European experts in disarray over EHS -- electromagnetic hypersensitivity

Four European experts consider that EHS, ailment allegedly caused by EMF, does not exist. Austrian physicians think the opposite and provide guidelines how to diagnose EHS. Is the science on EHS sufficiently reliable for any far reaching conclusions? I do not think so. New scientific approach is urgently needed. Photo: author

HELSINKI, April 1, 2012Proper function of the human body relies on “electricity”.  What we feel and what we think is regulated by the movements of electric charges within and in-between our cells.

Hence, it should come as no surprise that placing the human body into a sufficiently strong electromagnetic field might cause disturbances to normal physiological electric signaling of the tissues and organs.

What is a sufficiently strong electromagnetic field? There are some general rules that are used to provide us with safety limits of exposure. However, as with anything we encounter, there are exceptions.

People’s bodies are alike, but not entirely the same. Variations in our genes lead to the so called individual susceptibility to chemicals, including medicines or radiation.

Some people get pollen or dust allergy but the majority do not. Some get lung cancer from tobacco smoke but not all smokers do. Some get easily sunburned whereas others do not.

Every one of us is at least slightly different from the others, and while safety limits usually protect the vast majority, there always will exist a minority that is more sensitive and responds to exposure levels that are even below the general safety standards.

Some of the sensitive people are easy to protect — do not smoke, do not tan, take your antihistamine.

There is one group of sensitive people who are difficult to define and difficult to protect in the current electromagnetic-technology-dependent world.  Such a group of people are sensitive, more than others, to man-made electromagnetic radiation.  This group must exist or we would need to rewrite our medical books.

We just do not know how to find them.

Currently, these are the self-diagnosed electromagnetic hypersensitive persons. EHS does not exist as an official disease with known set of symptoms, a known set of diagnostic tests and a known method of clinical treatment.

The reason for the need of self-diagnosis is that scientists did not execute sufficiently relevant scientific studies that would reliably determine whether EHS is caused by EMF or other agent.

In recent days, European experts produced two opposite views on the EHS.

The first view is presented in a recently published article “Are some people hypersensitive to electromagnetic fields?”. The authors, four experts from Norway, UK, Sweden and The Netherlands, call it “systematic review of scientific studies”, even though it is a brief, non-peer-reviewed re-evaluation of two earlier published review articles.

The second one is the “Guideline of the Austrian Medical Association (ÖÄK) for the diagnosis and treatment of EMF-related health problems and illnesses (EMF syndrome)”. The authors call it “Consensus paper of the Austrian Medical Association’s EMF Working Group (ÖÄK AG-EMF)”.

The “systematic review” comes to the following conclusion:

The symptoms experienced by people who report EHS are undoubtedly real and can sometimes have a dramatic effect on the person’s quality of life. However, well-designed experimental studies have repeatedly demonstrated that these symptoms are not triggered by exposure to EMF. Scientific studies have also failed to identify any physiological changes in people with EHS as a result of exposure to EMF …”.

Most puzzling and worrisome is the statement of “well-designed” studies that prove lack of causality between EHS and EMF exposures.

The authors of the “systematic review” used two reviews published in 2005 and 2010, as the basis for the present publication.

According to the authors, the 2005 review analyzed 31 EHS studies out of which seven showed EMF causing EHS. However, two of these seven studies could not be replicated, three had errors in data analysis and two gave conflicting (opposite effects) results.

The authors did not mention the quality of the 24 negative EHS studies included in the 2005 review. This is a common practice in EMF research.  Positive studies, studies showing effects of EMF, are being analyzed in depth for the possible errors that lead to observation of effects. Negative studies are most commonly accepted for their face value and their quality is not being questioned because they provide evidence “as expected.”

It is a very wrong practice that skews the evidence. Errors in study design or in data analysis may lead to no-effect outcome. The no-effect studies should be also evaluated for their correctness and their ability to show what they claim to show.

In the 2010 review, an additional 15 studies were analyzed and none of them has shown positive effect. 

Therefore, it would be interesting to know what were the “well-designed studies” that made authors of the “systematic review” certain that there is no link between EHS and EMF.

The major problem, in my opinion, is that all studies included in 2005 and 2010 reviews, in practice all existing EHS analyzing research, do not have methodological ability to detect EHS or prove/disprove its existence and its causality link with EMF. These studies are based on subjective data provided by small groups of volunteers participating in experiments.

Conditions of the experiment and the ambiance of the place are certain causes of stress that affects responses and reactions of study subjects. Data obtained in these studies is not objective and prone to study-subject-dependent error.

Mentioned as objective data by the authors of “systematic review”, measurements of blood pressure or heart rate are not fully objective. Experimental stress may easily affect them and make the result of measurement partly subjective and therefore unreliable.

The other EHS-story coming from Europe is the guidelines for Austrian physicians. The authors state the following:

“The Austrian Medical Association has developed a guideline for differential diagnosis and potential treatment of unspecific stress-related health problems associated with electrosmog.”

It simply means that Austrian physicians think that the EHS exists, what is in direct contradiction of the conclusion of the “systematic review” by the four European experts.

The experts contradict each other. Who is right? Only better research, using methods that produce really objective data will resolve this impasse. Continuation of the research using current designs will not provide answers and will lead to waste of time and money and will propagate frustration among the self-diagnosed EHS sufferers and some researchers. There is an urgent need for a new approach to this topic.

An interesting opening for such new approach was provided by two studies published by Japanese scientist in 2002 and 2003. The studies seem to be “forgotten”. Nobody repeated them; nobody mentions them in context of EHS debate — neither EHS sufferers nor scientists.

The studies have shown that cell phone radiation might enhance allergic responses. Interestingly, large part of EHS symptoms, described by EHS sufferers, is allergy-like symptoms. Could it be so that some of EHS sufferers have allergy reactions potentiated by cell phone radiation?

Such studies as these from Japan and other studies analyzing molecular level responses of human body exposed to cell phone radiation are the only way to explain causes of EHS and provide clues for treatment. The EHS will not be explained and confirmed by asking patients how they feel. A new approach with new research methods is needed to address the EHS issue.


Read more from Dariusz Leszczynski in his science blog “BRHP - Between a Rock and a Hard Place” at  Dariusz is a Research Professor at the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland.

Follow Dariusz on twitter: @blogBRHP

Disclaimer: the opinions presented in this column are author’s own and should NOT be considered as the official opinions of the STUK - Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland.

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Dariusz Leszczynski

Dariusz Leszczynski is an expert in the biological and health effects of cell phone radiation.

Since 2009 he publishes a science blog dealing with the issue of cell phone radiation and health:  

Disclaimer: the opinions presented in this column are authors' own and SHOULD NOT be considered as opinions of any of his employers.

Contact Dariusz Leszczynski


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