Examination of the melatonin hypothesis in women exposed at night to EMF or bright light

Environ Health Perspect. 2001 May;109(5):501-7. doi: 10.1289/ehp.01109501.


It has been hypothesized that the increased incidence of breast cancer in industrial societies is related to greater exposure to power-frequency electric and magnetic fields (EMF) and/or the presence of high levels of light at night (LAN). EMF and LAN are said to reduce circulating levels of the hormone melatonin which, in turn, allows estrogen levels to rise and stimulate the turnover of breast epithelial stem cells and increase the risk for malignant transformation. Three laboratory-based studies, in which a total of 53 healthy young women were exposed at night to EMF or to LAN under controlled exposure conditions, were performed to determine whether such exposures reduce melatonin and are associated with further alterations in estrogen. All-night exposure to industrial-strength magnetic fields (60 Hz, 28.3 microT) had no effect on the blood levels of melatonin or estradiol. In contrast, nocturnal melatonin levels were profoundly suppressed, and the time of peak concentration was significantly delayed in women exposed to LAN, regardless of whether they were in the follicular or luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. These changes, however, were not associated with alterations in point-for-point matching measures of estradiol. Women who chronically secrete high or low amounts of melatonin each night (area-under-curve range: 86-1,296 pg/mL) also did not differ in their blood levels of estradiol. Taken together, these results are consistent with a growing body of evidence which generally suggests that environmental EMF exposure has little or no effect on the parameters measured in this report.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Breast Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Electromagnetic Fields / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Estradiol / blood*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Light / adverse effects*
  • Melatonin / blood*


  • Estradiol
  • Melatonin