Magnetic fields and the melatonin hypothesis: a study of workers chronically exposed to 50-Hz magnetic fields

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2003 Jun;284(6):R1529-35. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00280.2002.


Because epidemiological studies report clinical disorders (mainly neurobehavioral alterations and/or cancer) that may be related to diminished melatonin secretion or to changes in its circadian rhythm in subjects living or working in environments exposed to magnetic fields, research on the effects of these fields in humans is particularly important. In this study, we examine the circadian rhythm of melatonin in 15 men exposed chronically and daily for a period of 1-20 yr, in the workplace and at home, to a 50-Hz magnetic field in search of any cumulative effect from those chronic conditions of exposure. The weekly geometric mean of individual exposures ranged from 0.1 to 2.6 microT. The results are compared with those for 15 unexposed men who served as controls (individual exposures ranged from 0.004 to 0.092 microT). Blood samples were taken hourly from 2000 to 0800. Nighttime urine was also collected and analyzed. This work shows that subjects exposed over a long period (up to 20 yr) and on a daily basis to magnetic fields experienced no changes in their plasma melatonin level, their urinary 6-sulfatoxymelatonin level, or the circadian rhythm of melatonin. Our data strongly suggest that magnetic fields do not have cumulative effects on melatonin secretion in humans and thus clearly rebut the "melatonin hypothesis" that a decrease in plasma melatonin concentration (or a disruption in its secretion) explains the occurrence of clinical disorders or cancers possibly related to magnetic fields.

MeSH terms

  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Humans
  • Magnetics / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Melatonin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Melatonin / blood*
  • Melatonin / urine
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Time Factors


  • 6-sulfatoxymelatonin
  • Melatonin