The myelin connection

Could myelin damage account for the symptoms that many people experience when exposed to wireless radiation?

This is a possibility that should be taken seriously, say Dr Mary Redmayne and Prof Olle Johansson, writing in the September issue of the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health.

Myelin is a protective layer of fatty membrane that coats the nerves of the central and peripheral nervous systems (CNS and PNS). It acts as an insulator, facilitating the transmission of electrical signals that convey information along nerves.

Damage to the myelin sheath results in symptoms that, for the most part, resemble those of electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS): problems with vision, numbness, weakness, tickling, prickling, burning sensations, tremor, memory problems, concentration problems, depression, irritability and anxiety.

However, is not just the correlation of symptoms that makes a connection between myelin damage and EHS a possibility, say Redmayne and Johansson.l There are a number of studies that support it, too. In one study, scientists exposed rats to a signal of 2450 MHz and found that they had more than usual myelin protrusions into cortical dendrites, In another study, guinea pigs exposed to a 3000 MHz signal for three hours a day for three months developed metachromatic bodies in their myelin.

Myelin damage occurs in Multiple Sclerosis (MS). In a Danish study on MS, scientists showed that people who had owned a mobile phone for more than ten years had a higher incidence of MS. Further, people with MS who had owned a phone for seven to nine years after diagnosis, had higher death rates than MS sufferers without mobile phone subscriptions.

Additionally, Redmayne and Johansson showed evidence that wireless radiation affects proteins that are involved in the production of myelin.

Even though demyelination and EHS have many common symptoms, not all symptoms can be correlated. Reduced muscle control is found in people with demyelination but not in EHS. Similarly, symptoms of headaches, tinnitus, heart arrhythmia and skin problems are found in people with EHS but not myelin degeneration.

If wireless radiation impacts on myelin integrity in ways that produce unpleasant symptoms, there are significant implications for society’s use of radiating technologies. The production of myelin occurs during the latter half of gestation and continues through adolescence and possibly into middle age. ‘The CNS of the fetus, infant, child, and adolescent, whose myelination is incomplete, ... and whose neural connections are rapidly forming and being pruned may be most susceptible, as may that of older people whose myelin protection is already degenerating’, the authors said.

While not conclusive, the link between wireless radiation, myelin damage and symptoms of EHS is sufficient to justify study and to warrant precautions. The authors believe that ’the evidence from in vivo, in vitro, and epidemiological studies is sufficiently strong to warrant urging that RF-EMF exposure from prebirth through to at least mid teens should be minimized until this issue is clarified.’

Commenting on the study, Prof Olle Johansson told EMR and Health, ‘The importance of this, and other papers seeking the mechanism behind the functional impairment electrohypersensitivity, is that it tries to establish a biophysical/biomedical framework within which the impact of electromagnetic fields on our body can be understood, and hinting to parallels extracted from already established fields of medicine, such as multiple sclerosis.

‘Since the study clearly points to a possible association between low-intensity radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMFs) and myelin alterations, it is fair to ask for further studies into this particular field of science, as well as looking for common denominators between electrohypersensitivity and diseases such multiple sclerosis and dementia. Maybe electrohypersensitivity could be an indicator of the latter, or perhaps electrohypersensitivity actually protects humans against these illnesses through the classical avoidance behaviour of persons with this disability.

‘Finally, the conclusions of our paper may also have an impact on the research regarding cancers of the nervous system, since changes in the protective myelin could be a factor to be accounted for during the initial stages of tumour growth. Of special interest is the fact that such myelin-associated tumours are most common in younger subjects. However, only future research will clear these issues,’ Prof Johansson said.

Redmayne M, Johansson O. "Could myelin damage from radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposure help explain the functional impairment electrohypersensitivity? A review of the evidence", J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev 2014; 17(5): 247-58. doi: 10.1080/10937404.2014.923356.