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Alternating electromagnetic fields such as those from mobile telecommunications have many seemingly unrelated effects on health, including the promotion of cancer, reductions in fertility and various brain disorders. This article explains how almost all of them may stem from a common cause; i.e. the removal of divalent ions such as calcium from cell membranes. The mechanisms are as follows.

The radiation from handsets can affect the whole body because it conducts electricity and behaves like an antenna. It absorbs the radiation and generates eddy currents that can flow beyond the site of application. When they impinge on cell membranes, they weaken them by removing structurally important calcium and other divalent ions. This makes the membranes more likely to leak, which can give many biological effects.

A theoretical mechanism is described in laypersons language that explains how weak electromagnetic fields remove calcium ions from cell membranes. It explains the seemingly weird observations that this removal is non-thermal and occurs only within specific “amplitude windows”. It also explains why low frequencies are more effective than high ones, why pulses are more potent than sine waves and why amplitude modulated and pulsed radio waves also work.

The mechanism involves the replacement of divalent ions bound to the membrane by monovalent ions (mostly potassium), which weakens it and makes it more inclined to leak. Radiation at 16Hz is particularly effective. It is the ion cyclotron resonance frequency for potassium (in the Earth’s magnetic field) and increases its chemical activity, to make it more likely to replace the bound calcium.

The leakage of digestive enzymes from lysosomes can account for the damage to cellular DNA, which occurs after prolonged exposure to mobile phone radiation. This damage can explain the increased risk of cancer and reductions in fertility found in heavy mobile phone users.

The recent increases in allergies and allergy-related conditions may also be due to membrane leakage. Our bodies are normally protected from the ingress of foreign materials by “tight junction” barriers where the gaps between the cells are sealed. They occur in the brain, skin, nose, lungs and gut. Mobile phone radiation or the chemical removal of calcium makes them more permeable to large molecules and can let in allergens, toxins and carcinogens. Increased permeability of the gut barrier has also been linked to autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, IBS and type-1 diabetes.

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) also seems to be due to membrane leakage. The symptoms following irradiation are like those of low calcium or magnesium in the blood, which supports the notion that they are due to divalent ion loss from cell membranes.

EHS sufferers have high skin conductances and strong tendencies to allergies, suggesting that they already have high membrane permeabilities so that fewer divalent ions need be removed electromagnetically to produce the symptoms. Many of the neurological symptoms of EHS are likely to be due to the radiation increasing still further the permeability of nerve cells to make them generate spurious impulses.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can be similarly linked to electromagnetic exposure. The programmed flow of calcium ions through membranes is a prerequisite for the release of the neurotransmitters that transfer signals between neurones in the brain. Unscheduled calcium leakage into these cells will increase their background calcium concentration, making them hypersensitive and more likely to transmit spurious signals. We would expect this to cloud normal mental activity, trigger random thoughts and give the loss of concentration characteristic of ADHD. Drivers using mobile phones and children in classrooms fitted with Wifi may be especially at risk.

Autism has a similar explanation. A child’s understanding of social interactions is laid down as a pattern of regularly-used connections between neurones in its brain during its first year. Under-used connections are then pruned so that the patterns become hard-wired. If these are electromagnetically disrupted prior to pruning, a distorted pattern for social interaction may become hard-wired, and give irreversible autistic disorders.

The body can defend itself against the effects of electromagnetic exposure by pumping surplus calcium out of cells, activating ornithine decarboxylase to protect nucleic acids and making heat-shock proteins to protect enzymes. However, these are expensive in resources and interfere with normal metabolism. Their long-term deployment is likely to result in fatigue and an impaired immune system leading to a lowered resistance to disease and cancer. Sources of prolonged or continuous radiation include mobile phone masts, Wifi routers, DECT phone base stations and DECT baby alarms.

Not everyone is equally affected by the radiation. This may be due to differences in blood calcium or magnesium, differences in the efficacy of their defence mechanisms, and previous exposure to electromagnetic fields, which has a sensitising effect.

The effects of pulsed irradiation may also be transmitted chemically in the blood. It affects the ion balance on colloidal particles such as those in blood, giving them the ability to remove calcium ions from surfaces. This effect is routinely used in electronic water conditioners to remove lime scale. However, the treated water has biological effects similar to direct irradiation, presumably due to its removing calcium from cell membranes. This provides another mechanism by which the effects of mobile phone irradiation can be transmitted all over the body and also calls into question the safety of water from water towers fitted with mobile phone antennas.