have been devised.
However, the greatest EM danger is really posed by the nuclear arsenals
of both nations: detonation of even a small aerial nuclear device could
create an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) which might disrupt telecommunications
and electronics severely.
Until more is known about just what role EM energies play in the human organism,
as to whether ELF fields pose a 'health hazard' remains unresolved. ELF fields
do clearly have biobehavioral effects, but there is a great deal of difference
between a minor, transient biological effect and a life-threatening health
hazard. Some of the changes reported - minor offset of circadian rhythms, change
in a few somatic cells - do not appear to constitute any real 'hazard.' And
those studies that indicated something more serious - influence on germ plasm,
etc. - usually involved almost impossible levels of exposure. The data seem
to suggest that the biggest danger from ELF fields is continuous, ongoing,
round-the-clock exposure. Those who probably have the most to worry about are
those who are around high-field appliances constantly (hairdryers?), electrical-related
professions (such as power line workers), VDT users (such as computer programmers),
and radar operators. Reasons for this include the fact that most of the EM
effects seem to be more connected to length of exposure than intensity.
The problem with current human behavioral studies is that it is hard to isolate
out the causes of human behavior. Is the person suffering from depression from
other causes, perhaps biochemical, or is it really only his EMF exposure which
is responsible? Also, there has not been sufficient control of exposure modalities
- how much of the body is exposed, for how long, at what amounts, at what frequency,
in what size resonance cavity, etc. Until there are more experiments done that
attempt to control these factors, the precise role of ELF fields in human behavioral
changes remains, sadly, indeterminate. But the position of this paper is to
urge such studies be done, immediately and carefully, for if health hazards
are detected, new exposure safety standards may have to be mandated. There
are clear neuronal and other biophysical alterations that could lead to behavioral
abnormalities. It is possible that some people may be more vulnerable than
others, perhaps even having a genetic predisposition to being more affected
by ambient ELF fields.
At the most extreme, we may have to witness a partial de-electrification
of our heavily EM-bathed world. Due to the fact that there is a more
clear effect noteable in the RF (radiofrequency) range, new exposure
guidelines may need to be set soon. As far as electrically generated
ELF fields, there simply is not enough research out there. But good,
controlled, human-volunteer studies with adequate controls need to be
done, over long periods of time. Then we may be able to really answer
the question of whether or not ELF fields pose a health hazard.
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