Stressed Out Rats

Researchers at McGill University in Canada report that lab rats and mice are affected by the sex of the people who work with them. When men rather than women work with the animals, they (the animals) show a stress response. It is not a huge response, but enough of a stress to affect experimental results.

The significance of this is profound and disturbing.

Rats and mice comprise 95% of the test animals used in experiments. Conclusions are drawn from those experiments that affect decisions made by both civilians such as you and me and health care professionals such as your doctor and your public health and environmental officials.

Experiments typically consist of exposing the test animal to something (such as a toxicant or a pharmaceutical), data are collected on what happens to the test animal (such as how many develop cancer or diabetes), and then conclusions are made about the risk of getting sick from the exposure.

Part of the job consists of performing what’s called multivariate analysis: a statistical technique that includes not only the experimental exposure of interest to researchers but other factors that might affect the health of the animals. One of the more interesting factors is the physical and social environment in which the test animals live. In humans, more and more experiments include socioeconomic data. In both cases, those environmental factors affect health outcomes.

The point is that if researchers leave out these factors, their conclusions might be wrong. I want to remind you that the conclusions can go both ways: researchers might conclude that the exposure causes harm or that it doesn’t cause harm; causes cancer, doesn’t cause cancer; causes diabetes, doesn’t cause diabetes. As a result, people might conclude that, for example, an exposure to flame retardant does not harm health. Or people might be directed by a public health or environmental agency to not worry about, for example, exposure to the radiation that comes from smartphones.

And so it’s possible that researchers will now conduct their experiments and include the sex of lab workers in their multivariate analysis of the experiment’s results.

Another factor that is not included in animal experiments is exposure to electric and electromagnetic fields. For example, wireless devices are widespread and workers probably carry them into the lab without thinking about it. What effect does that have on the experiment’s results? We don’t know.

But we do know that it has an effect on the lab rats.

For example, research published in the International Journal of Radiation Biology reports that exposure to radiation in the range used by cell phones and WiFi technologies causes oxidative stress in lab rats. When exposed, lab rat mitochondria over produce reactive oxygen species, which is part of the stress response. Creating reactive oxygen species is a normal function of mitochondria—for example, as an essential part of the immune response to infection, reactive oxygen species attack and destroy bacteria and viruses.

However, reactive oxygen species can also attack the body that produced them. And so, like exposure to males, rats exposed to wireless technologies have a stress response. How much? We don’t know. How does it affect results and conclusions? We don’t know.

That’s because no one is asking. Or at least very few are asking.

For example, it’s almost common knowledge that obesity causes diabetes. And yet some independent thinkers looked at the rise in both from the perspective of exposure to electric and electromagnetic fields. This includes the epidemiologist Sam Milham who recently published the article “Evidence that dirty electricity is causing the worldwide epidemics of obesity and diabetes” in the journal Electromagnetic Biology And Medicine.

Milham argues that the obesity-causes-diabetes theory doesn’t hold up when comparing different nations. Some nations do have rates of obesity and diabetes that coincide, but others do not—that is, high diabetes rates but low obesity rates and vice versa. What he does see is that nations with electricity produced largely using generators powered by fossil fuels, which are famous for producing dirty electricity, consistently show high rates of diabetes.

Another, less formal analysis appears in the recently published book An Electronic Silent Spring by Katie Singer. One of the people she interviewed points out that national diabetes rates correspond closely to national penetration rates for cell phone usage—more cell phone use, more diabetes.

This isn’t a tangent. As I mentioned, when exposed to wireless radiation, mitochondria overproduce reactive oxygen species and that constitutes an element of a stress response. Mitochondria produce all of the energy you use. Diabetes and obesity are disruptions to your energy metabolism.

So a narrowly focused conclusion is that the scientific community has entirely missed a line of causation for two of the most vexing health problems we face because the political economy of wireless technologies causes the scientific community to avert its eyes. More broadly, eyes are averted from wireless technologies as a factor affecting experimental outcomes generally.

The aforementioned political economy of wireless technologies is characterized succinctly in the article on how wireless radiation causes a stress response in mitochondria: “The influence of ... electromagnetic radiation ... on biological processes attracts a great [deal of] attention for many reasons. Firstly, it is governed by military applications.”