Friday, March 28, 2014
Last updated 10:10 29/03/2014
After thousands of studies, the most that experts worldwide can determine is the radiation used for wi-fi networks, digital devices, cordless phones and cell phones is a "possible" cause of cancer. With such uncertainty, OLIVIA WANNAN asks if we are using this technology with enough caution.
As in many countries around the world, the debate about long- wave radiation has come to a head in New Zealand through the recent introduction of wi-fi networks in schools.
The energy waves have been harnessed for more than a century to bring radio and television to our home, track objects by radar, microwave our food, and connect us through texts, phone calls and the internet.
Yet the World Health Organisation lists this radiation as a "possible" cause of cancer, based on research showing a link between heavy cellphone use and an increased risk of developing brain tumours.
Kapiti Coast parent Damon Wyman is a vocal advocate for caution. He became aware of the possible health effects of wireless technology after losing his son Ethan, 10, to cancer last August.
Ethan died 11 months after being diagnosed with two brain tumours. Three months earlier, he had been given a wi-fi connected iPad.
His parents later discovered he had been falling asleep with the device under his pillow.
Even though it was on standby, it was still emitting bursts of radiation as it tried to connect to the router, Mr Wyman said.
Doctors who saw Ethan said the tumours appeared to be about four months old, Mr Wyman said. "We're not saying that caused it, but it seems like a bit of a coincidence."
Children were rarely exposed to most of the other potential cancer- causing agents such as coffee and lead, Mr Wyman said.
Until recently, parents could limit exposure to the energy waves, deciding what age their child received a cellphone or digital device and setting restrictions on their use. But new bring-your-own-device initiatives introducing wireless networks running all day in school classrooms had suddenly taken away that control.
"Schools have to be neutral. They have to have a safe environment," he said.
Mr Wyman has campaigned to have the technology turned off in the junior classrooms at Te Horo School. The board of trustees decided to switch it off after surveying parents, who were concerned about the possible health effects.
This month the Government reiterated its belief that wi-fi in schools was safe, backed by the result of a study at Te Horo School and one in Canterbury.
Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew said the study confirmed wi-fi in schools was not a health risk to pupils or staff, with exposures thousands of times lower than recommended levels.
Mr Wyman remains sceptical.
He said many parents falsely believed a classroom's wi-fi station emitted no more radiation than an at-home router. But new school wi- fi systems were "industrial- grade", emitting a lot more than a residential version. Professional measurements of the classroom's wi-fi station at Te Horo School showed similar radiation levels to those of some commercial cellphone network towers.
"This goes way beyond what a child would see normally."
Mr Wyman obtained the figures from measurements taken by radiation expert and Ministry of Health adviser Martin Gledhill.
The ministry called in Mr Gledhill to assess the levels of radiation in Te Horo School classrooms with wi-fi after the board switched it off. He disagreed that school systems emitted significantly more radiation than at-home routers. "There might be some variation, but it's not going to be hugely different.
"What they're getting at home and what they might get at school is a bit of a red herring. Really, what's important is where it sits with what's considered a safe limit." Mr Gledhill said the radiation emissions in the classroom were, at the most, still 250 times less than the maximum New Zealand safety limits allowed.
The wi-fi base station and the electronic devices also communicated in pulses, so averaged out over time, overall radiation was even lower, he said.
Mr Gledhill, a physical sciences expert, is the Health Ministry's only expert spokesman on the safety of the emissions. Requests from The Dominion Post to the ministry to additionally speak to a specialist with a background in biology were unsuccessful.
Mr Gledhill said the maximum safety levels prescribed in New Zealand were set in 1999, based on guidelines established by an international panel of experts. Many nations took their guidance from the same group, including Australia and Britain. Nothing since has moved the panel to make any new recommendations.
"The only effect that showed up with any consistency was the effects of heat stress and the limit was set based on that.
"You get people who say it ignores all sort of other [health] effects, but an awful lot of work has gone on for the last 30 years looking for effects at exposure levels much lower . . . but nothing has shown up with any clarity."
Britain's Health Protection Agency echoed this when it looked at studies up until 2010, noting "findings still remain divergent with no obvious reason as to why some researchers find effects and others do not".
Yet a biologist specialising in radiation spoken to by The Dominion Post last year said things were becoming a little more clear cut at the cellular level.
"Of late there has been more evidence there are certain changes in the biochemistry within cells and tissues exposed to radio frequencies [long-wave radiation]," said Sophie Walker of the Institute of Environmental Science and Research.
"It's quite a new area really in terms of science. And translating those changes in the biochemistry through to experienced short-term changes is a difficult link to make - one that will be made with more work."
Dr Walker said conclusive evidence on radiation's risks and safety was still years away.
"[The radiation] has only been used in the wider population for the last 30 years so true long-term studies are still under way."
She provided twice-yearly reports to the Health Ministry on the latest scientific findings. A spokesman for the Crown research institute said Dr Walker was unable to comment for this article, citing the institute's contractual obligations to the Health Ministry.
The uncertainty around the radiation's effect should mean we treat the technologies using it with kid gloves rather than abandon, Monash University radiation researcher Mary Redmayne said.
The Melbourne-based scientist said there was not enough research for us to know what a safe level of exposure was.
"The research has looked at a narrow range of possible problems," she said. "For instance, I'm going to set up a breast cancer study. There hasn't been a breast cancer study - no- one's considered that."
Many studies have focused on the technology's link with brain cancers and leukemia in children, and DNA damage in sperm.
Dr Redmayne has studied the effect of long-wave radiation, particularly on the young.
She said young people have thinner skulls, and the brain's protective defences - a protein that covers nerve cells called myelin - were only fully developed in middle age. This combination meant children's brains were poorly insulated from outside interference, such as radiation.
Their bodies also grew more new cells than adults. The damage that led to cancer happened more commonly as cells were divided into new ones. "This pulsed radiation is very new to mankind, very recent. There really hasn't been time to know for sure how much effect it has."
However, the ministry remained certain of its policies, based on the advice of experts such as Mr Gledhill and backed up by a broad international consensus, environmental health manager Sally Gilbert said.
"The internationally recommended values for maximum exposure for radio- frequency [radiation] and electromagnetic fields provide good protection against harm."
When it came to wi-fi in schools, the Education Ministry was confident it was safe, based on Mr Gledhill's report on Te Horo School and advice from health officials, Education deputy secretary Andrew Hampton said.
The ministry would continue to monitor international developments, and allow school boards to make their own decisions on installing wireless technology.
While Mr Wyman might wish for moves like those in the German state of Bavaria, which promotes the use of wired internet networks in schools, he is a pragmatist.
He would like to see policies minimising children's exposure in schools until the data became more conclusive. Rules requiring teachers to switching off wi-fi bases when not in use, asking their pupils to use flight mode on their devices, and encouraging them to place electronics on desks rather than on their laps could all significantly reduce exposure.
Many education providers already have policies to minimise pupils' exposure to a similar type of radiation, ultraviolet light, Mr Wyman said.
Even the chance that wi-fi technology was dangerous should be enough to have such initiatives.
"Who bears the risk until this is known? Let's take the precautionary principle and reduce exposure as much as possible."
CUT BACK ON YOUR EXPOSURE
MOBILES AND DEVICES
Before buying a cellphone or internet-capable device, check out its SAR (specific absorption rate) rating - though in New Zealand you'll likely have to go online for this information. The SAR measures how much the device's emissions are absorbed by the body. Lower ratings indicate lower absorption.
Ensure your mobile has flight mode and use this as often as you can, including overnight, and when carrying it close to your body.
For long computing tasks, select a wired desktop or plugged-in laptop, rather than a wireless tablet.
Avoid holding a laptop or device on your lap or stomach - use a table instead, unless it's in flight mode.
When you can, choose a text over a call. Keep phone calls to a minimum or use a hands-free kit.
Keep calls to a minimum where reception is bad - when a mobile is far from a cell tower, it has to boost its signal to connect.
Choose a wired mouse and keyboard.
If possible, choose cordless devices, or purchase one with speaker-phone capabilities.
Keep the main transmitting base of the cordless phone away from bedrooms and desks.
Keep calls short.
When installing a transmitting unit, ask for it to be put up high, such as on the wall or a shelf, away from bedrooms or where people sit.
Only turn the system on when you're using it. Make sure the router is turned off overnight, especially.
Choose software on a laptop rather than cloud-computing technology such as Google Docs, if you're using wi-fi. Typing in a Google Docs word processing means a wi-fi signal is sent with every single keystroke.
Thursday, March 27, 2014
'Smart meters' pose no health risk, Maine regulators say
The preliminary finding deals a blow to activists who say the technology harms humans. They have until April 11 to appeal the report.
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Is cell phone radiation a risk factor for female infertility?
Although we have considerable evidence that cell phone radiation damages sperm and is associated with male infertility, little attention has been paid to studying the effects of cell phone radiation on female infertility.*
A newly published study by Courtney Lynch and her colleagues found for women trying to get pregnant that stress as measured by the alpha-amylase levels in their saliva predicted whether they were successful. The researchers found that women with the highest levels of this enzyme in their saliva had a 29 percent lower probability of pregnancy compared to those with the lowest levels.
Although this study did not examine EMF exposure, earlier research published by Christoph Augner and his colleagues found that people who lived within 100 meters of cell phone towers had greater salivary alpha-amylase levels. In an experimental study, the researchers found that exposure to higher levels of GSM cell tower radiation increased the levels of this salivary enzyme.
In a 2013 review paper, Nazıroğlu and colleagues examined research on the effects of Wi-Fi and mobile phone radiation on reproductive signaling pathways. They reported that this radiation is related to "oxidative stress and overproduction of free oxygen radicals in female and male infertility." The authors concluded that "the role of EMR from mobile phones and wireless devices in female and male fertility should be investigated."
The news story and study abstracts appear below.
Stress May Diminish a Woman's Fertility, Study Suggests
First U.S. review to show a possible link between stress and how long it takes to get pregnant
Mary Brophy Marcus, HealthDay News, Mar 24, 2014
Stress may increase a woman's risk of infertility, new research suggests.
The authors of the study wanted to investigate the relationship between stress and infertility. So they looked at levels of an enzyme linked with stress in the saliva of women who were trying to get pregnant.
They also tracked the women's ability to conceive over a 12-month period.
"Women with higher levels of the stress biomarker had a two-fold increased risk of infertility," said study author Courtney Lynch. The enzyme they measured is called salivary alpha-amylase.
"Alpha-amylase is an enzyme that is secreted into the mouth that helps the body start to digest carbohydrates," said Lynch, director of reproductive epidemiology at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. "It is also linked to the fight-or-flight part of the stress system."
For the study, Lynch and her colleagues collected data from about 500 couples who were recruited from targeted counties in Texas and Michigan.
"We tried to find couples who were just starting to try to get pregnant," Lynch said. "We sent a nursing team out to their houses who did interviews and trained the women how to use saliva-collection kits."
The women took saliva samples twice -- at the start of the study and again after they'd had their first menstrual period during the study time frame. For most, that was about a month into the study, Lynch said. Since alpha-amylase can be affected by alcohol, tobacco and caffeine consumption, the researchers asked the women to take their saliva samples right after waking up in the morning.
The researchers followed the couples for up to 12 months, collecting information on whether they'd conceived.
Of the approximately 400 couples who completed the study, 87 percent of the women became pregnant. After adjusting for age, race, income and the use of alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes, the researchers found that the women with the highest alpha-amylase levels had a 29 percent lower probability of pregnancy compared to the women who had the lowest levels of the enzyme.
The study results were published in the March 24 issue of the journal Human Reproduction.
Lynch said it's important to be clear that the results do not suggest that stress alone is the reason a woman can't get pregnant.
"The message is not that everyone should go enroll in yoga tomorrow," she said. "The message is that if you've tried for five or six months and you aren't getting anywhere, maybe you should look at your lifestyle and think about whether or not stress might be a problem for you.
And if it is, you might want to consider a stress-management program."
The authors said this is the first U.S. study to show a possible association between a stress indicator and how long it takes a woman to become pregnant.
Dr. Suleena Kansal Kalra is a reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist at the University of Pennsylvania. She called the new research "a great first step -- it's presenting a way to measure [indicators] of stress."
"Part of the challenge is that we don't have validated [indicators] of stress hormones or validated questionnaires that measure stress, so the next step is that we really need to start validating some of these tools," said Kalra, who was not involved with the new research.
"Ultimately, we want to know how we can measure stress, and then, can we intervene?"
Exactly how stress affects fertility is not well understood, Lynch said. The study's authors said the women in the group with higher levels of the stress-related enzyme had sex about as often as those in the low-level group, so frequency of intercourse did not play a role.
Kalra said some women stop ovulating during stressful times, while others conceive in high-stress environments.
Lynch said the researchers have also collected data on men but have not yet analyzed it, so it's not yet clear how much a man's stress might influence a couple's fertility.
Women struggling with infertility who have stressful lifestyles should not blame themselves, Lynch said. "I don't want women to see this in the news and say, 'It's my fault I'm not pregnant,'" she said. "We know stress is not the major indicator of whether or not you're going to get pregnant."
Kalra agreed, noting that, "Age is the No. 1 factor linked to the inability to conceive. Mother Nature is cruel and unfair. All our success rates are better in women under 35. That does not mean every woman in her late 30s is going to be infertile, but age is the greatest predictor of success."
She added that cigarette smoking is "absolutely associated with a decrease in the ability to become pregnant," and obesity is beginning to be looked at as well.
Kalra is launching a fertility wellness program this spring at Penn that will combine yoga, meditation, nutrition counseling and a psychologist-led support group to help women who are hoping to become pregnant.
"Not being able to start your family when you're ready to do so can create a lot of stress for couples, particularly women," Kalra said.
"I'm not sure stress is an underlying cause of infertility, and I often find it counterproductive to tell women if they're a little less stressed they would become pregnant," she said. "We don't know if that's true. I generally say, 'I want you to feel as good as possible when you're embarking on the journey to have a family.' "
To learn more about reducing stress, visit the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
SOURCES: Courtney Lynch, Ph.D., M.P.H., director, reproductive epidemiology, and assistant professor, obstetrics and gynecology and epidemiology, Ohio State University College of Medicine; Suleena Kansal Kalra, M.D., M.S.C.E., assistant professor, obstetrics and gynecology, and director, fertility wellness program, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; March 24, 2014, Human Reproduction, online
Lynch CD, Sundaram R, Maisog JM, Sweeney AM, Buck Louis GM.Preconception stress increases the risk of infertility: results from a couple-based prospective cohort study--the LIFE study. Hum Reprod. 2014 Mar 23. [Epub ahead of print]
STUDY QUESTION: Are women's stress levels prospectively associated with fecundity and infertility?
SUMMARY ANSWER: Higher levels of stress as measured by salivary alpha-amylase are associated with a longer time-to-pregnancy (TTP) and an increased risk of infertility.
WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: Data suggest that stress and reproduction are interrelated; however, the directionality of that association is unclear.
STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: In 2005-2009, we enrolled 501 couples in a prospective cohort study with preconception enrollment at two research sites (Michigan and Texas, USA). Couples were followed for up to 12 months as they tried to conceive and through pregnancy if it occurred. A total of 401 (80%) couples completed the study protocol and 373 (93%) had complete data available for this analysis.
PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: Enrolled women collected saliva the morning following enrollment and then the morning following their first observed study menses for the measurement of cortisol and alpha-amylase, which are biomarkers of stress. TTP was measured in cycles. Covariate data were captured on both a baseline questionnaire and daily journals.
MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Among the 401 (80%) women who completed the protocol, 347 (87%) became pregnant and 54 (13%) did not. After adjustment for female age, race, income, and use of alcohol, caffeine and cigarettes while trying to conceive, women in the highest tertile of alpha-amylase exhibited a 29% reduction in fecundity (longer TTP) compared with women in the lowest tertile [fecundability odds ratios (FORs) = 0.71; 95% confidence interval (CI) = (0.51, 1.00); P < 0.05]. This reduction in fecundity translated into a >2-fold increased risk of infertility among these women [relative risk (RR) = 2.07; 95% CI = (1.04, 4.11)]. In contrast, we found no association between salivary cortisol and fecundability.
LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: Due to fiscal and logistical concerns, we were unable to collect repeated saliva samples and perceived stress questionnaire data throughout the duration of follow-up. Therefore, we were unable to examine whether stress levels increased as women continued to fail to get pregnant. Our ability to control for potential confounders using time-varying data from the daily journals, however, minimizes residual confounding.
WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: This is the first US study to demonstrate a prospective association between salivary stress biomarkers and TTP, and the first in the world to observe an association with infertility.
STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): This study was supported by the Intramural Research Program of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (contracts #N01-HD-3-3355, N01-HD-3-3356, N01-HD-3358). There are no conflicts of interest to declare.
Augner C, Hacker GW. Are people living next to mobile phone base stations more strained? Relationship of health concerns, self-estimated distance to base station, and psychological parameters. Indian J Occup Environ Med. 2009 Dec;13(3):141-5. doi: 10.4103/0019-5278.58918.
BACKGROUND AND AIMS: Coeval with the expansion of mobile phone technology and the associated obvious presence of mobile phone base stations, some people living close to these masts reported symptoms they attributed to electromagnetic fields (EMF). Public and scientific discussions arose with regard to whether these symptoms were due to EMF or were nocebo effects. The aim of this study was to find out if people who believe that they live close to base stations show psychological or psychobiological differences that would indicate more strain or stress. Furthermore, we wanted to detect the relevant connections linking self-estimated distance between home and the next mobile phone base station (DBS), daily use of mobile phone (MPU), EMF-health concerns, electromagnetic hypersensitivity, and psychological strain parameters.
DESIGN, MATERIALS AND METHODS: Fifty-seven participants completed standardized and non-standardized questionnaires that focused on the relevant parameters. In addition, saliva samples were used as an indication to determine the psychobiological strain by concentration of alpha-amylase, cortisol, immunoglobulin A (IgA), and substance P.
RESULTS: Self-declared base station neighbors (DBS </= 100 meters) had significantly higher concentrations of alpha-amylase in their saliva, higher rates in symptom checklist subscales (SCL) somatization, obsessive-compulsive, anxiety, phobic anxiety, and global strain index PST (Positive Symptom Total). There were no differences in EMF-related health concern scales.
CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that self-declared base station neighbors are more strained than others. EMF-related health concerns cannot explain these findings. Further research should identify if actual EMF exposure or other factors are responsible for these results.
Augner C, Hacker GW, Oberfeld G, Florian M, Hitzl W, Hutter J, Pauser G. Effects of exposure to GSM mobile phone base station signals on salivary cortisol, alpha-amylase, and immunoglobulin A. Biomed Environ Sci. 2010 Jun;23(3):199-207. doi: 10.1016/S0895-3988(10)60053-0.
OBJECTIVE: The present study aimed to test whether exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) emitted by mobile phone base stations may have effects on salivary alpha-amylase, immunoglobulin A (IgA), and cortisol levels.
METHODS: Fifty seven participants were randomly allocated to one of three different experimental scenarios (22 participants to scenario 1, 26 to scenario 2, and 9 to scenario 3). Each participant went through five 50-minute exposure sessions. The main RF-EMF source was a GSM-900-MHz antenna located at the outer wall of the building. In scenarios 1 and 2, the first, third, and fifth sessions were "low" (median power flux density 5.2 microW/m(2)) exposure. The second session was "high" (2126.8 microW/m(2)), and the fourth session was "medium" (153.6 microW/m(2)) in scenario 1, and vice versa in scenario 2. Scenario 3 had four "low" exposure conditions, followed by a "high" exposure condition. Biomedical parameters were collected by saliva samples three times a session. Exposure levels were created by shielding curtains.
RESULTS: In scenario 3 from session 4 to session 5 (from "low" to "high" exposure), an increase of cortisol was detected, while in scenarios 1 and 2, a higher concentration of alpha-amylase related to the baseline was identified as compared to that in scenario 3. IgA concentration was not significantly related to the exposure.
CONCLUSIONS: RF-EMF in considerably lower field densities than ICNIRP-guidelines may influence certain psychobiological stress markers.
Nazıroğlu M, Yüksel M, Köse SA, Özkaya MO. Recent reports of Wi-Fi and mobile phone-induced radiation on oxidative stress and reproductive signaling pathways in females and males.J Membr Biol. 2013 Dec;246(12):869-75. doi: 10.1007/s00232-013-9597-9. Epub 2013 Oct 9.
Environmental exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) has been increasing with the increasing demand for communication devices. The aim of the study was to discuss the mechanisms and risk factors of EMR changes on reproductive functions and membrane oxidative biology in females and males. It was reported that even chronic exposure to EMR did not increase the risk of reproductive functions such as increased levels of neoantigens abort. However, the results of some studies indicate that EMR induced endometriosis and inflammation and decreased the number of follicles in the ovarium or uterus of rats. In studies with male rats, exposure caused degeneration in the seminiferous tubules, reduction in the number of Leydig cells and testosterone production as well as increases in luteinizing hormone levels and apoptotic cells. In some cases of male and female infertility, increased levels of oxidative stress and lipid peroxidation and decreased values of antioxidants such as melatonin, vitamin E and glutathione peroxidase were reported in animals exposed to EMR. In conclusion, the results of current studies indicate that oxidative stress from exposure to Wi-Fi and mobile phone-induced EMR is a significant mechanism affecting female and male reproductive systems. However, there is no evidence to this date to support an increased risk of female and male infertility related to EMR exposure.
.. EMR exposure from Wi-Fi and mobile phones is related to oxidative stress and overproduction of free oxygen radicals in female and male infertility. Use of mobile phones and wireless devices has been increasing day by day. There are very scarce data on Wi-Fi-induced reproductive dysfunction in female and male individuals. However, carcinogenic and proliferative effects of mobile phones (Kim et al. 2010) and Wi-Fi (Kumar et al. 2011; Kesari et al. 2011; Nazırog˘lu et al. 2012b) have been reported in animals and cell culture systems, although there is no report on Wi-Fi- or mobile phone-induced cancer in reproductive tissues of female and male individuals. In the future, the role of EMR from mobile phones and wireless devices in female and male fertility should be investigated.