Abstract In this paper theoretical and experimental evidence is presented which indicates that oscillations in internal calcium and cyclic AMP concentrations due to an instability in their common control loops are possible and indeed may be widespread. Further, it is demonstrated that fluctuations in various cellular properties, in particular membrane potential, are a direct consequence of these second messenger oscillations. Given the central importance of calcium and cyclic AMP to the regulation of metabolism, these oscillations would influence most metabolic processes especially rhythmic behaviour. We propose that these oscillations form the basis of several biological rhythms including, potential oscillations in cardiac pacemaker cells, neurones and insulin secreting β-cells, the minute rhythm in smooth muscle, cyclic AMP pulses in Dictyostelium, rhythmical cytoplasmic streaming in Physarum and transepitheliel potential oscillations in Calliphora salivary gland. This model makes possible an explanation of the frequency and amplitude effects of hormones.