The effect of Electromagnetic Fields on Enzyme Activity
An important topic which is very discussed in today’s society is the effect of electromagnetic radiation or fields on the human body. A great amount of research has been done in this field all of which has ended up in conflicting results, and all wraps up to one conclusion: the evidence isn’t enough to declare electromagnetic fields dangerous or beneficent to the human body. To further explore this area we will first need to observe the nature of electromagnetic fields and separately the one of enzymes to then decide the results of the two clashing together.
The electromagnetic spectrum includes waves, or radiation, of all frequencies. The higher ones are properties of gamma rays and x-rays, these have also a very short wavelength, and they are know to be very dangerous to the human body because they are very penetrating and have enough power to knock electrons off their nuclear orbits and therefore cause damage at the cellular level, such as cancer and genetic mutations. Gamma rays are produced by radioactive substances while x-rays by an x-ray tube or a high-voltage diode valve.
Going down the spectrum we encounter ultra- violet rays which in large amounts usually cause skin cancer and are hazardous to eyes. These are produced by very hot objects, for example the Sun or electric arcs in electric welding. Visible light is after the UV rays. This is the only part of the spectrum that human eyes can perceive and it includes all of the visible colors of the white light spectrum, going from violet, shortest wavelength, to red with the longest one. Infra-red rays follow right after. These are produced by any object whose temperature is above absolute zero (-273 C ).
Infra-red rays have many uses in our society, they are, in fact, utilized by fire-fighters to search for unconscious people, or by doctors to detect circulation problems and cancers. Lastly we encounter Radio waves which have the longest wavelength and the lower frequencies on the spectrum. Radio waves are the ones which interest us the most for this research. They are categorized in five groups: Microwaves, Ultra High Frequency waves, Very High Frequency waves, Medium waves and long waves. Microwaves have the highest frequency and are used in microwave ovens, for communication with satellites and for radars.
Ultra High Frequency waves are used to transmit TV signals and Very High Frequency waves aide the transmission of local radio programs and local police and ambulance messages. Medium and Long waves because they have such long wavelength they can diffract around the curvature of the Earth and around hills, therefore they are utilized in long distance transmitting. Radio waves are also referred to as non-ionizing waves, since, unlike ionizing waves such as x-rays or gamma rays, they are not able to cause ionization or radioactivity in the body.
To be more specific the term field should be defined. A field is a space in which energy exists, or it can also be used to describe the influence of something on its surrounding area. The basic concept of electromagnetism, or moreover the interaction between an electric and magnetic field, was first considered in 1820 by physicist Hans Christian Oersted, when a wire carrying a current was observed and it seemed to have an affect on a nearby compass, a magnetic field was, in fact, created perpendicular to the wire itself.
This was producing an electromagnetic field: a combination of both a magnetic and electric field produced by the same wire. Yet this does not mean that every radiation on the electromagnetic spectrum is produced this way. In this case these waves have also other sources, for example UV rays are emitted from the sun. They are, therefore, categorized together because they all have electromagnetic properties, the most important one they all have an electric and magnetic component. An electromagnetic wave has two important characteristics: wavelength and frequency.
Wavelength is the distance in meters of a full cycle of the wave, for example the distance from one crest to the following one. Frequency is the number of cycles which can be completed in a second, its unit is usually cycles per seconds or hertz (Hz). Radio waves, in this case, have the longest wavelength and the lowest frequency. Another characteristic of all electromagnetic waves is that in a vacuum they all travel at the speed of light, about 186000 miles per second, but they differ in size (wavelength) and strength.
This last one is a very important factor since it is what mainly determines the gravity of its effects on organisms. Usually there are two types of strengths, the transmitting power, which refers to the power at which a source is emitting electromagnetic radiations. Then there is the field strength, which is used to describe the force of both magnetic and electric component of an electromagnetic field, it is important to mention that it will decrease rapidly with an increase in distance from the source. Both of these types of strength have as unit the watt.
In reality, electromagnetic fields are found in our every-day life. Because any electricity-carrying wire will produce one, private houses and businesses are filled with these fields which are, as said earlier, produced by most current-carrying wires in buildings and most appliances which run with electricity. These electromagnetic fields, though, are very weak and therefore may not have large or visible effects on the human body or may not have any kind of influence at all. Appliances that use stronger fields are therefore considered to be more dangerous to living organisms.
There is much talk on whether cell phones and microwaves are safe or not. Many cities have complained after antennas used to communicate radio signals were installed nearby. In fact electromagnetism is usually associated with causing cancer and leukemia. Whether they are is, in fact, another very heated topic to which researchers have not yet come up with a solution. Up to a few years ago non- ionizing radiations were thought of as being very safe, since they had a longer wavelength which meant that they could create less energy, and they were less powerful and moreover less hazardous.
Scientists were doing extensive research on them because they could be a possible replacement for the more dangerous x-rays which were very useful in medical and therapeutic equipment. The interaction of electromagnetic fields with the human anatomy is a very complex matter. Most sources which were used for this research agreed with the fact that the most dangerous aspect of an electromagnetic field or radiation is the magnetic component.
In fact most low-level electric fields are considered superficial in their ability to penetrate matter, including the human body, also because the human cell membrane is a relatively good dielectric, or insulator. An electric field would also be shielded by many objects such as walls, trees, hills, and so on. But a magnetic field can penetrate anything which doesn’t have a high iron content. In fact most of the concern about electromagnetic fields bioeffects focuses around the magnetic element, not the electric one.
Therefore the problem centers around the magnetic field and the electric current which it is able to induce inside living organisms, and the electromagnetic field that can be produced by this current. In other words, external fields around the human body end up inducing internal fields. There are many possible biological effects which this could cause. One of them is the fact that the magnetic field could magnetize certain substances with magnetic potential, such as iron, most of which is stored within the red blood cells.
Magnetic fields can also exert a force on the blood’s ions and electrolytes, and may also have other unknown effects on other trace minerals like copper found in the body. When considering the impact of electromagnetic fields on the human body it is essential to incorporate certain variables such as the body’s size, shape, tissue type, orientation toward and distance from the generating source, the duration of the exposure, the size of the wavelength and the power at which it is being generated. For example different tissue types absorb wavelengths and frequencies very differently. This is generally true for most species.
The human anatomy absorbs most efficiently radiations around 87 MHz in the FM radio band, and reaches maximum absorption between 30 and 300 MHz, which includes frequencies spanning FM radio and very high frequency television broadcasting. Other organisms, which have different shapes and different tissue types, will most efficiently absorb different frequencies. A large concern about these men- produced electromagnetic fields is how they are going to affect nature’s already existing electromagnetic fields. The earth, in fact, is itself a gigantic complex dipole magnet with a spinning core of molten iron and nickel.
The importance of this magnetic field lies in the fact that it has a large control over most basic daily rhythms of most organisms. This intricate natural magnetic environment has influence on such things as the migration patterns of birds and the cell division, mitosis, which takes place in the human body. The way the earth’s electromagnetic field is created is a very elaborated way, but its important part is that two types of magnetic fields exist on our earth one which is always facing the sun and the other which is on the opposing side.
These two differ in shape and in strength. This causes any given place on earth to have to go through a constantly changing magnetic field, because of the earth’s rotation. It is this rise and fall in the strength of this natural magnetic field that creates all biological rhythms, even the circadian rhythms in humans. It is feared that artificial radiations in the extremely low and very low frequency ranges may be capable of altering the structure of this natural magnetic field, and by doing this would be able to change all of the rhythms sustained by the natural field.
There is a fairly new theory on how animals and humans are able to sense the earth’s electromagnetic field. It is thought that they are able to perceive it by the use of magnetite which has been discovered in most animals. Magnetite is found in mammalian cells, and in humans it was recently discovered to be situated in brain tissue, in the ethmoid bone above the eyes, in the sinuses and in the blood-brain barrier. In other animals whiskers, and insect antennas, also seem to be a tool to feel the changing electromagnetic field of our planet, they, in fact, act as real antennas which can easily receive these signals.
Many experiments were carried out in regard to animals and electromagnetic fields, as a result most animals’ behaviors are highly influenced by different frequencies, especially in terms of orientation of the animal. In fact many species are known for an excellent sense of orientation which helps them in their migration patterns, some experiments showed that, for example, birds were very orientationaly confused when exposed to EMFs that had different frequencies from that of the earth’s.
Other experiments have also shown that trees and plants, which also benefit from the earth’s electromagnetic field, have a high sensibility to artificial EMFs. For example trees are able of channeling electric fields through their needles or leaves, into their trunks, and down into the soil through their roots. It has also been determined that the shorter the wavelength of the electromagnetic radiation, the better it matches the physical structure of a tree and the more damaging it is.
This effect is called resonance and the microwave band corresponds almost perfectly to the resonance capacity of the cell membranes of trees. This can cause such damages as an interruption of the water circulation. Most scientists when the safeness of artificial electromagnetic fields was put into question, they weren’t as alarmed since they have frequencies similar as the earth’s natural one, in fact the two are categorized under the same type: non-ionizing radiations. But it is now better understood that artificial frequencies have different characteristics from the natural ones.
First of all they are sometimes on the order of a billion times more powerful, the artificial frequencies transmitted are extremely specific, the waves are polarized, and the signals can be digitally and analogously modulated. These features can theoretically interfere with any number of biological information systems by acting as a kind of scrambler. The second natural electromagnetic field which is known on earth is the one found in most living organisms. The human body also produces a field which is extremely weak and could hardly be measured.
Nerve impulses are electrical messages caused by an action potential across the nerve membrane. The movement of a muscle by the action of a nerve also requires a complex movement of ions, and consequently an electric current. Cell division has now been discovered to be electrical and so is the heartbeat. The initiation of wound healing and bone growth is electrically stimulated. In fact all chemical changes are electrically based because they involve the transfer, sharing, or alteration of electrons at the molecular level.
All of this electrical activity in the human body is therefore producing an electromagnetic field which could easily be disturbed by an external field acting on the body. A wide range of frequencies, according to recent experiments, caused numerous behavior problems, such as depression, anxiety and confusion. Also according to some tests on humans, we absorb energy most efficiently at around 85 megahertz, which is the frequency range used by many FM devices, but we resonate, and therefore respond as an antenna, right in the middle of the ultra high frequencies or television band.
In some experiments, weak extremely low frequencies fields were found to affect a specific enzyme needed for the synthesis of melatonin, a very important hormone which is also needed in the production of seratonin, an essential neurotransmitter to the nervous system. Another enzyme on which they did some research was ODC (ornithine decarboxylase). This enzyme is always present during cell growth, but increased levels of ODC are considered a marker for the kind of increased cell activity common in cancers.
It has been found that EMFs at 60 hertz turned on ODC production when combined with certain chemicals known to be carcinogenic. Blake Levitt, in her book “Electromagnetic Fields”, dedicates a chapter to the secret electrical life of cells and in the introductory paragraph states the fact that cells are packed with highly charged atoms and molecules that can change their orientation and movement when exposed to certain electromagnetic fields. This concept makes sense when it is said that an electromagnetic field will induce an electric field in the human body which will be polarized and will have a positive and negative end.
Therefore in a cell any positive ions will be probably attracted to the negative pole of the field and the negative ions to the positive side. The causes of this would probably be determined by how strong the induced electric field is and how powerful the electromagnetic field itself is. If it is in fact strong enough the ions will be able to move in the direction of their opposing charge. When an ion is exposed to a steady magnetic field, it causes it to move in a circular orbit at a right angle to the field, this is probably caused by the electric field which is being produce by the magnetic field.
This occurrence is called cyclotron resonance. The speed of the orbit is determined by the charge and mass of the ion and the strength of the magnetic field. If an electric field is added that oscillates at exactly the same frequency and it is also at a right angle to the magnetic field, energy will be transferred from the electric field to the ion, causing it to move faster. The same effect can be created by applying an additional magnetic field parallel to the constant magnetic field. This is important because the earth already provides a steady-state magnetic field of between 0. and 0. 6 gauss.
The frequency, which is then required to produce cyclotron resonance in some important ions in the human body, falls within the ELF (extremely low frequency) regions, between 1 and 100 hertz. This is the frequency range of all our electric appliances in the 50-60 hertz range. It is also important to mention that this kind of resonance is frequency dependent, and not based on power. Also these effects would only be temporary and would disappear after the electromagnetic field is gone.
All of the effects which were described above are non-thermal effects which electromagnetic fields are thought to cause. These are in fact the consequences that are being discussed on whether they exist. Electromagnetic fields, though, are known to cause thermal effects. In fact, since they are a form of energy, any object which will absorb one of these fields, it will absorb this energy as thermal energy, therefore as heat which will raise its temperature. This increase in temperature will probably depend on the strength of the field.
Thermal effects though aren’t a large threat to organisms, first because they are temporary, in fact, when the object’s exposure to the EMF is terminated the temperature falls back down. Secondly the increase is only of few degrees and also any exposure limits passed by governments are based on these thermal effects, so there is no danger they could be harmful to humans. Because this research paper will focus on the effects of EMF on enzymes, in the next few paragraphs they will be introduced so that a more educated prediction on the outcomes of the experiment will be made.
Enzymes are known to be the human body’s catalysts, in fact, they are protein-like molecules whose function is to speed up chemical processes which go on in organisms. A cell itself contains hundreds of different enzymes, each of them has a specific function and each one has a specific reaction to catalyze. A cell will produce two kind of enzymes: one type which will be used inside of the cell in its vital reactions (protein synthesis, cell respiration, etc… ), also it will produce other enzymes which will act on reactions taking place outside the cell.
Usually all cells produce the same type one enzymes, but they will not all produce the same type two enzymes, this will depend on the function and the specialization of the cell. Enzymes are genetically controlled and therefore each cell has a certain gene which codes for a specific enzyme. To produce the enzyme the cell uses the same process it uses to create proteins, protein synthesis, after all enzymes are protein with a tertiary structure, which go on to specify and become catalysts.