'Everyday electrical appliances may threaten fertility'

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Women who are exposed to low level radiation from everyday electrical appliances may be lowering their chances of having children.

Women who are exposed to low level radiation from everyday electrical appliances may be lowering their chances of having children.

A team of Italian scientists, whose work is published in today's Human Reproduction journal, found that mouse ovarian follicles exposed to extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic fields failed to develop into good quality eggs.

The authors fear the fertility of women regularly exposed to appliances such as computers, refrigerators, washing machines and kettles may be similarly affected because of the magnetic field generated when an electrical device is on. An electromagnetic field (EMF) is also present when an appliance is on standby.

The National Radiological Protection Board, the radiation watchdog, insisted there was no cause for alarm but said it would look at the findings, saying EMF levels in the study were close to industrial guidelines for safety at work.

Scientists at L'Aquilia and La Sapienza universities in Rome, Italy, found that ELF electromagnetic fields hindered the development of a culture of ovarian follicles from a mouse.

Ovarian follicles go through a number of stages before developing into an egg that can be fertilised. A crucial step is the creation of the follicle's central cavity, called the antrum.

A team led by Dr Sandra Cecconi, from L'Aquilia, exposed pre-antral cells to ELF radiation at frequencies of 33 hertz or 50 hertz. On the fifth day of the tests, only about a third of the follicles exposed to 33 hertz radiation and half of those exposed to the 50 hertz radiation had developed antral cavities, compared with 80 per cent of cells that had been kept away from EMFs.

Dr Cecconi said: "Our results raise concerns that ELF-EMF exposure might impair female reproductive potential by reducing the capacity of follicles to reach the developmental stage that is an essential for successful reproduction."

More work was needed to discover exactly how ELF fields impaired the physical process. It was also important to find out if EMF exposure had a similar effect on human ovarian follicles, she said.

Dr Michael Clark, from the radiation watchdog, said that appliances in the home had electromagnetic radiation levels much lower than those used in the study.

"Turning this into advice for women on contraception, I think, is taking it too far," he said. "Although other work in this area has shown no effect on reproduction in mice, we will look at this latest research very carefully and refer it to our advisory group."