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Study Finds Cell Phone Use Stimulates the Brain

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February 24, 2011

Government researchers have found that cell phone use affects the brain in the region closest to the antenna, but the long-term effects remain unknown.

A new study entitled Effects of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Signal Exposure on Brain Glucose Metabolism, published in the February 23 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), shows that holding a cell phone to the head during a 50-minute call stimulates the brain in the area nearest the antenna.

As cell phone usage increases around the world, there are concerns about the radio frequency-modulated electromagnetic fields (RF-EMFs) generated from cell phones causing cancers of the brain. While some previous studies showed an increase risk of cancer, other studies have not.

“Concern has been raised by the possibility that RF-EMFs emitted by cell phones may induce brain cancer. … Results of this study provide evidence that acute cell phone exposure affects brain metabolic activity,” researchers write. “However, these results provide no information as to their relevance regarding potential carcinogenic effects (or lack of such effects) from chronic cell phone use.”

Nora D. Volkow, M.D., of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD, and colleagues performed positron emission tomography (PET) scans on 47 people to measured brain glucose metabolism (a marker of brain activity) as they held a cell phone in the ON and OFF mode to their head. The scans showed that the metabolism increases substantially in the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex and temporal pole, areas nearest the cell phone antenna.

“The increases were significantly correlated with the estimated electromagnetic field amplitudes both for absolute metabolism and normalized metabolism,” the authors write. “This indicates that the regions expected to have the greater absorption of RF-EMFs from the cell phone exposure were the ones that showed the larger increases in glucose metabolism.”

Watch Dr. Volkow discuss the study findings in this video.

“These results provide evidence that the human brain is sensitive to the effects of RF-EMFs from acute cell phone exposures,” said researchers. They add that the mechanisms by which RF-EMFs could affect brain glucose metabolism are unclear.

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  1. Devra Davis says:
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    Could the stimulating impact of cell phone radiation to boost brain energy explain some of the growing addiction many of us feel for our phones? This should be addressed.

    While that research is being carried out, EHT encourages simple precautions to reduce microwave radiation to the brain and body, such as those recommended by EHT chair Herberman in 2008 and now endorsed by a number of governments and experts around the world. Phones should be used with headsets or speakerphones and not kept directly on the body, and children should take special care not to have direct exposures.

    Based on the growing evidence from laboratories and epidemiologic studies, two leaders of the WHO Interphone study on cell phones have recently broken ranks and are now calling for such precautions to be taken broadly. They note the growing biological evidence that microwave radiation from phones has impacts and that epidemiologic studies find increased risks of brain cancer after a decade of heavy use.

    Professors Elisabeth Cardis and Siegal Sadetzki have urged that it is prudent to reduce exposure by simple means at this time, ranging from using speakerphones and headsets to reducing call time and children’s use of phones generally.

    “There are now more than 4 billion people, including children, using mobile phones,” they write. “Even a small risk at the individual level could eventually result in a considerable number of tumours and become an important public-health issue. Simple and low-cost measures, such as the use of text messages, hands-free kits and/or the loudspeaker mode of the phone could substantially reduce exposure to the brain from mobile phones. Therefore, until definitive scientific answers are available, the adoption of such precautions, particularly among young people, is advisable.”

    A recent widely publicized piece in the journal BioElectromagnetics concluded that because the U.S. and U.K. do not currently have a brain tumor epidemic (from 1998–2007) and cell phones have been in use for a decade, therefore cell phones are safe and there is no need for precaution.

    Regarding this study, Allan Frey, a well-known expert in the field of bioelectromagnetics, noted the fallacy of the argument:

    “It is well established in the scientific literature that generally a cancer is not seen until 10 to 30 years after the exposure to an agent. In addition, the radio frequency-biological literature shows that cancer is not seen until at least 10 years after the exposure, which is consistent with the rest of the scientific literature.”

    In criticizing this study, Frey points out, “The authors analyzed data on brain tumors gathered before most of their study population owned a cell phone. Also, most of their population did not have a cell phone for more than five years. Thus, the authors knew or should have known, that if cell phones induced or promoted brain cancer, that their study would not have shown it. Yet they did the study and concluded in their paper that their study showed that there was no need for ‘…interventions to reduce radio frequency exposure from mobile phones’ that are used today.”

    “To conclude that cell phones are safe misreads the science and misleads the people,” Dr. Davis advised.

    For more information, please visit http://www.ehtrust.org, http://www.powerwatch.org, and http://www.bioinitiative.org/

    Reference to BMC Genomics study:
    Karinen A, Heinävaara S, Nylund R, Leszczynski D. Mobile phone radiation might alter protein expression in human skin. BMC Genomics 9, 2008, 77 (www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2164/9/77)

    About Environmental Health Trust
    Environmental Health Trust (EHT) educates individuals, health professionals and communities about controllable environmental health risks and policy changes needed to reduce those risks. Current multi-media projects include: local and national campaigns to ban smoking and asbestos; working with international physician and worker safety groups to warn about the risks of inappropriate use of diagnostic radiation and cell phones, exploring what factors lie behind puzzlingly high rates of fibroid tumors, breast cancer and endometriosis in young African American women, and building environmental wellness programs in Wyoming and Pennsylvania to address the environmental impacts of energy development, the built environment and radon. EHT was created with the goal of promoting health and preventing disease one person, one community and one nation at a time. Capitalizing on growing public interest in Dr. Devra Lee Davis’s popular books, When Smoke Ran Like Water, a National Book Award Finalist, and The Secret History of the War on Cancer, and recent documentary films, the foundation’s website will become the go to place for clear, science-based information to prevent environmentally based disease and promote health, and will have portals for the general public, children, and health professionals.

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