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Bioelectricity and health

What is that power inside your body that carries the spark of life: that bounce in your step, smile on your face, splendor in your eye16. It is not the bio-material: proteins, fats, minerals, vitamins, other nutrients, cellular structures, tissues, organs or blood; they are all still there when one dies. What isn't, is bioelectricity.

The EKG (electrocardiogram), EEG (electroencephalogram) and EMG (electromyogram) - detecting the electricity that flows over live heart, brain and muscle, respectively - all go flat.

Life stops when the electricity does.

What is it that makes electricity so important for life? The short answer is: it is the key energy source at the cellular level. This energy is stored as membrane potential: electrochemical potential of ion gradients forming and dissipating around outer cellular membrane. It can be effectively transferred into other forms of energy, needed to facilitate transport of solutes and metabolites into the cells, pushing them through so called ion channels (most important being those regulating transport and concentrations of ionized calcium, potassium, sodium and chloride), as well as for cell signaling and communication by creating and transmitting so called "action potentials".

The reverse flow of charge is mainly facilitated by adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the main metabolic cellular energy carrier produced in mitochondria.

The ATP itself is made by ATP synthase enzyme, powered by another transmembrane potential gradient form (this time the inner mitochondrial membrane), so called proton gradient, maintained by proton channels (or "pumps"). These pumps drive protons (which are, in fact, ionized hydrogen, whose atom consists of a pair of single proton and electron) out to the mitochondrial inter-membrane space.

Energy for the proton pumps is produced by the cellular electron transport chain, starting with energy-rich electron donors (such as NADH, the reduced form of vitamin B3 based coenzyme nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide NAD+, and succinate, or FADH2, the reduced form of FAD, flavine adenine dinucleotide, a vitamin-B2-derived enzyme cofactor), initiatiating a series of redox reactions through which electrons are exchanged.

At the end of the chain of reactions involving coenzyme Q (ubiquinone), flavin cofactors, iron-sulfur clusters and cytochrome (protein/iron compounds) complex, electrons are accepted by molecular oxygen, which combines with hydrogen ions to form water, as a final by-product of the energy production cycle.

Mitochondrion obtains the energy for synthesis of electron donors from lower-level metabolic energy forms, i.e. by catabolizing so called fuel molecules: simple sugars, fatty and amino acids. Most important and also best known among them is glucose, a form of simple sugar that body derives from food.

This completes the chain of transformations from one form of biological energy to another. What most people think of the primary energy source for body functioning - glucose - is merely a part of the extremely complex process of producing the actual cellular energy currency, the ATP. A process that wouldn't be possible without bioelectricity.

The complexity of this entire process is nothing short of amazing. To try to illustrate this, let's take a snapshot of ion channels in the outer cellular membrane. They are the core of the mechanism for regulation of membrane potential, created by buildup of charges (ions) around the inner and outer membrane surface. Being made of lipids, the membrane acts as an insulator, impenetrable for ions except through the channels when they are open.

There are four mechanisms regulating opening and closing these microscopic pores on the cellular membrane; some are voltage gated, some depend on special neurotransmitters (ligands), and yet others respond to pressure or temperature. Such differentiation gives to a cell needed flexibility of response to variable exogenous and endogenous conditions affecting its functioning.

When open, each channel allows specific type of ions to move into the cell, at a rate of up to 10 million per second.

However, in order to achieve necessary accuracy in diffusing membrane potential, the channels stay open only for very short periods, on the order of milliseconds at the time. Once activated, they rapidly switch between open and closed state, after which they close and stay inactive until activated by another trigger.

Ion channel activity is a part of basic body functions. For instance, muscle contraction is initiated when a neurotransmitter such as acetylcholine, is released after an action potential - an electrical charge used for signaling - sent to neuromuscular junction activates its sodium channels. The neurotransmitter binds to acetylcholine receptors in the muscle, triggering influx of sodium and calcium ions into it; this depolarizes cellular membranes, activating voltage gated sodium and calcium channels of muscle cells. They open up, allowing sodium and calcium to enter muscle cells, resulting in muscle contraction.

This illustrates how vital is bioelectricity for body functions. Each single muscle contraction is initiated by an electrical signal, and made possible by depolarization of cellular membranes, followed by influx of ionized minerals into the muscle cells. Pretty much everything that occurs within the body is initiated and supported, at least in part, by electricity.

Activation and inactivation of ion channels occurs in a seemingly random manner, yet we know that it has to be accurately controlled in order to secure not only optimum functioning of the cell, but its very survival as well. Significantly prolonging open (active) state of ion channels inflicts severe stress to cells, and

can eventually cause their death.

Some natural antimicrobial substances, such as intestinal defensins, use ion-channel-forming peptides to kill bacteria (bee venom also contains that type of compound).

Likewise, blocking ion channels also interferes with cellular functions, and can seriously damage cells. Some of the most potent natural neurotoxins, such as marine cone snail's conotoxins, exert significant portion of their action by selectively blocking ion channels: kappa-conotoxin blocks potassium channels, causing tremors; mu-conotoxin blocks voltage gated sodium-channels in muscles, causing paralysis; omega-conotoxin blocks neural (N-type) voltage gated sodium channels and with it nerve impulse transmission, including sense of pain, hundreds of times more efficiently than morphine.

On the other hand, delta-conotoxin inhibits closing of voltage gated calcium channels, causing hyperactivity at lower an death in higher doses; combined with kappa-conotoxin, it causes "sudden tetanus syndrome" with near instant paralysis and death in envenomed fish.

This barely scratches the surface of the complexity of ion-channel function. For instance, the voltage gated potassium channels (K-channels) alone come in

over 50 different variations

with respect their way of functioning.

It is all but certain that proper function of ion-channels in general, and voltage gated ion channels in particular is crucially important for the wellbeing of a cell. This type of ion channels relay on voltage sensors - specialized proteins in the protein structure forming the channel. These proteins effectively close, or open the channel, reacting to the changes in gating voltage, produced by several different positively charged amino acids moving back and forth from the inner to the outer end the channel.

Bioelectricity and non-ionizing radiation health threat

Even this scanty snapshot of the ion channels function - which is only a part of body's bioelectrical network - gives clear enough idea of how complex and intricate is body's dependence on bioelectricity. Yet, the integrity of this very foundation of your biological function is

under constant and ever increasing treat.

The treat is coming from man-made electromagnetic fields, as well as power-frequency-related stray and transient currents, finding their way out of electrical wires and into other conductive media - one of which is your body.

Official stand, for decades, is that these fields - so called non-ionizing radiation - and currents are too weak to cause adverse health effects. This view originates in the fact that common exposure levels to this form of radiation are too low to cause either significant tissue heating, or direct neuromuscular stimulus. As for the possible interference with body's incredibly delicate and complex electrical network, it is assumed to be negligible or none.

Scientific research during the past three decades, however, has produced large body of evidence clearly indicating that:

• low-level exposures far below official safety limits can interfere with basic cellular processes (energy production, protein synthesis, DNA activity/damage, level of cellular oxidative activity, etc.), and

• it can cause adverse health effects, or worsen existing health conditions; the list of health problems linked to energy field, stray voltage and so called "dirty electricity" (high-frequency transient currents) exposure include neurological, cardiac, respiratory, dermatologic, eye end ear symptoms, digestive disturbances, sleeping disorders, and just about any ailment or disease one can think of, including cancer

Sources of this new nemesis include power lines and electrical wiring, electrical and electronic devices of any kind (appliances, power tools, dimmer switches, touch lamps, fluorescent lights, office machines, video screens, computers - particularly  stereo systems, wireless telephones and technology, cell phones, microwave ovens, and so on), poor quality distribution lines and in-house systems (creating ground currents and leaking out high-frequency transient currents), electric trains, cars, and many others.

As with any other pathogen, sensitivity to possible adverse health effects caused by the electron-energy in its various forms vary widely from one individual to another - and so do levels of exposure. For that reason, it is prudent to minimize your exposure by:

making sure your electrical system is properly wired

reducing the number and use of electric devices to what is really necessary both, at home and work

making your bedroom free from electric devices (even such a small gadget as a radio clock next to your bed, can expose you to electromagnetic field as strong as 100 microteslas)

measuring level of "dirty electricity" in your home with specialized meters like Graham/Stetzer microsurge meter, and have it reduced, if necessary, by installing Graham/Stetzer filters

More information about the problem of energy field exposure, its effects on bioelectricity and health, can be found at the BioInitiative Web site. This group of 14 scientists and public health experts is committed to:

- making public the facts about adverse health effects caused by officially "harmless" exposures to non-ionizing radiation, and

- establishing reasonably safe official safety exposure limits to this type of radiation

Among rare articles on this forbidden topic is this one in the Prevention magazine. Another unique source are articles on the health effects of electromagnetic fields and "dirty electricity" on Dr. Magda Havas' (Trent University, Ontario, Canada) site.



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