BioEM2015: Plenary session on EHS

One of the plenary sessions at the BioEM2015 in Asilomar presented two views on EHS. Invited speakers were Kjell Hansson Mild and Gunnhild Oftedal.

To me the session was a big disappointment. It indicated a stagnation in EHS research and a lack of new ideas to resolve the problem of causality.

Kjell Hansson Mild reviewed the history of EHS research. There were no new ideas for further research. Talk showed a stagnation in research, focused on asking the volunteers “how they feel” and “what they feel” instead of devising studies that would objectively look at the differences in physiology of EHS sufferers. Kjell Hansson Mild arrived at the conclusion that EHS symptoms “fit” the already known Da Costa’s syndrome. By “definition”, Da Costa’s syndrome is exceptionally unspecific and the majority of human population “has it”. Thus is not the way to demonstrate that EMF causes EHS. [PowerPoint presentation of KHM is available at the bottom of this post]

Da Costa

Gunnhild Oftedal is known, among others, from her publications with James Rubin, the favorite EHS expert of the WHO, ICNIRP, SCENIHR and alike, “no effects whatsoever”, committees. Oftedal’s presentation went straight to the point – there is no link between EHS and EMF. Whatever causes symptoms in people is not EMF.

Oftedal went even so far as to state that:

“Physiological/health effects in humans in general are not relevant to EHS problem… because there are no known links to EHS.”

What is the scientific basis for such definite claim by Gunnhild Oftedal? She presented a summary table of EHS provocation and intervention studies:

Oftedal Table

This summary indicates that the number of participants in the EHS provocation and intervention studies was very low, totaling only 1063 persons in 44 studies, split between different exposures and experimental approaches.

Is this a sufficient scientific basis to make any definite claims and conclusions about causality between EMF and EHS? Certainly not. Such amount of “data” is like a small pilot study.

Therefore, it is not surprising that review by James Rubin and collaborators (Rubin et al. 2011, Bioelectromagnetics 32:593-609), quoted by Oftedal, came to the following conclusions:

  • there are great variations between studies
  • there are no systematic differences between studies with and without positive findings

Such conclusions are obvious for such small sample of population studied (1063 subjects) in 44 studies (only ca. 24 subjects per study!).

The other problem, besides the small sample, is the reliability of the experimental data – the answers from the study subjects. In my opinion data is not reliable because it is subjective. Study subjects are asked how and what they feel and their answers provide, automatically, subjective information.

It is not an objective data when EHS person, under stress in laboratory setting, answers questions about how they feel when being under real or sham exposure. Such data cannot provide evidence for final scientific proof of existence or non-existence of link between EHS and EMF…

…and Oftedal, in her presentation, provided evidence to that fact.

Gunnhild Oftedal has quoted study showing how media influences peoples’ opinions. In an experiment subjects were shown two movies, one warning about health risks of EMF and the other, neutral to EMF and health issue. Following the presentation, study subjects experienced more EHS symptoms after seeing the movie warning of EMF health risk danger. One important aspect of this study was, again, very small subject sample of 147 persons in total (76 + 71).

Media influence Oftedal

This study shows that, indeed, we are affected by what we see and hear around us. That is why court juries, in important cases, are sequestered… Nothing new… Just an obvious – we, the people, are affected by the media…

This study is being used as a “proof” that EHS link to EMF is imaginary and that the increasing prevalence of EHS in population is caused by the news media reports, and not by the EMF.

I am of the completely opposite opinion. To me there is a very important, but different, message coming out of this study. The data gathered in studies where persons are asked how they feel when in laboratory conditions are being exposed to real or sham radiation are unacceptable as scientific proof of lack of causality link between EMF and EHS… because the study subjects are affected by the experimental setting and their answers are subjective, not objective. The study subjects come to the experiment with their pre-conceptions of what is good and what is bad about EMF exposures. This all affects their reactions and responses made to investigators.

I think the major obstacle in solving the problem of EHS and EMF are the attitudes of researchers, lacking ideas for novel approaches. If research on EHS will continue the way, as Oftedal, Rubin, Croft and others are doing, we will never resolve this issue.

There was, however, a positive development. Not from Mild or Oftedal

…after the plenary session on EHS, on the Asilomar beach, I met Junji Miyakoshi, a molecular biologist from Japan. We discussed the problem of EHS and we came to the same conclusion. We need studies where study subjects will be exposed to real or sham radiation and provide samples for biochemical analysis of proteins and genes before and after the exposure. I have been advocating such studies for many years and hit the “brick wall”, as I was directly forbidden to even think of such studies by my bosses at STUK – Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority in Finland.

It was very encouraging to hear that such recognized expert in biological effects of EMF, as Junji Miyakoshi, agrees with my opinion.

Now, who dares to fund such biochemical study on EHS? Any funding volunteers?

*************

Presentation of Kjell Hansson Mild Kjell Hansson Mild EHS BioEM2015

Gunnhild Oftedal did not agree to provide presentation. Her concern was that, without narrative, slides alone are insufficient to speak her message.

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10 thoughts on “BioEM2015: Plenary session on EHS

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  5. The major reason why many provocation studies fail is that they have severe methodological problems. Just to mention one, provocation studies are based on a false assumption that electrosensitive people get symptoms almost immediately after exposure has started. While it is true that some people suffering from electromagnetic sensitivity may get immeditate symptoms, it is not true for many others. In addition, provocation studies falsely assume that electrosensitive people recover immediately, or almost immediately, after the exposure has stopped.

    As studies are based on these wrong presumptions, they fail to prove that electromagnetic sensitivity is caused by the exposure.

    As I see it, some electrosensitive people are able to detect exposure immediately, but most electrosensitive people get symptoms from a rather long-term exposure. In addition, there is also often a lag before the symptoms appear. For example, it is quite common that an electromagnetic sensitive person is able to use a computer for 5-15 minutes without major symptoms, but if he continues the use for one hour, he may get very nauseous.

    My take is that electromagnetic sensitivity should be studied by undertaking intervention studies. People suffering from electromagnetic sensitivity generally feel that reducing exposure is the most efficient to improve well-being and to reduce symptoms. Avoidance of exposure should be seen as a hypothesis that should tested by intervention studies. It is possible to conduct studies where the daily exposure of subjects is reduced to minimum by several technical measures and perhaps also by subjects’ moving to another location where there is very little exposure.

  6. What would also be interesting is post-mortem research, where the presence and amount of magnetite/magnetosomes in the tissue (brain, heart, …) is compared between EHS and non-EHS subjects.

  7. I wonder why the 1991 EHS study by William Rea et al. is never mentioned.
    Rea et al. proved EHS.

    They designed the study so the methodology filtered out the participants who claimed EHS, but weren’t, and also identified the exact frequencies that each true EHS person reacted to – with subsequent 100% reproducibility of symptoms on exposure to that specific frequency, but not sham – under double-blind conditions. Objective physiological measurements also confirmed the reactions. Have a look:
    http://aehf.com/articles/em_sensitive.html

    Rea et al. showed that EHS sufferers frequency sensitivity is highly specific, something that was confirmed by Belyaev at the EHS-conference in Brussels (May 18th 2015). An important fact that is mostly ignored in the stupidly linear “one size fits all, but more is better” bioelectromagnetics research agenda.

  8. I have been thinking a lot in the same way. The conference in Brussels this year showed more Bio markers, for example that the red blood cells “group together”(lumps together) which reduces the oxygen transportation. This should be extremely easy to show as well as some inflammatory markers. We have not found one single clinical peer reviewed study on the red blood cells “grouping togehter” except for a mathematical one showing that the effect from “normal” exposure is more than enough to get the effect. This is a study that needs to be done by someone. Could crowd funding be an alternative?

    Regards
    Malin

  9. Not only are the study participant numbers small, but they are almost all “self-certified” EHS people. The Essex EHS MTHR study team developed quite a good questionnaire to properly attempt to sort these into “probably really EHS” and “symptoms likely to be due to ather factors” but, in the actual provocation study, they did not get enough volunteer participants to apply this sorting procedure – so everyone who claimed they were EHS were put into the EHS category. Even then they did not get enough to meet the numbers they had previously stated that were needed to give the study adequate power. These two factors make the results virtually worthless.

    Many of the claimed EHS studes are, in fact, just very short term mobile phone signal type exposures. Also, most did not allow (1) any washout time to allow EHS symptoms from exposure when travelling to the test (removing a proper baseline), (2) any time for latency delays to allow symptoms to develop. The studies did not test for chronic “currently fully active and well-used” WiFi exposure over, say, at least 4 hours – that would be a much more suitable test for most of the EHS people that I meet. One thing that I am convinced about is that a bigger signal is not likely to evoke a stronger response. That is not the case. An example of flawed thinking about “bigger is best” were the MTHR handset studies used a flawed MTHR design that, for the “sham” condition, simply dumped the RF power into a dummy load inside the handset and still left several volts per metre of pulsing RF at the side of the participants head – far above the levels that EHS claim they react to. The the MTHR team told me “but those signals are much lower that when the handset is in the nromal transmit mode”. Agreed! But that completely misses the point.

    I am a qualified engineer and scientist who has designed and worked with electronics RF for over 50 years – staring with WWII fields sets while at school, making early transistor walkie-talkies, etc. I thought wireless technologies were absolutely amazing and wonderful. In the 1990s when working on RF measurement equipment to determine avaialable water content in farm fields I became EHS. I have no doubts at all. I now have to avoid high ELF and VLF electric fields and microwave RF fields (above about 300 MHz) that have fast data encoded on them by any modulation techniques other than simple FM.

    Alasdair

  10. Well, I agree that the current studies don’t “prove” anything. We must consider that not only might watching a film about EMF health effects affect a viewers’ reporting of symptoms, but also hearing “safety messages” for years from the wireless industry could also affect people’s reporting of symptoms. That group watching the unrelated film was not an untainted control group.

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