Pulsed Bio-electromagnetism as a Therapeutic Tool for Treatment of Diseases – Safe or Dangerous?
Updated: Dec 13, 2021
Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF), also known as low field magnetic stimulation, uses electromagnetic fields to stimulate and encourage the body's natural recovery process. By inducing mild electrical magnetic currents into damaged cells, this form of therapy slows or impedes the release of pain and inflammatory mediators and enhances blood flow to and around the cells, thereby re-establishing normal cell to cell interaction. Devices that utilize PEMF technology emit electromagnetic waves at different frequencies. Several devices have been approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) since 2007 .
Electromagnetic radiation is synchronized fluctuations of electric and magnetic fields. The official safety limit for power line fields is 100 microtesla (µT) at 50 - 60 Hz. By comparison, a large power line 100 feet from a house might create a field of about 0.4 (µT). The strength of Earth's natural magnetic field ranges from about 30 to 60 (µT). Many of the positive outcomes from bone fracture repair, tissue repair and limited published applications for treating certain cancers use extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMF) in the range of 30 ~ 100 Hz and 1 ~ 300 (µT). To be clear, use of much higher frequencies also has demonstrated a therapeutic effect. PEMF has played a role and continues to be advanced as a suitable non-invasive therapy for several diseases.
Electromagnetic technologies are receiving more attention, owing to their relatively low-cost, non-ionizing effect on tissues, minimal risk nature, and portability. Although only two clinical studies have used PEMF therapy for brain cancer treatment (one in the US and one in Switzerland), these studies demonstrated that PEMF therapy, at the applied frequency and µT is safe and promising compared to other available cancer therapies . In addition, PEMF therapy has been shown to be beneficial in the healing of bone fractures [3, 4]. Specifically, the use of these fields have been found to stimulate collagen density in and around the joints, and help to trigger Ca2+ flow to the defect site resulting in faster bone healing . Indeed, as far back as 1974, researchers were experimenting with electromagnetic fields and noted improvement in bone fracture recovery with the application of these low intensity, non-ionizing fields .
In 1991, Congress asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to review the research literature of the effects on the body from exposure to these fields and determine whether the scientific basis was sufficient to assess health risks from such exposures . The NAS concluded based on a comprehensive evaluation of published studies relating to the effects of power-frequency electric and magnetic fields on cells, tissues, and organisms (including humans); the conclusion of the committee was that the current body of evidence did not show that exposure to these fields presents a human-health hazard. Specifically, there was no conclusive and consistent evidence to show that exposures to residential electric and magnetic fields produce cancer, adverse neurobehavioral effects, or reproductive and developmental effects.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, biological effects of ELF-EMF and their consequences on human health have become the subject of recurrent public debate. Touitou and Selmaoui “have shown [through a retrospective review of over 140 papers] in [a] review that the reported studies are largely contradictory with regard to epidemiologic studies (about half of the studies found a relationship and the other half failed to find any), to the potential biological effects of ELF-EMF, and to the potential mechanisms put forward; no clear explanations exist for these contradictory results” .
For example, there are over nine million bone fractures in the US each year. These slow-healing fractures are more common among the elderly, patients with diabetes, obese patients, and smokers . PEMF has been shown to be effective in the recovery of bone fractures, even though the mechanism of action is unclear. However, it was demonstrated that PEMF exposure (1.5 µT, 75 Hz) positively influences the release of anti-inflammatory cytokines and angiogenic factors (angiogenesis plays a key role in bone fracture repair) as well as increase tendon cell proliferation in a human tendon cell culture model. In addition, use of PEMF tends to decrease osteoclast activating factor (degrades bone) and increase osteoblast activity (promotes bone production).
Cancers represent an increasingly prominent challenge, and in particular brain cancers, especially considering the difficulties in crossing the blood brain barrier (BBB). The quest for new, minimally invasive and more personalized technologies for monitoring, diagnosing and treating these malignancies is an active, multidisciplinary research effort. In the case of untreatable brain tumors, certain, otherwise beneficial anti-cancer drugs cannot penetrate the BBB. Moreover, if other therapeutic options (radiotherapy, chemotherapy, targeted antibodies, or other pharmacological treatments) cannot eliminate the malignant growth, researchers may be able to employ EMF strategies using different frequencies of the EMF spectrum with or without signal modulation, to treat specific tumors, with electric [tumor treating (TT) Fields, electroporation] or EMFs (hyperthermia, RF treatment), either alone or in combination with chemotherapeutics or nanoparticles .
In one clinical setting, subjects were given PEMF treatment daily for 21 weeks and a similar size group underwent sham therapy (fake therapy). Blood pressure (BP) measurements were taken (both systolic and diastolic) at rest and near the end of submaximal exercise pre- and 12 week post-therapy. PEMF treatment increased plasma nitric oxide (NO) availability (improves blood flow) and improve BP at rest and during exercise. Additionally, this benefit appeared more pronounced in subjects who had existing hypertension . Additionally, based on research in the laboratory, cardiovascular effects of ELF showed that heart rate variability (HRV) is reduced after nighttime exposure to intermittent 60-Hz magnetic fields, and long-term exposure to ELF-EMF may be associated with acute myocardial infarction and arrhythmia-related deaths. However, a pooled analysis of laboratory studies did not demonstrate a consistent impact on cardiovascular outcomes. Based on a prospective cohort study, it was reported there was no association between occupational ELF-EMF exposure and cardiovascular disease mortality, including ischemic heart disease (IHD), acute myocardial infarction (AMI), subacute and chronic IHDs, arrhythmias, atherosclerosis and cerebrovascular diseases mortality .
Increasing evidence shows that extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMFs) stimulation has a positive effect on autoimmunity and immune cells. Activation of primary monocytes and macrophages from various species and different cell lines have been correlated to ELF-EMF exposure. Additionally, alleviation of certain symptoms associated with multiple sclerosis through the use of pulsed ELF-EMFs of a few µT has also been demonstrated. While the mechanism of action is not clearly understood, generally, EMFs appear to activate physiological functions of immune cells that may, at least in part, be responsible for some of these effects .
There are also numerous neurodegenerative disorders, in particular, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, and Parkinson’s Disease being the most prevalent. With regard to neurodegenerative disorders, scientists continue to search for external influences that are in part or in whole responsible for these disorders. Occupational disorders have been identified as a possible source of certain neurodegenerative diseases. In particular, it was determined, based on death certificates, that people exposed in a professional environment to EMF (e.g. power plant operators) tend to have a higher ratio of neurodegenerative disorders when compared with other types of employment. However, the association was stronger for some disorders versus others. Indeed, the increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease was also confirmed in an extensive meta-analysis. Increased mortality was also observed to be attributable to neurodegenerative diseases in particular Alzheimer's disease in residents living nearby (50 m or less) from 220–380 kV power lines. Although there are numerous publications regarding the association with EMF and neurodegenerative disorders, it is noteworthy that the analyses, reported by the authors of the article, admit are solely based on death certificates and medical documentation. Many other external factors can be important in determining the risk of neurodegenerative diseases in different professional groups, such as the severity of work, physical or mental work, and certainly lifestyle .
A word of caution, there are numerous scholarly articles related to the adverse effects of ELF-EMF exposure. There are also numerous articles arguing to the contrary. However, the potential for ELF-EMF therapy as a viable therapy has not been fully explored. If you have an interest in considering this form of therapy, it is imperative that you speak with your physician and/or healthcare professional prior to taking any action. CureScience™ provides this article for informational purposes only. You should consult a healthcare professional regarding the use of ELF-EMF therapy.
Written by: Lawrence D. Jones, Ph.D.
Vadalà M, Morales-Medina JC, Vallelunga A, Palmieri B, Laurino C, Iannitti T. Mechanisms and therapeutic effectiveness of pulsed electromagnetic field therapy in oncology. Cancer Med. 2016;5(11):3128-3139. doi:10.1002/cam4.861
Scott G, King JB. A prospective, double-blind trial of electrical capacitive coupling in the treatment of non-union of long bones. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 1994;76(6):820-826. doi:10.2106/00004623-199406000-00005
Sharrard WJ. A double-blind trial of pulsed electromagnetic fields for delayed union of tibial fractures. J Bone Joint Surg Br. 1990;72(3):347-355. doi:10.1302/0301-620X.72B3.2187877
Ross C L, Siriwardane M, Almeida-Porada G, et al. The effect of low-frequency electromagnetic field on human bone marrow stem/progenitor cell differentiation. Stem Cell Res. 2015;15(1):96-108. doi:10.1016/j.scr.2015.04.009
Bassett, C. A. L., R. J. Pawluk, and A. A. Pilla. “ACCELERATION OF FRACTURE REPAIR BY ELECTROMAGNETIC FIELDS. A SURGICALLY NONINVASIVE METHOD.” Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 238, no. 1 Electrically (October 1974): 242–62. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-6632.1974.tb26794.x.
National Research Council (US) Committee on the Possible Effects of Electromagnetic Fields on Biologic Systems. Possible Health Effects of Exposure to Residential Electric And Magnetic Fields. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1997.
Touitou Y, Selmaoui B. The effects of extremely low-frequency magnetic fields on melatonin and cortisol, two marker rhythms of the circadian system. Dialogues Clin Neurosci. 2012;14(4):381-399. doi:10.31887/DCNS.2012.14.4/ytouitou
Mattsson, Mats-Olof, and Myrtill Simkó. “Emerging Medical Applications Based on Non-Ionizing Electromagnetic Fields from 0 Hz to 10 THz.” Medical Devices (Auckland, N.Z.) 12 (September 12, 2019): 347–68. https://doi.org/10.2147/MDER.S214152.
Kim, Chul-Ho, et al. “The Impact of Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy on Blood Pressure and Circulating Nitric Oxide Levels: A Double Blind, Randomized Study in Subjects with Metabolic Syndrome.” Blood Pressure 29, no. 1 (January 2, 2020): 47–54. https://doi.org/10.1080/08037051.2019.1649591.
Karimi, Abbas, Farzaneh Ghadiri Moghaddam, and Masoumeh Valipour. “Insights in the Biology of Extremely Low-Frequency Magnetic Fields Exposure on Human Health.” Molecular Biology Reports 47, no. 7 (July 1, 2020): 5621–33. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11033-020-05563-8.
Guerriero, Fabio, and Giovanni Ricevuti. “Extremely Low Frequency Electromagnetic Fields Stimulation Modulates Autoimmunity and Immune Responses: A Possible Immuno-Modulatory Therapeutic Effect in Neurodegenerative Diseases.” Neural Regeneration Research 11, no. 12 (December 2016): 1888–95. https://doi.org/10.4103/1673-5374.195277.
Wyszkowska, Joanna, Milena Jankowska, and Piotr Gas. “Electromagnetic Fields and Neurodegenerative Diseases.” Przegląd Elektrotechniczny 1, no. 95 (2019): 129–33.