Reviews of Electromagnetism & Life

From Microwave News, June 1982
Becker and Marino present a comprehensive review of the influence of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) on living systems. Beginning with an overview of the scientific and political history of bioelectrical phenomena, they go on to discuss what is known about intrinsic and natural EMFs, and the effects of man-made EMFs on the nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, hematological, immune and reproductive systems.
The authors, well known for their work on regeneration, develop the hypothesis that intrinsic EMFs control biological functions, while natural EMFs convey information to living organisms. Particle fields, meanwhile, act as stressors — stimuli that elicit a common physiological, adaptive response. In this well-referenced book, Becker and Marino contend that “the present abnormal electromagnetic environment can constitute a health risk.”
From Medical Book News — A Guide to New Books, May 1983
This book synthesizes the various aspects of the role of electricity in biology and emphasizes their underlying unity. It is organized in four parts. The first two parts deal with historical factors and the bio-regulatory role of electromagnetic energy. The other two parts deal with bioeffects of artificial electromagnetic energy. The most apparent effects of electricity viz, heat and shock are not included in this monograph. Nonetheless the monograph is addressed to a broad range of readers who would be stimulated to do further evaluation and research.
From JAMA, August 6, 1982 (Vol. 248, No. 5) (Reviewed by John F. Connolly, MD, Univ. of Nebraska Medical Center, Omaha NE)
This book represents the authors’ provocative insights from decades of research into bioelectric effects. It begins with a historical but lively account of past research seeking to discover the vital animal or electrical forces distinguishing the living from the nonliving. Galvani’s erroneous conclusions regarding animal electricity in 1786 were opportunistically diverted by Volta and others from the biologic realm into the technology of generating electricity. The discovery of voltaic electricity led to the battery-operated telegraph, the arc light, and, ultimately, to the major dominance of electricity in today’s society. The difficult questions pertaining to electricity’s role in complex living forms remained unanswered. Biochemical explanations of biologic control systems dominated. Any suggestion of electrical control systems within the body was promptly equated with “vital force” research and dismissed as unscientific.
Current concepts of electrobiologic controls owe more to developments in solid state physics than to biologic research. Body functions for which the authors describe electromagnetic influences include neuronal activity, growth, healing, and even possibly regeneration of parts. The beneficial aspects of these findings have already been exploited clinically to treat healing problems in the skeletal system. The feasibility of biasing DC flow in the CNS to induce anesthesia or to control pain has also been demonstrated.
Unfortunately, there are also potentially detrimental effects to consider, particularly from exposure to intense electromagnetic fields produced in today’s society. The authors define such exposure as a general biologic stressor. Its significance is difficult to contest or to support, since any such stress would be an unsensed one. This question cries for better epidemiologic measurements. Unfortunately, the authors opt mainly for risk evaluations and regulations based on animal testing. This should distress most of us readers who already sense an overenthusiastic application of animal toxicology to control human affairs. It should not, however, detract seriously from the overall impact of this important book for scientists, engineers, physicians, students, and the general public. This book does indeed provide “a guide to be used [cautiously] at the beginning of an interesting journey.”
From IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology, December 1982 (Reviewed by Ronald L. Seaman, Biomedical Research Division, Engineering Experiment Station, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA)
During the last 20 years, there has been a surge of scientific interest in the interaction of electromagnetic waves with biological systems. The concern over possible deleterious effects to man has intensified recently because of increased environmental and occupational exposure to electromagnetic radiation. In this four-part book, Becker and Marino summarize evidence that low-level electromagnetic energy from DC to gigahertz frequencies can produce functional changes in biological systems. They do not include effects that can be directly attributed to the better-understood mechanisms of heat and shock. Much of the material in several areas is drawn from the authors’ work during the last decade. In the preface, they acknowledge the controversy surrounding their view that low-level electromagnetic energy is capable of direct “subthermal” action on biological tissues.
Parts One and Two, by Becker, deal with the historical development of electrobiology. Beginning with ideas of the ancient Greeks, the account brings the reader rapidly to modern concepts. Functions of intrinsic electromagnetic energy are described for the nervous system, limb, regeneration, and bone growth, with emphasis on the role of DC potentials. Then, evidence is presented for the coupling of natural and man-made environmental electromagnetic energy to living organisms. Topics include biological cycles and navigational aids in homing and migratory behaviors.
Parts Three and Four, by Marino, describe laboratory studies and applications of electromagnetic energy. In two of the six chapters in Part Three, the physics of some low-level interaction mechanisms are briefly discussed. In the remaining four chapters the reader is introduced to bioeffect studies on several biological systems. Effects on the nervous system are classified as direct — EEG and biochemical — and as behavioral, under which calcium efflux is discussed as a possible intermediate mechanism. Effects also are presented for the endocrine, the cardiovascular, the immune, and the reproductive systems. In addition, there are accounts of effects on growth and healing and on chromosomes. Results for higher frequencies are presented in terms of a planewave equivalent power density instead of the now commonly used mass specific absorption rate (SAR) that relates effects to a dose of energy in the tissue instead of incident energy.
Part Four describes environmental electromagnetic energy, consisting mainly of power line frequencies and radio and television signals. Results of epidemiological studies are given for a variety of exposure levels and frequencies. The last chapter is a brief description of therapeutic application of electromagnetic energy in osteogenesis and acupuncture.
Most topics in this book are introduced with brief descriptions of basic concepts. Considering the amount of material covered in the book, this brevity, which also is seen in some of the main subject matter, keeps the length of the book reasonable. However, this brevity also results in the book being best understood by a reader with a background in physiology or biophysics. The book is written in a concise, organized manner that makes for uncluttered reading (somewhat marred by a number of typographical errors). At least in part, the conciseness is because there are fewer literature references than what a comprehensive treatise would have required; the reader should weigh the presented material accordingly. It also should be noted that the authors reference Soviet literature extensively and sometimes exclusively. In some cases, this is understandable since some of the Soviet studies are unique; in other cases, reference to more works would make a more balanced presentation. The serious researcher also should consult recent, related books and the current scientific literature.
Although the controversy over the general topic of this book is acknowledged in the preface, the reader who doesn’t read the preface would not realize a controversy existed since little of the other side is given in the rest of the book. However, by bringing together the evidence for the “subthermal” effects of electromagnetic energy on biological systems, Becker and Marino have succeeded in their goal to provide a guide to the subject. The material must serve as an introduction since the overall meaning of the data presented is not brought into focus; this may be because it cannot be focused now. The evidence presented by the authors shows little in common among biological effects except that they seem to occur. Many readers will disagree with the authors’ concepts and conclusions about interactions of the electromagnetic environment with biological systems. However, these disagreements may form the basis for their own resolution through future, well-designed experiments using the results of studies reviewed in this book.
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