IS THE SENSE OF MAGNETORECEPTION IN ANIMALS RELATED TO THE CONDITION NAMED `ELECTROSENSITIVITY' IN HUMANS?
Summary: There is a stream of evidence and
opinion that indicates that
magnetoreception in animals may be related
to the phenomenon named
`electrosensitivity' (ES) in humans,
outlined briefly here. The human
magnetoreception sense is discussed, and
defects in it that could explain ES in some
people predisposed with various pathologies
are described, as well as supporting
evidence from research. Importantly, anmials
are now known to be able to detect one tho-
sandth of the background radiation of the
Magnetoreception is the sense that some animals
use to measure the earth's magnetic field, for
purposes of navigation. Homing pigeons, migrating
birds, honey bees that need to return to their hives
and many others locate magnetic north with their
magnetoreception sensory system- they have more than
the commonly considered five external senses.
Apparently so might we humans.
The magnetoreception system appears quite
complicated, and is not fully understood yet, but is
thought to be primarily driven by tiny little magnets
embedded in creatures. These magnets are small pieces
of magnetite, or other magnetic minerals. Magnetite
can be produced by bacteria called magnetotactic
bacteria, that swim in the direction of the earths
magnetic field. These magnets form part of the
magnetic sense that also takes its inputs from
sunlight, certain nerves, and in some the
polarization of the local electric field of light. It
is also now considered that the red blood cells may
play a role in this system. In some creatures the
system interfaces with the pineal gland (melatonin
body clock). There are a few different magnetosensory
systems, and they can operate differently depending
on the time of day.
For example homing pigeons were magnetization
changed on overcast days, and their homing ability
seemed to be impaired, whereas with the altered
magnetization scrambling their magnetoreception on
sunny days they could still navigate. Their could be
a number of possible explanations for this, such as
utilization of other sensory cues on sunny days, and
For one idea, consider the following. If you are
lost in the bush and want to navigate, then if you
have a watch, and can see the sun, you can calculate
north from this combination, as they teach in scouts,
assuming you know the season. From time and sun,
calculate north. Or from sun and north, calculate
time of day. Given any two of three variables, you
can calculate the third, assuming you know the
Birds that travel look at the sun; instead of
being blinded by looking into it, some creatures can
look at the polarization of its rays. Some travel at
night, and migrate via the stars or moon instead of
the sun. This is not all understood yet.
So a sense of time and sense of direction appear
to possibly be linked. If you took the magnetite out
of a homing pigeon's head, maybe it could not tell
the time? This would need to be checked with
The makeup in a birds head is complex, involving
pineal gland, magnetite, eye sensors, in some species
some nerves. The pineal involvement may reflect the
above suggested link of time of day and navigation.
If there is injury to these systems, navigation
or maybe body clock could be impaired. For example it
has now been found that migrating birds have their
sense of direction damaged by radiofrequency EMR, in
important studies by Ritz et al. They exposed birds
to broad spectrum RF 0.1- 10 MHz at a very low level,
and by varying its direction showed that they could
scramble birds' magnetoreception. As described below,
ELF magnetic field can interfere with magnetite
magnets in a creatures brains, but not RF. The new
research is showing that apparently another mechanism
is also at work in magnetoreception. Chemical
reactions (radical pair reactions considered to be in
the eye) are affected by RF according to advanced
theory. In experiments the researchers scrambled this
light dependent magnetic compass
(photomagnetoreceptor) with a resonant oscillating
magnetic field OF A THOUSANDTH OF THE GEOMAGNETIC
FIELD STRENGTH. As well as being a wonder of nature,
for electrosensitivity research, this is surely
One of the main workers in this field Kirschvink
reports that he believes the magnetosensory system is
only capable of responding to ELF magnetic fields,
less than say 10 or so Hz, due to the nature of the
magnetic particles. As mentioned below, human heart
conditions are now shown to be affected in these
frequency ranges by geomagnetic magnetic fields
(Otsuka et al), depending on light- dark cycle.
Russian EMR research and ES research find an
association of EMR with heart conditions, and ES has
found the same, discussed below. Possibly newer work
in this field will reveal a greater frequency
response of the magnetosensory system.
There are some phenomena that indicate that
animals magnetoreception may be being scrambled by
humans- it is possibly involved in whale strandings,
and some believe on lesser evidence declining bee
health and birds slamming into radar towers.
Whale stranding is not totally understood, but
magnetic anomalies are thought to be a main cause.
Stranded whales are often found at places where the
magnetic field is perpendicular to its usual
direction. Also it is thought that naval military
activity is implicated. Mid range frequency sonar
from military exercises has been blamed. Whales are
found to have been disoriented prior to stranding.
Submarines also communicate via ELF radiation (the
kind considered a problem above), and produce
electromagnetic disturbances. Opinion is that some
whale sense is being disoriented by some form of
radiation (EMR or sonar).
Also many birds slam into radar towers with high
death tolls. Some don't see the towers in the dark or
fog and blind crash (see www.towerkills.com ), but
most circle around the tower lights entranced
somehow, and crash into the guy wires. Some research
has shown transient disorientation on the birds by
the towers' RF from tracking radars. However at that
range, maybe the birds are in the near field of
radiation from these towers, which could affect their
magnetoreception in a different way. The light is
considered to play the primary role, and light is
related to their retinal magnetoreception. But when
schooling fish see light in the dark they also
cluster around it. When birds are preparing to
migrate they are similarly in a state of overpowering
migration unrest. Researchers have found some non
thermal effects of pulsed microwaves on skull nerves
of the birds, but do not know the relationship. VLF
high power military radar was shown to effect chicks,
but this is very strong. Thus research on animal
disorientation is incomplete, but may need to be
further investigated in the light of the new above RF
MOVING TO ELECTROSENSITIVITY.
Humans are thought to also probably have
magnetoreception. Studies by RR Baker formerly of
Manchester University are described in his book
`Human Navigation and Magnetoreception' (1989),
although these await successful follow up. Dr Baker
performed experiments by blindfolding and
disorienting subjects, and showing that they could
still indicate north and navigate. Other experiments
were done scrambling the system with specifically
placed fixed magnets stuck to heads and other
misorientors and disorientors. We seem to have the
same magnetic compass that animals have, with
magnetic material throughout the brain, at the top of
our noses near the ethmoid sinus, and possibly near
the pituitary gland. Some evidence is that pacific
island seafarers may have used this sense in sea
migration. If you want to get somewhere, just follow
your nose. The nose knows.
If humans do have such a sense, then it would
clearly be a candidate for research under the modern
unnatural exposure levels to EMR in proximity of
appliances and in the background of all public
places. Also anything that interferes significantly
with the magnetosensory organs could make them more
vulnerable to environmental illness.
Dr Baker considered all of this in his 1989
book, and there are numerous literature referrals to
the possibility. Dr Baker considered whether effects
of cigarette smoke, polyester clothing (static
charge), alcohol, and sinus infection might affect
human magnetoreception. All of these are implicated
in symptom aggravation in groups of
electrosensitives. Their effect on magnetoreception
was not clear cut, with misorientations not entirely
distinguishable from misorientations that would be
produced in an otherwise healthy person, but the
confluence of research directions is interesting.
Recently, mobile phone radiation has been shown
to effect magnetite producing bacteria, killing them
off (Cranfield et al Mar 2003, `Preliminary
evaluation of nanoscale biogenic magnetite-based
ferromagnetic transduction mechanisms for mobile
phone bioeffects'). This may be important. These
experiments were carried out with a real mobile
phone, and showed
`Experimental evaluation revealed that
exposure to mobile phone emissions resulted in
a consistent and significantly higher
proportion of cell death in exposed cultures
versus sham exposure'
For some reason, maybe to control all variables,
these experiments were repeated by the researchers,
however using an artificially produced kind of mobile
phone radiation in an emulator called REFLEX, and to
the contrary these later studies show no significant
effect, creating the illusion of safety. However the
initial study with a real mobile phone did clearly
appear to show a damaging of these magnetite-
producing bacteria. These experiments should be
repeated, and advanced upon if there is more to find,
using larger real world doses of radiation, and
possibly broad spectrum mobile phone scanners. It was
thought in these studies that the ELF magnetic
signals and protocol signals are causing the
bioeffects, in alignment with Kirschvink's magnetite
Returning to ES, nerves such as trigeminal in
the transequatorial migratory bird, the bobolink,
were mentioned as being implicated in
magnetoreception. A patient with multiple sclerosis
of facial nerves, or an impeded ocular nerve could
have a scrambled magnetosensory system. I know one
with that condition and a very severe case of ES.
Metal dental amalgam fillings, known to be associated
with ES, produce oral galvanic currents via
electrolysis, which can scramble facial nerves in the
vicinity of the ethmoid sinus. These currents should
produce micro magnetic field disturbances in that
region, with possibly some flux linkage. Maybe
chewing could produce ELF flux linkage. Also metal
implants act as microaerials for RF similar to that
used on the birds above, planted right next to the
proposed magnetosensory system. Additionally the
mercury released is known to be able to cause nerve
damage. ES patients are warned to stay away from
fungi and candida for unknown reasons. Fungi upset
bacterial balance, which could potentially affect
magnetotactic bacteria, and also spores can get into
the nasal passages. Also ES people are more often
than not sensitive to chemicals, which could be a
sign of aggravation of the nasal or trigeminal nerves
involved both in chemoreception and magnetoreception.
This would require further research, but trigemenal
and vomeronasal organ irritation have both been
suggested in multiple chemical sensitivities. The
facial nerves could simultaneously handle
chemoreception and magnetoreception by the above
radical pair reactions, or some variant thereof,
producing the overlap of ES and MCS. Red blood cells
are suspected of being involved in magnetoreception
by some sources. Haemoglobin is predicted by computer
models to be affected by microwave radiation,
according to Zago M, D'Inzeo and Palombo, who
researched microwave effects on zinc protoporphyrin.
The large chelated molecules are slightly unstable
with respect to microwaves, affecting the metabolism
of iron. If red blood cells were part of
magnetoreception, this could create a problem,
possibly for ES. This porphyrin system is also
responsible for detoxifying the blood, a weakness of
which may be related speculatively to chemical
sensitivities. A more thorough analysis would be
needed. Russian radiofrequency illness affects in
workers and military personnel concentrates on heart
conditions, and says that after protracted (say 3
years) of exposure, the condition is permanent in
these patients. The new Japanese heart rate
variability related to geomagnetism below ELF may be
appropriate here, and ES as listed below shows same
In an informal survey of ES in Electrical
Sensitivity News ISSN 1086-2897 Vol 5 No 2, available
on a newsgroup, by far the most prominent symptoms
over many others were listed in order of frequency
multiple chemical sensitivity 43
headache/ headpain 21
confusion/ disorientation/ difficulty thinking
and/ or memory loss/ lapse 19
cardiac arrhythmia/ heart irregularities/
palpitations and/ or chest pain/ pressure
burning and/ or itching skin 9
Other than skin, these would appear to back up
the arguments above.
The primary symptoms of ES from multiple
evidence sources including mobile phone tower
radiation studies and British and other numerous
independent civilian and military data, are sleep
disorders, and memory problems/ headaches/ nausea,
and skin problems possibly related to
photosensitivity. A scrambled magnetosensory system
has been proposed above to damage the body clock.
This might account for sleep problems and a permanent
case of jetlag. Indeed jetlag itself may be related
to radiation exposure or alterations in geomagnetism
in flight. Memory problems, headache and nausea are
typical of disorientation (scrambled navigation).
Melatonin has long been thought to be involved
in radiation related health complaints. Magnetic
field effects on melatonin level studies have been
many and varied, and it seems as though melatonin
effects may be modulated not only by magnetic fields,
but also by UV and light- dark. Once again, these
factors are linked in magnetoreception. Human
subjects and homing pigeons with calcified pineal
glands had defective sense of direction in a Bayliss
CR 1985. Some sleep studies show altered sleep
patterns in teenagers that are thought to be caused
by EMR emissions from modern electronic multimedia
devices, as opposed to teenagers just staying up late
having a good time. Screen trance of some sort.
Some individuals experience serotonin irritation
syndrome with certain weather conditions. It is
believed that either positive air ionization, or low
frequency electromagnetic activity in the atmosphere
preceding thunderstorms or with certain hot winds
provoke this, as well as two other health effect
subtypes. Serotonin is a precursor of melatonin. If
the body clock in the pineal wanted to stop itself in
response to electromagnetic activity by putting the
brakes on, it could possibly lead to this buildup of
the melatonin precursor serotonin. Once again
Research on computer monitor related illness,
video operator distress syndrome, apparently a
manifestation of ES, has focused on light effects and
EMR. Video operator distress was discovered about 20
years ago and linked to dental amalgams about 10.
According to one source, when we look at a computer
monitor we use our night vision, or `dark focus'. All
of these concepts come together in magnetoreception.
Some birds have confusing interactions with the light
spectrum and intensity when operating
magnetoreception. These may come into play looking
into a computer monitor with an unnatural fluorescent
light source coupled with EMR and ELF/ VLF low level
magnetic fields. One producer of ES shielded monitor
claims that the most difficult though important part
of his work is shielding low level, low frequency
magnetic fields. Another manufacturer has stated
independently that he believes that the
magnetosensory system is damaged in ES, and he
attempts to address that with hand held worry ball
magnets. He says strong commercial therapeutic
magnets have an overwhelming and negative effect on
ES, and ES have to start with the smaller weaker ones
of a manufacturer. In his commercial experience, when
the worry balls can be spun up as close as the face,
ES is found to be gone.
The human brain is known to react on EEG to 60
Hz magnetic fields of double the background of the
earth (Marino AA et al), supporting some of this.
Some ES are reported to strongly react to
flicker from light sources around about 60 Hz.
Flicker can be more visible to a damaged human visual
system using peripheral vision retinal receptors, and
could also be indicative of epileptiform behaviour in
stressed ocular nerves, nerves that probably also
carry extra magnetic field information.
Some ES react more to high frequency EMR, some
to low. Apart from magnetoreception, there is an
animal sense called electroreception, not currently
thought to be present in humans. For example
`electrosensitive' (same term) sharks can detect
voltage differences of 0.1 milli Volts! Obviously
very sensitive. An electrosensitive pulse gymnotid
funnels electrical information to its perioral region
where there is an electrosensory fovea with a large
density and variety of receptors. This region is also
affected with electrical activity in oral
electrogalvanism in ES due to dental amalgams. While
it is thought most probable that humans do not have
the same kind of electroreception as animals, we do
perceive E fields under some conditions and this
animal electroreception should not be forgotten.
It is an appealingly straightforward hypothesis
that a subgroup of humans with the condition
`electrosensitivity', and mobile phone responders,
might be humans that have vulnerable or damaged or
sensitized magnetoreception systems. This is a purely
scientific explanation, and should be readily
testable. Alternatively, altered magnetoreception in
ES if it existed could be part of an overall sensory
integration problem. Much of the evidence presented
here has been preliminary and not firmly resolved,
however ES symptoms have been strongly recognized for
20 years in computer and mobile phone users, and in
military and radar staff for 40. ES people should be
a primary, if not the primary, source of EMR
research, which in the past they have not been. The
present Word Health Organization conference in Prague
is a welcome counterexample.
RR Baker's studies of human navigation could
easily be repeated on ES people before and after
exposure to computers and mobile phones. It needs to
be remembered that once their exposure has hit
saturation level symptoms become much more prominent
and can fire off unpredictably, according to some
opinion. Stick them in a room and ask them to find
north. Then change the lighting and turn on a mobile
phone jammer, and see what happens. Do brain scans to
measure their magnetite levels etc etc. The magnetite
bacterial research has already started successfully,
and magnetoreception in ES is a simple approach.
Looking back through the literature, we find multiple
references to magnetoreception as suspect. This
condition must be tackled from a scientific footing
to deal with many of the challenges that ES people
face in daily lives. If magnetoreception is defective
in some, there could be obvious widespread community
concerns in this digital day and age.
Email accessed infrequently.
REFERENCES NOT IN ORDER (SORRY ES)
IEEE Trans Nanobioscience. 2003 Mar;2(1):40-3.
Preliminary evaluation of nanoscale biogenic
transduction mechanisms for mobile phone bioeffects.
Cranfield C, Wieser HG, Al Madan J, Dobson J.
Phys. Biol. 1, 135-136 (2004).
Birds use physical chemistry to find north.
Nature 429, 177-180 (2004).
Resonance effects indicate a radical pair mechanism
for avian magnetic compass.
T. Ritz., P. Thalau, J. Phillips, R. Wiltschko & W.
Disrupting Magnetic Compass Orientation with Radio
Frequency Oscillating Fields
Thorsten Ritz. In
Proceedings of RIN01: Orientation & Navigation -
Birds, Humans & other Animals Royal Institute of
Navigation, Oxford (2001).
Biomed Pharmacother. 2001;55 Suppl 1:63s-75s.
Alternating light-darkness-influenced human
electrocardiographic magnetoreception in association
with geomagnetic pulsations.
Otsuka K, Oinuma S, Cornelissen G, Weydahl A,
Ichimaru Y, Kobayashi M,Yano S, Holmeslet B, Hansen
TL, Mitsutake G, Engebretson MJ, Schwartzkopff O,
Biomed Pharmacother. 2002;56 Suppl 2:284s-288s.
Graded response of heart rate variability, associated
with an alteration of
geomagnetic activity in a subarctic area.
Oinuma S, Kubo Y, Otsuka K, Yamanaka T, Murakami S,
Matsuoka O, Ohkawa S, Cornelissen G, Weydahl A,
Holmeslet B, Hall C, Halberg F; ICEHRV Working Group.
Australas Phys Eng Sci Med. 2003 Dec;26(4):162-7.
Human brain wave activity during exposure to
radiofrequency field emissions from mobile phones.
D'Costa H, Trueman G, Tang L, Abdel-rahman U, Abdel-
rahman W, Ong K, Cosic I.
Bioelectromagnetics. 1992;Suppl 1:101-13.
Magnetite in human tissues: a mechanism for the
biological effects of weak ELF magnetic fields.
Kirschvink JL, Kobayashi-Kirschvink A, Diaz-Ricci JC,
Br Med J (Clin Res Ed). 1985 Dec 21-28;291(6511):1758-
Pineal gland calcification and defective sense of
Bayliss CR, Bishop NL, Fowler RC.
Neurosci Lett. 1987 Sep 23;80(2):229-34.
Magnetic responses of the trigeminal nerve system of
the bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus).
Beason RC, Semm P
lin Neurophysiol. 2004 May;115(5):1195-201.
Effect of low-frequency magnetic fields on brain
electrical activity in human subjects.
Marino AA, Nilsen E, Chesson AL Jr, Frilot C.