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Major Study Finds Cell Phones Alter Brain Activity: Why We've Been Slow to Catch On

cell phones radiation and brain scan study

Cell phones change brain activity

A study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association finds that cell phone antennas do, in fact, cause changes in brain activity.

It’s a highly debated subject, with other studies showing no detrimental effects from cell phone usage. For example, a major European study released last year by the World Health Organization found that there is no increased risk for rare brain tumors among cellphone users.

Meanwhile, all varieties of medical and health associations — like the National Cancer Institute and the FDA — take the stance that cellphone are safe.

But now, a rigorous peer-reviewed study from a highly-regarded scientific team finds that cellphones do alter brain activity – what’s going on here?  My take: we need to think beyond cancer, and here’s why:

Most of the previous studies on cellphone usage have focused on tumors, brain cancer and other major health conditions, finding that the evidence doesn’t support a link. The low level radiation from cell phones is not enough to damage DNA or break chemical bonds, so the connection to tumor growth is weak.

But the current study, which scanned the brains of participants while they had transmitting (but silent) cellphones at their ears for 50 minutes, showed that the area near the phone’s antenna became more active (the scans show significant hot spots of activity near the phones that scientists say are clearly caused by the phone itself).

It seems reasonable to me that having low frequency radiation next to your head for hours a day may affect the brain in ways that don’t show up as cancer or another major health problem. The radiation simply causes the brain cells near the phone to energize (which shows up as more metabolic activity on the scanner) — but what that higher activity means is anyones guess.

Depression, difficulty sleeping, strange thoughts, irritability — or positive effects could result from an uptick in brain activity. The brain is so complex it’s impossible to say at this point what the higher activity is about — it might actually be an inhibitory response to the cellphone radiation. But I think the lack of results in the past could mean that we’ve been looking too narrowly at major health outcomes instead of subtle brain changes.

I’ll continue to talk on my phone of course (with a headset), and I let my son talk on a cellphone too, but never for a long period of time.  What do you think about cellphone safety for the family?

Image: flickr

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