“Melatonin–The Smoking Gun?

… statistical links were found between EMFs and other kinds of cancer, including melanoma, lymphoma, brain cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer. More recently, other conditions have been added to the list, most notably spontaneous abortion, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease.

But what do EMFs have to do with melatonin? There is the growing suspicion that EMFs could contribute to some or all of these diseases by interfering with the action of melatonin. In three different situations–the use of electric blankets in the home, exposure to EMFs in a laboratory setting, and exposure to a medical imaging device called an NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy)–EMFs have lowered melatonin levels in some people. Some scientists have gone so far as to call the EMF-melatonin connection the “smoking gun” that assures a guilty  verdict for EMFs. This connection, however, is far from proven.

Clock, Calendar, and Compass

We had no idea that EMFs had any effect on melatonin until the early 1980s, when a German zoologist named Peter Semm began investigating animal migration. One of the ways migrating birds orient themselves, Semm knew, is by detecting subtle changes in the earth’s energy fields, the magnetism that emanates from electrical currents deep within the earth. (These fields are the reason that a compass points north.) Semm wanted to know how animals detect these invisible energy fields. He reasoned that migrating animals need to orient themselves in both time and space to rendezvous at their chosen destinations. It was known that seasonal changes in melatonin production sent a time cue that caused “migratory restlessness,” compelling animals to band together and strike out for distant lands. He theorized that the pineal gland might also serve as a direction finder. After all, the gland is highly responsive to light, which is a visible form of electromagnetic energy. Perhaps it tuned in to lower frequency fields as well, Semm thought.

He tested his hypothesis on guinea pigs, applying magnetic fields to the heads of the rodents. The fields reduced the electrical activity of individual pineal cells by as much as 50 percent, he found. His intuition had been correct. A year later, a group of American researchers led by Bary Wilson exposed rats to electrical fields for twenty-one days and discovered that the fields abolished their nighttime rise in melatonin production. Other studies have shown that magnetic fields (as opposed to electric fields) may also influence the ability of the pineal gland to produce melatonin at night.

These discoveries may have uncovered yet another function of the multi-talented pineal gland. We now believe the gland links organisms with time and space in three vital ways: It synchronizes them with the twenty-four-hour day, it triggers seasonal changes, and it may also detect fluctuations in geomagnetic fields. In essence, the gland seems to function as a clock, calendar, and compass, answering these three vital questions–“What time of day is it?” “What is the season?” and “Where am I on the planet?”

Crossed Wires

Unfortunately, the all-purpose pineal gland has one major failing: It does not discriminate very well between natural and man-made energy fields. When migratory birds are placed in cages surrounded by electrical coils, these artificial energy fields conflict with the earth’s geomagnetic fields, sending confusing messages to the animals. No longer able to obtain a true compass reading, the birds may head off for Anchorage instead of Cancun.

The Human Compass

Such cross-wiring may take place in our own human brains. The first experimental evidence that the human pineal gland responds to natural energy fields came in 1986. Rolf Dubbels, Ph.D., a friend and colleague of mine from Germany, was making routine measurements of melatonin levels in a small group of men wintering in Antarctica. At one point, an outburst of solar flares (sunspots) caused the local magnetic field to plummet. During the most in tense night of the magnetic storm, three out of seven men had a threefold changes in their melatonin levels, suggesting that we humans may also be vulnerable to fluctuations in the geomagnetic field.

Biometeorologists, who study the effects of the weather and meteorological events such as geomagnetic fields on living organisms, have found a number of statistical links between sudden changes in the earth’s magnetic fields and human health and behavior. Births and deaths, epileptic seizures, homicides, admissions to mental hospitals, and heart attacks–the rates of all have been correlated with fluctuations in geomagnetic activity. A study published in Nature in 1979 revealed that geomagnetic activity (for example, intense solar storms) is correlated with the number of people suffering heart attacks. A study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry in 1994 reports that two weeks after an intense geomagnetic storm, as many as 36 percent more male manic depressives may be admitted to mental hospitals, which the authors suggested could be due to complex interactions between the pineal gland and magnetic fields.

Do Artificial Energy Fields Affect Production of Melatonin?

As disconcerting as it may be that our pineal glands respond to geomagnetic fields, it may prove far more significant that they respond to man-made energy fields. Although the evidence is preliminary, magnetic fields from ordinary household wiring and appliances may lower melatonin levels in humans.”

Excerpted from Melatonin: Your Body’s Natural Wonder Drug, Chapter 14, pages 170-173.