February 23, 2011 at 4:31 pm #36792
CELL PHONES INCREASE BRAIN ACTIVITY, STIR FEARS
AMID NEW EVIDENCE, CELL PHONE CANCER DEBATE PERSISTS
By Courtney Hutchison
February 22, 2011
Watch of a video report of this story on Pulse:
Fears concerning the possible dangers of prolonged cell phone use won’t go
away, despite numerous studies showing no conclusive link between cell
phones and brain tumors or cancer.
Now new data from the National Institutes of Health suggesting that cell
phone radiation boosts brain activity is poised to stir the debate even
Researchers used PET scans to measure brain activity in 47 participants when
they had cell phones held to their ears in both off and on but muted
positions and found that exposure to an in-use cell phone for more than 50
minutes increased brain activity by about 7 percent in the regions closes to
This suggests that while no link has been proven between adverse health
effects and cell phone radiation, the human brain is sensitive in some way
to the electromagnetic waves coming off of a cell phone.
Whereas past studies have looked at cerebral blood flow to measure changes
in brain activity, this study measured the brain’s consumption of glucose —
the fuel of the brain — in order to measure localized activity near the
“There have been several studies since the late 1990s trying to address
whether the human brain is affected by the electromagnetic radiation from
cell phones because it’s very, very weak,” said the lead author on the
study, Dr. Nora Volkow of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. “The studies
were very inconsistent, but we designed this study so it would be powered to
detect small activity.
“This shows that the human brain is sensitive to these weak magnetic
But sensitivity does not equal harm or an increased risk of cancer, Volkow
says, and it may even turn out that the ability of this radiation to boost
brain activity could have therapeutic effects. Further study is needed,
however, to explore the potential detrimental or beneficial effects of such
an increase in activity.
Although the research on this topic has been mixed and inconclusive, Volkow
says, their findings reopen the debate about cell phone concerns and make it
impossible to ignore that prolonged use over many years might have some kind
of unknown effect on the brain.
Justified Caution or Cancer Conspiracy?
This study, published today in the Journal of the American Medical
Association, does not speak to the possible cancer risks supposedly
associated with cell phone use, but its findings may stir up past debates
concerning the health hazards of America’s cell phone habit.
The cell phone-cancer debate began in the late ’90s as increasing use of
cell phones both for work and play stirred interest in the potential effects
of the small amounts of radiation emitted from any phone in use.
“Our bodies are exposed to electromagnetic radiation all the time, and it is
relatively harmless in the low doses we receive,” Dr. Jennifer Smullen of
the Department of Otology and Laryngology at Harvard Medical School said.
“But cell phone antennas are associated with strong electromagnetic fields
and are placed close to our body.”
The largest-ever study of cell phones, known as the Interphone study,
released its long-term results in May of 2010 and found no increased risk
for benign or cancerous brain tumors, except at its highest level of use, a
level deemed “implausible” as a comparison to real-life by the
investigators. Even this link was only seen with benign tumors, not with
So why does the fear of cell phones’ frying our brains still persist? The
inconsistency in the data fuels the concern, Volkow says.
“Some studies have shown a significant association with cancer, others show
the opposite,” she said. “When you have data that is not consistent there is
uncertain and uncertainty of course generates fear.”
Especially considering the integral, frequent, increasing role that cell
phones play in both our work and home lives. The number of mobile phone
users has gone from 7.6 million in 1991 to 223 million in those older than
13 as of 2010, according to Nielsen industry statistics.
What’s more, more than half of Americans age 25 to 29 use only cell phones
as a means of communication and do not live in a household that even has a
It also doesn’t quell fears when doctors publicly advocate for cell phone
precautions. In 2008, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta, along
with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center brain surgeon Dr. Keith Black said that
they use earpieces instead of holding the phone against their heads out of
fear of brain tumors.
Better Safe Than Sorry Fuels Fears
Also in 2008, the director of Cancer Research at the University of
Pittsburgh bolstered concerns about cell phone dangers when he released a
controversial memo to his staff concerning modified cell phone practices to
ward off potential harm:
“Although the evidence is still controversial, I am convinced that there are
sufficient data to warrant issuing an advisory to share some precautionary
advice on cell phone use,” Dr. Ronald Herberman wrote in his memo.
He went on to warn that children shouldn’t use cell phones except in
emergency situations because “the developing organs of a fetus or child are
the most likely to be sensitive to any possible effects of exposure to
And many other doctors take this better safe than sorry approach. Dr. Andrew
Sloan, director of the Brain Tumor and Neuro-Oncology Center at University
Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, agrees that there’s no
“definitive proof” that cell phones are bad. But he still advises patients
to use speaker phones or ear buds when talking for prolonged periods of time
because, “why take the chance?”
With doctors advising patients to “play it safe,” it’s hard to shake the
feeling that cell phones may be unsafe.
The Significance of Brain Sensitivity
That researchers were able to show a consistent effect on the brain through
prolonged cell-phone use is “landmark,” said Dr. Maciej Lesniak, director of
neurosurgical oncology and neuro-oncology research at the University of
“Previous articles have tried to link cell phones to brain tumors based on
large population studies, but those studies have many inherent flaws and too
many variables to control,” he said.
This experimental kind of research lays the groundwork for further research
into exactly what’s going on in the brain, whether harmful or not, when
people use cell phones over long periods of time, he adds.
That said, there is little more than can be gleaned from this study beyond
the fact that cell phones are doing something to the brain and increasing
“Clearly there is an acute effect, and the important question is whether
this acute effect is associated with events that may be damaging to the
brain or predispose to the development of future problems such as cancer as
suggested by recent epidemiological studies,” Smullen said.
“Cell phones have become an essential part of our culture both for personal
reasons and for work … they are here to stay, but we need to evaluate
whether cell phone design and usage needs to be adjusted to avoid or
minimize potential risks,” she adds.March 22, 2011 at 1:22 am #36793
listening to a talking person tends to do that 😛
I bet watching a movie stimulates brain activity also;
I wonder if I could get funding for that research 😛
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