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Home Publications Radiation NRPB Archive Documents of the NRPB ›  Documents of the NRPB: Volume 12, No. 4

Documents of the NRPB: Volume 12, No. 4

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Publication date: 2001

ISBN: 0-85951-467-6



ELF Electromagnetic Fields and Neurodegenerative Disease: Report of an Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation


  • Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation 
  • Introduction
  • Biological basis of neurodegenerative disease:
    • Alzheimer's disease
    • Familial Alzheimer's disease
    • Parkinson's disease
    • Familial Parkinson's disease
    • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
    • Familial ALS
  • Epidemiological studies:
    • Alzheimer's disease
    • First studies
    • Later studies
    • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
    • First studies
    • Later studies
    • Parkinsonism
  • Biological Studies of Neurodegenerative Disease:
    • Oxidative stress as a common factor
    • Parkinson's disease
    • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
    • Alzheimer's disease
  • Biological Studies of the Effects of Electromagnetic Fields on Neurons
  • Discussion
  • Conclusions 
  • Recommendations 
  • References

Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation


Sir Richard Doll, Imperial Cancer Research Fund Cancer Studies Unit, Oxford


Professor C Blakemore, University of Oxford
Professor E H Grant, Microwave Consultants Ltd, London
Professor D G Harnden, Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester
Professor J M Harrington, Institute of Occupational Health, Birmingham
Professor T W Meade, St Bartholomew's and Royal London School of Medicine
Professor A J Swerdlow, Institute of Cancer Research, London


Dr R D Saunders, National Radiological Protection Board, Chilton


Dr H Walker, Department of Health, London


Dr A F McKinlay, National Radiological Protection Board, Chilton
Dr C R Muirhead, National Radiological Protection Board, Chilton
Dr J W Stather, National Radiological Protection Board, Chilton


Mr S G Allen, National Radiological Protection Board, Chilton

Please note that the paragraph numbering from the full published document has been retained in the extracts below.


  1. There is no good ground for thinking that exposure to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields can cause Parkinson's disease and only very weak evidence to suggest that it could cause Alzheimer's disease. The evidence that people employed in electrical occupations have an increased risk of developing amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is substantially stronger, but this could be because they run an increased risk of having an electric shock rather than any effect of long-term exposure to the fields per se.


  1. Case-control studies of Alzheimer's disease, in which information about past occupations has been obtained from surrogates, are an inefficient means of testing for small relative risks. A possibility that electromagnetic fields might contribute to the aetiology of the disease should be kept in mind when causes for Alzheimer's are being sought and information about deaths from or with Alzheimer's should be obtained in any further cohorts of electrical orkers. The current evidence does not, however, justify undertaking further investigations specifically for the purpose of testing for a relationship with electromagnetic fields.
  2. Case-control studies are, however, appropriate for investigating the aetiology of amyoptrophic lateral sclerosis and, in view of the rarity of the disease, are generally preferred to cohort studies. A large-scale case-control study might, therefore, be profitably undertaken in which special enquiries were made about:
    1. employment in electrical occupations, with special reference to the occurrence of severe electric shocks.
    2. medical treatment with electroconvulsive therapy that could be confirmed from hospital records.
    3. exposure to transcranial magnetic stimulation (Walsh and Cowey, 1998), a technique for magnetic induction of neuronal activity in small brain volumes, which is used both experimentally and clinically.
  3. More work is needed to explore the effects of electromagnetic fields on neurons and glial cells. In particular, the effects of both brief explicit shock and prolonged exposure to electromagnetic fields on intracellular Ca 2, superoxide dismutase (SOD) activity and enzyme function in neurons deserve particular attention.

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Last reviewed: 5 August 2013