Are You Cooking Your Brain?

Health Alert 41

You have probably heard the controversy over the safety of cell phones. They distract people during driving. One recent study showed an increased accident rate coinciding with cell phone use. And, we still can’t say for sure whether they cause brain tumors. I’ve seen studies that argue both sides. One study done at Orebro University Hospital found an increased occurrence of brain tumors in cell phone users. The tumors correlated to the side of the head that the cell was held. 1, 2 But new reports reveal a more prevalent potential problem with cell phone use.

Every time you use your cell phone, you are being exposed to radiofrequency radiation (RF). TV and radio have a kind of radiofrequency radiation too. But, the RF from mobile phones is in the frequency range of your microwave oven. And the microwave radiation from your cell phone is directed into the head.

* Brain Damage and Cell Phones *

Exposure to RF makes your body temperature rise; we call this the “thermal effect”. Body tissues become heated by the same mechanism that heats food in your microwave. This increases free radical formation and increase oxidative damage. Free radicals damage DNA, can cause cancer, accelerate some of the changes of aging and impair brain function.

Results from a 2-year study of cell phone effects on the brain have recently been released. The Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority of Finland announced that an hour of cell phone exposure per day shrinks the gate that regulates the entry of substances from the blood into the brain. This shrinkage of cells leaves gaps through which poisonous chemicals could enter the brain.

In other studies, RF exposure from cell phones has been linked to changes in memory, reaction time, learning abilities, sleep cycles and decision-making.

* Minimize the Microwaves *

I don’t consider any of this to be conclusive evidence, but it is troublesome. I’m not going to stop using my cell phone but I don’t relish the idea of microwaving my brain. Here are a few suggestions to increase cell phone safety:

Find out the level of RF emissions of your cell phone. Cell phone emissions are rated in specific absorption rates (SAR). They range from 0.5 to 1.6 W/kg (Watts of power absorbed per kilogram of body tissue).

You can find out yours on the FCC database. Go to The legal maximum for cell phone radiation is 1.6 W/kg. The next time you upgrade your phone, purchase one with a low SAR rating.

Make brief calls. Keep your calls short. And use your phone only when necessary. Use a conventional phone when possible. The less time you expose your head to microwave radiation, the better.

Use a speakerphone. Keep the handset part of the phone as far away from your body as possible. “Hands free” equipment would seem like a step in the right direction, but evidence of safety is not yet available. Some earpieces have been shown to transmit the radiation along the wire into your ear.

If you use a “Hands Free” phone, those marked filtered appear safest. For the very lowest exposure, use a wireless speakerphone with the microphone, earpiece and antenna all far away from your body.

Try a cell phone shield. You can buy a cell phone shield. The marketing claims are exaggerated but they probably do reduce the amount of radiation that enters your head.

Don’t carry the phone close to your body. Carrying a phone in your pants or shirt pocket is not ideal. There are vital body parts in your chest and abdomen. These organs absorb radiation more efficiently than your head. Your phone emits low-level radiation in standby – even when you aren’t using it. If you use a briefcase, you may want to do what I have done and start carrying your phone inside your briefcase.

Al Sears MD

1 Hardell L., et al. Use of cellular telephones and risk for brain tumors. A case-control study. Int J Oncol, 1999; 15(1): 113-116

2 Johannsen C., et al. Telephones and Cancer-Nationwide cohort study in Denmark. J Natl Cancer Inst 2001 Feb 7; 93(3): 203-207