Scientific Research

This page describes the effects of microwave, radiofrequency radiation at exposures below the current ICNIRP guideline values.  These are non-thermal effects.  Above the ICNIRP limits, at high powers, microwaves cause heating of body tissues.  Many studies described here have looked at the exposure levels relevant to mobile phone/cordless phone use, but some have also tested the effects of Wi-Fi, or the lower powers relevant to Wi-Fi transmitters.  If the current ICNIRP guidelines were adequate, none of the studies below showing damaging biological or health effects should exist.  

This page will mention some key scientific studies, but it is not comprehensive. There is now a very extensive scientific literature on the effects of radiofrequency/microwave electromagnetic fields on humans, human tissues and cells, animal studies/tissues and cell lines. In many cases there are studies demonstrating effects and also others which have found no effect. Many more questions need to be answered. However, as the Bio-Initiative Report points out, the uncertainties should not prevent precautionary actions where it has been shown that there is the possibility of harm to human health, particularly where the involuntary exposure of children is concerned.

A special edition of the journal 'Pathophysiology', is dedicated to the biological effects of electromagnetic fields (Volume 16, Issues 2-3, pages 67-250, 2009).  The Preface by M. Blank states 'Overall the scientific evidence shows that the risk to health is significant ... We must recognize that there is a potential health problem, and that we must begin to deal responsibly as individuals and as a society'.

The International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety has published a monograph, entitled 'Non-thermal effects and mechanisms of interaction between electromagnetic fields and living matter' (European Journal of Oncology Library 5, 2010). It is available in full here.

Electromagnetic fields from Wi-Fi transmitters have been found to alter electrical activity in the human brain and decrease a measure of attention during a memory task (Papageorgiou et al., 2011; Maganioti et al., 2010).  A Wi-Fi-enabled laptop can decrease human sperm motility and fragment human DNA (Avendaño et al., 2012).  Wi-Fi signals can damage growing rat testes (Atasoy et al, 2012).  Exposure to a Wi-Fi router can increase heart rates in some people (Havas, 2010).  Many other studies have found effects at microwave exposures within the range of those experienced by users of Wi-Fi-enabled computers.  Examples can be found here.

Information on the following is described below:

1) Cell death in the brain, cognition and dementia, 2) The blood-brain barrier, 3) Epilepsy, 4) Electrical activity in the brain, 5Reproduction, 6) The hormone melatonin, 7) Genotoxicity, 8) Gene and Protein expression 9) Cancer, 10) Immune responses and 11) Stress proteins and free radicals.

For units of measure, current ICNIRP guidelines for public exposure and Wi-Fi frequencies and exposures, follow these highlighted links.  References are listed at the bottom of the page.

1) Cell death in the brain, cognition and dementia

Cell death

Salford et al. (2003) found that exposure of rats to microwaves from GSM mobile phones (0.915GHz) for 2 hours (0.24, 2.4 and 24W/m(2), producing average whole body SARs of 2, 20 and 200mW/Kg) caused significant cell death (seen as damaged dark neurones/nerve cells) in several areas of the brain.  Affected areas included the cortex, hippocampus and basal ganglia.  Some dark neurones were observed at 2mW/Kg (low SAR, peak output power of 10milliWatts (mW) x 2), but significant and maximal effects were seen at 20mW/Kg (fairly low SAR, peak output power 100mW x 2; Wi-Fi computers and routers are typically 100mW). 

Odaci et al. (2008) also found damaged dark neurones (dead cells) in the hippocampus of rat offspring following exposure of pregnant rats to 0.9GHz microwaves (see Reproduction section (5)).  Bas et al. (2009) found increased numbers of damaged dark neurones in the hippocampus of young (16 weeks) female rats following exposure to a 0.9GHz mobile phone for 1 hour/day for 28 days (SAR varied between 0.016W/Kg whole body and 2W/Kg locally in the head).  Bas et al. also found significantly decreased numbers of neurones in the hippocampus (CA regions) following microwave exposure.  These effects on young rats may be relevant to the effects of microwaves on the brains of human teenagers (Bas et al., 2009).  More studies into the effects of lower power microwaves and different exposure durations are needed.  

The hippocampus is very important for learning and memory in the brain.  Cell loss in this region is very worrying and with repeated exposure over a long time this could potentially lead to some form of cognitive impairment or dementia.  Studies such as these involving examination of brain tissue following mobile phone/low power microwave exposure cannot be carried out in humans.  In the future it may be possible to see whether high users of mobile phones or wireless technologies have altered cognitive abilities over time.  If larger areas of cell loss occur then this might be detectable by brain imaging techniques.

Zhu et al. (2008) found that 0.9GHz electromagnetic fields killed cells in rat neuronal cell cultures (cortical).  0.05mW/cm(2) power density exposure (fairly low) for 12 hours significantly increased cell death, an effect that increased further with longer durations or power densities.  Following in vivo exposure (exposing the whole animal, 0.9GHz, 2 hours (h) morning, 2h afternoon for 21 days) Zhu et al. measured DNA damage and protein changes that are often associated with a type of cell death called apoptosis (testing for TUNEL, Bcl-2 and Bax; they did not report looking for damaged dark cells). Zhu et al. found that in rats which had had a small (5mm) defect made in their skulls, microwave exposure significantly increased the markers of apoptotic cell death (but not in those without the damaged cranium).  Thus the skull may play an important role in protecting the brain from some of the damaging effects of microwaves.  People with damage to their skull from accidents/surgery, or children (where the bone is thinner), may be more at risk of cell loss in the brain. 

Cognition and dementia

Acute studies of the effects of exposure to microwaves on cognitive performance have yielded apparently conflicting results.  Maier et al. (2004) found that 50 minutes exposure to a mobile phone in humans (0.9GHz, 0.001W/m(2) - very low) resulted in significant cognitive impairment in an auditory discrimination task in 81% of participants.  Eliyahu et al. (2006) found that maximum strength mobile phone exposure for 1h (0.89GHz, humans) to the left side of the brain slowed down left-hand response time.  Many other studies have found no effect of mobile phone exposure or UMTS base station signals on cognitive measures (summarised Lai, 2007a, examples include Riddervold et al., 2008; Krause et al., 2007; Cinel et al., 2007; Terao et al., 2007, Haarala et al.,2007).  Many studies have shown improvements in performance of cognitive tests following acute exposure to mobile phone signals (summarised Lai, 2007a, examples include Curcio et al., 2004; Smythe and Costall, 2003; Lee et al., 2003; Edelstyn and Oldershaw, 2002).

Fewer groups have tested the effects of chronic (over a long time) exposure to microwave electromagnetic fields (EMFs).  Cao et al. (2000) carried out psychological tests on regular mobile phone users (and therefore chronic exposure) compared to non-users.  They found that the average reaction time was significantly longer in the user group.  Besset et al. (2005) tested the effects of exposure to a mobile phone (0.9GHz) for 2 hours/day, 5 days a week for 27 days, in humans.  They found that daily mobile phone exposure had no effect on a range of cognitive tests, after a 13h rest period.  However in rats, Nittby et al. (2008a) found that exposure of rats to a mobile phone for only 2h/week for 55 weeks (0.9GHz, whole body SAR 0.6 and 60mW/Kg - very low and low SAR) resulted in significantly impaired memory functions (both 0.6 and 60mW/Kg).  Li et al., (2008) have also found that chronic exposure of rats to microwaves (2.45GHz, 10W/m(2), 3h/day for 30 days) produced significant deficits in spatial learning and memory performance.  Controlled chronic exposure studies are more difficult to perform in humans as most people are exposed to some level of pulsed microwaves from mobile phones, base stations or other wireless technologies.  Nevertheless, further investigations into the effects of chronic exposure to wireless technologies on cognitive function in humans are needed.

Arendash et al (2010) tested the effects of 0.9GHz unmodulated microwaves on a range of cognitive tests in a transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer's disease.  The transgenic mice were AβPPsw, which model some of the characteristics of Alzheimer's disease, by exhibiting amyloid-beta deposits and behavioural deficits with age.  Arendash et al. found that the transgenic mice and normal mice exposed to the microwaves performed better in several cognitive tests, and had reduced brain amyloid-β deposition (2 x 1 hour whole body exposures/day, 0.25W/Kg, from 2 months old to 9.5 months or from 5 months to 13 months old).  They also reported that the microwave exposures reversed some of the cognitive decline in the old mice.  This study raises the possibility that unmodulated microwaves (mobile phones use modulated signals) could have beneficial effects in Alzheimer's disease.  The paper does imply in the introduction and discussion that there are no studies which demonstrate a detrimental effect of mobile phones or microwaves on cognition.  Referees should have picked up on this, and suggested that the authors mention some of the following papers: Fragopoulou et al., 2009; Narayanan et al, 2009; Li et al., 2008; Nittby et al., 2008; Maier et al., 2004; Eliyahu et al., 2006; Cao et al., 2000.

Also in mice, Fragopoulou et al., 2009 found that exposure for approximately 2 hours /day to a mobile phone (0.9GHz GSM modulated mobile phone; 23-36V/m, 0.41-0.98W/Kg whole body exposure) for four days resulted in cognitive deficits in the Morris water maze, a test of spatial learning and memory.  Exposed mice were less able to transfer learned information to the next day, and had deficits in consolidation and/or retrieval of the learned information.

2The blood-brain barrier

Many studies have investigated the effect of microwaves on the permeability of the blood-brain barrier (BBB).  The BBB is a hydrophobic barrier which prevents large hydrophilic molecules in the blood from entering the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).  An intact BBB protects the brain from damage, whereas a dysfunctioning BBB allows influx of normally excluded molecules into the brain.  This could cause increased oedema (swelling), intracranial pressure or even brain damage (Nittby et al., 2008b).  Potentially, there could be increased central nervous system side effects from some medicines which do not normally cross the BBB.

Studies into the effects of microwaves on the BBB are reviewed by Nittby et al. (2008b) and Lai (1994).  There are many reports of increased permeability of the BBB by microwaves, and also many showing no effect (all animal studies).  High power exposures which also involve heating of body tissue do in many cases, although not all, increase the permeability of the BBB.  At slightly lower exposures close to ICNIRP guidelines (relevant for mobile phones), some studies have found increased BBB permeability in response to microwaves, and others have found no effect (Nittby et al., 2008b).

One group have tested very low non-thermal exposures in rats (0.2mW/Kg-0.2W/Kg whole body SARs; Persson et al., 1997; Salford et al., 2003; Eberhardt et al., 2008).  They found that exposure of rats to 0.915GHz pulse-modulated signals (mainly 2 hour exposures) led to increases in albumin (fairly large blood plasma protein) entering the brain.  Interestingly they found that the very low SARs 0.4-8mW/Kg had the greatest effect (Persson et al., 1997).  1.7-8.3W/Kg SAR (close to threshold for thermal effects) pulsed exposure had no significant effect on albumin measured.  These 'window' effects are not uncommon in biology and may reflect other mechanisms coming into play at the higher exposures (similar to the effects of some drugs/medicines on the body decreasing at higher doses, as illustrated by bell-shaped dose-response curves).  Salford et al., propose that the significant increase in albumin entering the brain may be related to the neuronal damage detected (Salford et al., 2003).  Other unwanted molecules may also leak into the brain along with the albumin.  These results suggest that low power pulsed microwave exposure could have a more damaging effect via the BBB than higher powers.  The study also demonstrates that a 'no effect found' at higher exposures does not necessarily mean that no response would be found at lower powers.   

3) Epilepsy

Lopez-Martin et al. (2006) tested the effects of a 2h exposure of GSM-modulated 0.9GHz radiation (head SARs of 0.27W/Kg - fairly low) in a model of seizure-proneness in rats. Rats treated with a subconvulsive dose of picrotoxin (a GABA antagonist) are more prone to seizures.  In animals treated with picrotoxin but not irradiated, or those irradiated but not treated with picrotoxin, no seizures were seen.  Picrotoxin-treated animals exposed to the microwaves exhibited myoclonic jerks followed by seizures.  Histology of the brains afterwards to test for c-fos (marker of brain activity) was in agreement with increased brain activity for the picrotoxin-irradiated group.  Thus, low power microwaves induced seizures in these seizure-prone rats.

Erdinc et al. (2003) tested the effects of microwaves on seizures in mice.  Mice were exposed to extremely low power microwaves 0.9GHz (0.25mW) followed by treatment with pentylenetetrazole (PTZ, also blocks GABA) to induce seizures.  They found that the microwaves (20 hour exposure) significantly decreased the time to the first seizure in prepubertal mice but not adult mice.  The power of the radiation is extremely low (0.25mW, 400 times lower than that used in Wi-Fi computers and routers, as stated by the Health Protection Agency (100mW; HPA, 2008).

In humans, GSM phone signals have been tested for their effects on brain activity (measured by EEG, electroencephalogram) in subjects with temporal lobe epilepsy (Maby et al., 2006).  Exposure to a GSM signal (power stated as maximal but no value given) showed very different changes in the EEG of those with epilepsy compared to healthy subjects.  Those with epilepsy had a significant increase in EEG signal energy, whilst those of healthy individuals had a significant decrease of the EEG signal energy in the presence of a GSM signal.  This supports the idea that mobile phone signals increase the brain activity in epilepsy patients.  Studies are needed to test whether exposure of children (prepubertal) or adults with epilepsy to wireless technologies increases the number of seizures experienced.  Research is also needed to see whether there is an increase in the number of children experiencing seizures or developing epilepsy in wireless environments.

4) Electrical activity in the brain

See 'Health Issues for Schools'.     

5) Reproduction

Male Fertility

Exposure of human sperm in vitro (outside of the body) to a mobile phone for 5 minutes significantly decreased sperm motility (Erogul et al., 2006: 5 minutes, 0.9GHz GSM, average power density 0.2W/m(2), fairly low).  Agarwal et al. (2009) also found that exposure to a mobile phone in vitro decreased human sperm motility, as well as decreasing viability and increasing oxidative stress (reactive oxygen species, which include free radicals; 1 hour, 0.85GHz GSM, 1 - 40μW/cm(2), 0.01 - 0.4W/m(2), fairly low).  Falzone et al. (2008) found no significant change in sperm motility in vitro when samples had been washed, only mature sperm included and leukocytes excluded (human, 1 hour, 0.9GHz GSM, 2.0 or 5.7W/Kg, fairly high SAR).  The decreases in motility are in agreement with comparisons of sperm from men with different histories of mobile phone exposure.  Sperm motility decreased with increasing duration of possessing a mobile phone and daily use (Fejes et al., 2005).  Agarwal et al. (2008) found that as the duration of daily exposure to cell phones increased, the sperm count, motility, viability and normal morphology decreased.  Wdowiak et al. (2007) also found an increase in abnormal morphology of sperm cells with mobile phone use.  Fifty five percent of non-users had the normal number of sperm with proper morphology.  This dropped to 16% for those who often used mobile phones.

Detrimental effects on male fertility have also been demonstrated at similar electrical field strengths to those experienced by users of wireless computers or from the beam of greatest intensity of some mobile phone masts.  In rabbits, mobile phone exposure in standby mode (0.9GHz GSM, 8h/day, 09.00-17.00, for 12 weeks, average 2.92V/m highest exposure, 0.487V/m lowest exposure) significantly decreased semen fructose concentrations as well as sperm motility after 10 weeks exposure to low power microwaves (Salama et al., 2009).  The time delay approximately corresponds to the time taken for sperm to develop (several seminiferous epithelium cycles, see diagram of human cycle, Amann, 2008).  Kesari and Behari (2009) exposed rats to very low microwave exposures (0.86μW/cm(2), 8.6mW/m(2) power density (current ICNIRP safety guidelines for this frequency are 1000μW/cm(2))).  They tested 50GHz exposures for 2 hours a day for 45 days.  They found that in sperm samples taken from exposed animals the antioxidant enzyme activity was significantly altered (glutathione peroxidase and superoxide dismutase decreased and CAT increased), sperm cell death (apoptosis) was significantly increased, histone kinase activity and number of cells in S and G2M cell cycle phases decreased.  The authors propose that the changes observed may be related to overproduction of reactive oxygen species.  Kesari and Behari have previously found similar changes in antioxidant enzyme activity in rat sperm following exposure to 0.9GHz radiation.  Desai et al. (2009) also suggest that an increase in oxidative stress might be responsible for the decline in sperm motility and viability and discuss other possible pathways by which microwaves may be altering cells and proteins. 

Reactive oxygen species (ROS) are produced continuously by sperm, and are neutralized by antioxidants or antioxidant enzymes.  A state of oxidative stress occurs when ROS production exceeds the capacity of the antioxidants and antioxidant enzymes to reduce them (Agarwal et al., 2008b).

Microwave exposures that many people find themselves living and working in have also been found to significantly increase the percentage of sperm head abnormalities. Otitoloju et al. (2009) found that after exposure of mice for 6 months to 0.49V/m or 0.63V/m microwave fields from mobile phone masts, 40% and 46% of sperm, respectively, had abnormal morphology (shape).  In 'unexposed' animals (0.06V/m) the abnormal sperm made up 2%.  Chronic exposures at low intensity microwave fields have been found to decrease sperm count, motility, increase abnormal sperm morphology and increase oxidative stress in animals (Salama et al., 2008; Kesari and Behari, 2009; Otitoloju et al., 2009).  Given the number of people around the world now living and working in these low strength microwave fields, such studies are of great importance and further investigations are needed.  Fertility studies in humans would require continuous monitoring of microwave exposures over several months with a body-worn monitor.  

Mice exposed to intermittent mobile phone radiation (0.9GHz, 0.09W/Kg 12h/day) for one week showed damage to sperm DNA (mitochondrial DNA and the nuclear beta-globulin locus; DNA - deoxyribonucleic acids; mitochondria - generate most of the cell's energy supply along with other functions; beta-globulin locus - this is composed of five genes located on chromosome 11, responsible for creating part of haemoglobin; Aitken et al., 2005).  De Iuliis et al. (2009) found damage to human sperm DNA following in vitro exposure to a mobile phone for 16 hours (1.8GHz, 0.4 - 27.5 W/Kg SAR, fairly high).  At 1W/Kg and above they found a significant increase in reactive oxygen species.  At 2.8W/Kg and above there was a significant increase in DNA oxidative damage (measured by 8-OH-dG) and DNA strand breaks/DNA fragmentation (TUNEL assay).  The increase in free radicals and DNA oxidative damage was highly correlated with the DNA fragmentation.

Fragmentation of DNA in the male germline has been associated with impaired fertilization, poor embryonic development, high rates of miscarriage and an increased incidence of morbidity in the offspring, including childhood cancer (De Iuliis et al., 2009).  Further studies are needed to test whether exposure to Wi-Fi or other lower power microwave fields (including long term exposures) could damage human sperm DNA.  Most genotoxicity studies have concentrated on higher microwave exposures (see Genotoxicity section below).  But if low power microwaves can increase reactive oxygen species or decrease antioxidant enzyme activity then via these actions they could possibly also damage the DNA.

Working in a Wi-Fi-enabled school, office of other work environment could have an adverse effect on human male fertility.  From an environmental point of view, animal (as well as human) reproductive health could be affected by Wi-Fi or WiMAX-enabled regions/cities.

Pregnancy and female fertility

Divan et al. (2008) found an association between mobile phone use during pregnancy (and after pregnancy) and an increased occurrence of behavioural problems in children (age 7, over 100 000 pregnancies included).  Overall behavioural problems, emotional, conduct, hyperactivity and peer problems were assessed.  There were increased numbers of children with problems in each category following prenatal exposure to mobile phones (adjusted odds ratio, OR, for overall increased risk was 1.58).  The risk increased further with both pre- and postnatal exposure (OR 1.8).  This association is not necessarily causal, but if it is it has health implications for the use of mobile phones and possibly other wireless technologies by pregnant mothers and young children.

Rezk et al. (2008) found that exposure to a mobile phone (10 minutes, dialing mode) during pregnancy and after birth significantly increased fetal and neonatal heart rate and significantly decreased stroke volume and cardiac output (amount of blood being pumped by the heart).  The changes decreased with increasing gestational age.  Celik and Hascalik (2004) found no effect of exposure to a mobile phone (5 minutes, dialing mode) on fetal heart rate at around 40 weeks gestation.  Some studies have found that mobile phone use or exposure to microwaves is a risk factor for miscarriages (Liu et al., 2007; Ouellet-Hellstrom and Stewart, 1993).

Many studies have tested the effects of high power microwaves on pregnancy in animals, but few have used low powers. One study testing very low power mobile phone-like radiation in rats (9.4GHz, 5μW/cm(2), 0.5mW/Kg SAR) found altered gene expression (involved in kidney development) during early gestation (Pyrpasopoulou et al., 2004).

Exposure of pregnant rats to a mobile phone in talk mode for 1 hour per day throughout pregnancy resulted in significantly fewer neurones (nerve cells) in a region of the brain involved in learning and memory in the offspring (0.9GHz, 1mW/cm(2) or 10W/m(2), granule cells of the dentate gyrus in the hippocampus, measured at 4 weeks old, Odaci et al., 2008).  There were also many damaged 'dark neurones', or dead cells, in the exposed brains which were not seen in the unexposed.  These may result in neurobiological or behavioural defects in the offspring.  Further studies are needed to test whether low power microwave exposures also alter brain development in this or other regions of the brain.

Gul et al. (2009) exposed pregnant rats to a mobile phone in standby mode for 11 hours and 45 minutes, and in speech mode for 15 minutes, every 12h during the pregnancy (number of days or exposures not stated).  They found that in the female offspring at 21 days after birth there were significantly fewer follicles (average of 30% fewer) in their ovaries than in the rats who had not been exposed during development.  The follicles are the units in the ovaries that develop and release an egg each oestrous cycle (equivalent of the menstrual cycle).  They conclude that mobile phone microwaves have a toxic effect on rat ovaries.  There were also significantly fewer pups born to exposed mothers than to unexposed.  If a similar decrease was found in the number of ovarian follicles in human females whose mothers had been exposed to mobile phones in standby mode (or possibly Wi-Fi), with 30minutes of mobile phone exposure a day, it might be expected to bring forward the onset of the menopause for these women.  A 30% decrease in the number of eggs that human females are born with would greatly influence the age at which women would need to have their children by, if conceiving naturally.  It would be interesting to investigate whether it was the mobile phone in standby for 11h and 45min that contributed to the effect seen (phones in standby decrease male fertility) or the 15 minutes of the phone being in speech mode, every 12 hours.

Nakamura et al. (2000: 2.45GHz 20W/m(2); 2003: 0.915GHz 6W/m(2)) found that continuous microwaves (90min) reduced uteroplacental blood flow in rats.  20W/m(2) also produced ovarian and placental dysfunction during pregnancy.  These effects were initially described as non-thermal (2000), but were later thought to be thermally mediated (2003).  The exposures used in Nakamura et al.'s study are higher than those used in Wi-Fi but may be relevant for mobile phones held near the abdomen.

6) The hormone melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone synthesised and released by the pineal gland in the brain, predominantly at night.  Melatonin is also produced by the retina in the eye, gastrointestinal (GI) tract, skin and bone marrow (Pandi-Perumal et al., 2008).

Exposure to mobile phones (>25 minutes/day, mean average 34 minutes/day, for 13 days) was associated with significantly decreased nocturnal concentrations of the hormone melatonin in adults (34% decrease, measured by metabolite in urine, humans, Burch et al., 2002).  Jarupat et al. (2003) also found significantly decreased melatonin (36% decrease, measured by melatonin in the saliva, 02.00h) following 30 minutes continuous use of a mobile phone every hour from 17.00-01.00h (1.96GHz, 2.5mW/cm(2), humans).  Subjects on the Jarupat et al. study had not used mobile phones for one week prior to the study.  Wood et al. (2006) found significantly reduced normalised melatonin concentrations immediately following 30 minutes of digital mobile phone exposure in the evening (27% decrease, 0.895GHz GSM, 0.25W average power, measured by metabolite in the urine, humans).  The decrease was mainly due to a subset which responded more (mean 76% decrease) than the rest of the group.  Subjects in the Wood et al. study were only asked not to use mobile phones after 20.00h on the test nights, so prior exposure was not controlled. 

Some groups have found no effect of mobile phones on nocturnal melatonin concentrations in humans: Mann et al. (1998, 8 hour exposure to mobile phone during the night, 0.9GHz 0.02mW/cm(2), measured by blood samples), de Seze et al. (1999, 2 hour exposures in afternoon, 5 days/week for four weeks, 0.9GHz GSM maximum power 2W, or 1.8GHz DCS maximum power 1W, measured by blood samples), Radon et al. (2001, there was a small decrease in day and night-time melatonin concentrations following exposure during the day, but this was not significant, 0.9GHz GSM 1W/m(2), 4 hour exposure in day-time or at night-time, measured by melatonin in the saliva). 

It is interesting that the subset of responders in the Wood et al. study had higher melatonin metabolite concentrations than the non-responders.  The night-time melatonin concentrations (un-exposed to microwaves) in the Jarupat et al. study (which found decreased melatonin) had melatonin concentrations nearly double those observed in the Radon et al. study (no decrease in melatonin).  Some people appear to respond to microwaves more than others.  This may be connected to their pre-exposure melatonin concentrations, or previous exposure to other environmental factors which decrease melatonin.

Melatonin has many important functions.  It conveys time-of-day and length-of-day information to the body.  It regulates the timing of the biological clock in the brain, and thus those functions which vary over a 24 hour period such as sleepiness and body temperature.  Melatonin is involved in the timing of the onset of puberty (see Health Issues for Schools), sleep initiation, control of blood pressure, regulation of immune responses, and is a powerful antioxidant.  Decreases in melatonin have been linked with breast cancer (reviewed Davanipour and Sobel, 2007; Sage, 2007), and found in colorectal cancer and endometrial cancer.  Melatonin inhibits the growth of cancer cells (breast cancer, ovarian cancer, cancer of the colon, liver cancer, melanoma skin cancer, uveal melanoma (the eye) and prostate cancer (reviewed by Pandi-Perumal et al., 2008).  Decreases in melatonin may  be related to the development of Alzheimer's disease (reviewed Davanipour and Sobel, 2007), have been linked with sleep disorders in the elderly, precocious puberty, coronary heart disease and hypertension (Pandi-Perumal et al., 2008).  Melatonin also protects the body from some effects of microwave exposure (Sokolovic et al., 2008; Koylu et al., 2006; Ozguner et al., 2006; Yariktas et al., 2005; Lai and Singh, 1997).

Due to the importance of melatonin's actions within the body, it is certainly not desirable from a health perspective for a person's environment to significantly decrease their melatonin concentrations for prolonged periods of time.  Studies are needed to test whether (chronic) day or night-time exposure to Wi-Fi or similar lower powered microwaves decrease melatonin concentrations in some people.  These studies would need to very carefully control for other sources of microwaves and environmental stimuli that can decrease melatonin concentrations. 

7) Genotoxicity

Damage to the genetic information in cells (genotoxicity) has been detected following exposure to mobile phones and microwaves (both exposure of cells or of the whole person/animal).  DNA, which is organised into chromosomes, provides the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of cells.  Genotoxicity can lead to a change in cellular functions, cancer, or cell death (Lai, 2007b).  When broken, DNA can rejoin, but not necessarily in the same position as before.  The review by Lai (2007b, Bio-initiative report) describes many studies reporting DNA damage (single or double strand DNA breaks), changes in chromosomal conformation, and the formation of micronuclei following microwave exposure.  Micronuclei are small nuclei which form when a chromosome or chromosome fragment is not incorporated into one of the daughter nuclei during cell division.  But the review also describes many studies which have found no effect of microwave exposure on DNA, chromosomes or micronuclei formation.

Microwaves appear to be genotoxic only in certain circumstances.  More needs to be understood about why some studies have found effects and others have not.

Most studies have tested microwave exposures of 0.3W/Kg or higher. 

Examples of DNA damage, micronuclei or chromosomal aberrations were found in human fibroblasts, human lymphocytes, human leukocytes, human lens epithelial cells, human Molt-4 leukemia cells, rat granulosa cells, rat and mouse brain cells, Chinese hamster ovary cells, mouse embryonic stem cells, mouse sperm, rat and cow erythrocytes and E. coli bacteria (reviewed Lai, 2007b, also Garaj-Vrhovac and Orescanin (2008)).

Examples showing no effect include studies on human fibroblasts from fetal lungs, human lymphocytes, human leukocytes, human trophoblast cell line, human Molt-4 leukemia cells, rat or mouse brain cells, rat and mouse erythrocytes, mouse fibroblasts, mouse leukemia cells, and bacteria (reviewed Lai 2007b, also Valbonesi et al., 2008; Zeni et al., 2008). 

Microwave exposure of human blood lymphocyte cells (0.83GHz, 2.6W/Kg and higher, 72h) resulted in changes in the number of chromosomes (aneuploidy; Mashevic et al., 2003). Aneuploidy is a mutation which can lead to genomic instability and thereby cancer (Mashevic et al., 2003).  Whilst this was found at fairly high exposures, heating did not have the same effect.

Less information is available about the effects of lower power microwave exposures on DNA or chromosomes.  Aitken et al. (2005) found damage to mouse sperm mitochondrial DNA at 0.09W/Kg (0.9GHz, see Male fertility).  Philips et al. (1998) found 0.024W/Kg (0.813GHz, iDEN) significantly increased single-strand DNA breaks in human Molt-4 leukemia cells (but other SARs produced decreases in DNA damage).  Beltaev (2005) found that exposure to 0.037W/Kg (0.915GHz GSM) in humans altered chromosome conformation in lymphocytes.  In contrast, Vijayalaximi et al. (2003) found no effect of 0.16W/Kg head SAR (2h/day, 5d/week over 2 years) on micronuclei in rat erythrocytes.  Hook et al. (2004) found no effect of 0.0024W/Kg (0.835GHz, iDEN) or 0.0026W/KG (TDMA) on DNA damage in Molt-4 cells. More studies need to test the effects of low power microwaves in order to better understand whether Wi-Fi exposure could be genotoxic.

8) Gene and protein expression

Information can be found in the Bio-Initiative Report, section 5 (2007).

9) Cancer

Whether mobile phone use (or exposure to other wireless technologies) causes cancer is of great public interest and the subject of ongoing scientific debate.

Many investigations into the use of mobile phones and cancer risk have looked at short-term use (less than 10 years).  The majority of these studies have found no significant increased risk of cancer (reviewed by Hardell et al., 2007a).  When a latency of 10 years or more was investigated, most studies (8 out of 11) found a significantly increased risk on the same side of the head as phone use (ipsilateral; opposite side is contralateral).  A meta-analysis (data pooled from several studies) found significantly increased risk of acoustic neuroma and glioma (Hardell et al., 2007b; Lonn et al., 2004; Christensen et al., 2004; Schoemaker et al., 2005; Hardell et al., 2006a; Hepworth et al., 2006; Schuz et al., 2006; Hardell et al., 2006b; Lahkola et al., 2007; Hardell et al., 2001; Lonn et al., 2005; Christensen et al., 2005).  Acoustic neuromas are tumours that start in the  nerves involved in hearing and balance (8th cranial nerve; Cancer Research UK).  Gliomas are cancers that start in glial cells in the brain or spinal cord, and account for about half of primary brain tumours (Cancer Research UK).  Odds ratios, or OR, are a measure of effect; 1 means no effect and greater than 1 indicates an increased risk.  For acoustic neuroma the meta-analysis for ipsilateral use gave an OR of 2.4, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.1-5.3.  For glioma the OR for ipsilateral use was 2.0, 95% CI 1.2-3.4.  Hardell et al. (2006) also found increased risks from DECT cordless phone use.  For the risk of malignant brain tumours with ipsilateral use of a cordless phone the ORs were 1.7, 95% CI 1.3-2.2.  Of concern is that Hardell et al. (2006) found that the highest risks (malignant brain tumour) were for those who started using a phone under the age of 20.  For digital mobile phones the OR was 3.7, 95% CI 1.5-9.1 and for cordless phones OR was 2.1, 95% CI 0.97-4.6 (both sides of the head; > 1 year latency; but based on fairly low numbers). 

Cancers can have long latency periods (Hardell et al., 2007a).  For smoking, lung cancer rates increase after 20-30 years of exposure to smoking (Cancer Research UK).  Long time periods are necessary to determine whether mobile phone use can lead to cancer.  It is also important that studies control as much as is possible for exposure to other microwaves such as DECT cordless phones, Wi-Fi etc.

Since mobile phone use is associated with significantly increased risk of cancer in some studies, it is not unreasonable to suppose that there is the possibility of Wi-Fi or other lower power wireless technologies also posing a risk over time.  Depending on the power used by phones, speaking or listening modes, applications used with Wi-Fi etc, the difference in electrical field strengths from the use of mobile phones or Wi-Fi could range from being similar to several 100-fold lower for Wi-Fi.  Wireless computers may be used for longer periods of time than phones, and are likely to be used by children.  Studies are needed to ensure that long-term exposure to Wi-Fi and similar technologies does not increase cancer risk.

If society allows the ubiquitous siting of mobile phone base stations, Wi-Fi throughout all schools, Wi-Fi or WiMAX throughout public spaces, then carrying out controlled long-term studies into cancer risks from low power microwaves becomes difficult.  Individuals with low exposures are needed for comparison to those exposed.

10) Immune responses

Some information can be found in the Bio-Initiative report, section 8 (2007) and in Johansson 2009.    

11) Stress protiens and free radicals

Some information can be found in the Bio-Initiative report, section 7 (2007).

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