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Edition No. 16/E June 2002
THE MELATONIN HYPOTHESIS - AN INTRODUCTION

Prof. Dr. Alexander Lerchel, International University Bremen
School of Engineering and Science, D-28759 Bremen, Germany

This article focuses on the effects of melatonin, a substance secreted by the pineal gland, on physiological functions, its ability to scavenge oxygen-derived radicals, and especially on the involvement of this substance in possible adverse effects of electric, magnetic, and electromagnetic fields. By using epidemiological methods, it has been frequently reported that those anthropogenic fields may have adverse health effects, whereas the impact of those fields on the general population is still a matter of controversy.

The so-called melatonin hypothesis tries to put these different issues into context. Although this theory is not yet proven, numerous investigations used it as their rationale.

One of the major problems in this context is the still missing, common-ly accepted mechanisms by which weak fields are able to interact with biological systems since the energy transmitted seems to be too low in comparison to the thermal noise. Non-linear mechanisms are therefore discussed as possible alternative explanations.

The energy released by mobile phones is partially (up to 50 %) absorbed by surrounding tissues, especially in the head and the hand of the user. These fields, unlike those from base stations, are able to cause increased tissue temperatures, whereas the absolute values of temperature increase depends largely on the type of tissue, the antenna configuration, and the habits of the user. Meanwhile, mobile phones are available which prevent this temperature increase by special designs.

Based on the aforementioned reasons it is possible that the synthesis of melatonin from the pineal gland, which is located in the brain, is affected by electromagnetic fields originating from mobile phones. Thus, research is needed to investigate this possibility to either prove or refute this hypothesis. The results of these experiments may serve as helpful arguments both for the users and for the mobile phone industry with respect to fears from electromagnetic fields, and safety regulations, respectively.

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