SCIENCE | HEALTH ISSUES | Cellphones and Health

Cellphones and HealthBy Dr. Joel Moskowitz —

In the last issue we explored the potential hazards of electromagnetic radiation from iPad use. We learned about warnings from the European parliaments and doctors’ associations in various countries, and discussed the differences between pulsed digital wireless signals and continuous analogue radio waves. This time we are pleased to invite Dr. Joel Moskowitz to share his research findings regarding the health effects of cellphones. 

I started studying the effects of cellphone radiation when Dr. Seung-Kwon Myung, a physician and epidemiologist from the National Cancer Center of South Korea, spent a year working in my center at UC Berkeley. He specializes in meta-analysis, a method by which data are combined across studies to generate more robust conclusions.

My colleagues and I reviewed research that examined the association between cellphone use and tumor risk. When we grouped the 23 studies based upon quality of the research, we found strong group differences. In the 13 studies which failed to meet scientific best practices, we found what appeared to be reduced tumor risk. The 10 higher-quality studies found a harmful association between cellphone use and tumor risk. Also, the higher quality studies had no funding from the cellular industry whereas the lower quality studies had at least partial industry funding.

Since our study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncologyin, 2009, I have reviewed hundreds of cellphone radiation studies. There is evidence that cellphone radiation may damage sperm and increase male infertility, increase risk of reproductive health problems, increase brain glucose metabolism, and alter EEG readings.

Many individuals have reported developing a sensitivity to cellphone radiation and other forms of radiofrequency energy.

They experience various allergic symptoms which may include ringing in their ears, headaches, dizziness, an irregular heartbeat, and memory and sleep problems. This condition, known as electromagnetic hypersensitivity, is considered a functional impairment in Sweden. The incidence of this condition, which is not easily diagnosed, appears to be increasing in many countries with the proliferation of “electrosmog.”

We need more research on the short- and long-term risks; risks to children and adolescents who are more vulnerable; reproductive health risks, and risks of newer technologies. We need to better understand the mechanisms that contribute to health effects and how to reduce the risks. Many scientists believe that there are mechanisms other than “heat” at work. Currently, the regulations adopted by most governments, including Canada and the US, only address the heating effect produced by cellphone radiation. They completely ignore biologic reactivity.

Cellphone and Brain Tumor Risk

It’s premature to estimate long-term tumor risk because tumors can take several decades to develop. A few studies suggest that the risk of glioma, a serious and often deadly brain tumor, doubles after 10 years of cellphone use. This could amount to an additional 10,000 cases per year in the US.

Many people have come to rely on their cellphones over land lines, and many children start using cellphones at a young age, so we may see increased risk in the future. On the other hand, changes in the pattern of use (e.g. hands-free, texting) can reduce health risks. Also, technology is changing; yet we don’t know if newer technologies are safer or more harmful. It is difficult for scientific research about long-term effects to keep up with the speed at which companies bring forth new consumer radiofrequency microwave devices. This behooves us to practice precaution.

Cellphone Radiation Damages Sperm

On June 28, 2012, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reported: “EWG scientists have analyzed 10 scientific studies documenting evidence that cellphone radiation exposure leads to slower, fewer, and shorter-lived sperm. The research raises concerns for men who carry their phones on their belts or in pants pockets.”

This conclusion is supported by a review paper recently published in the Journal of Andrology

“The results showed that human spermatozoa exposed to RF-EMR (radio frequency electromagnetic radiation) have decreased motility, morphometric abnormalities, and increased oxidative stress, whereas men using mobile phones have decreased sperm concentration, decreased motility (particularly rapid progressive motility), normal morphology, and decreased viability. These abnormalities seem to be directly related to the duration of mobile phone use.” (La Vignera et al, 2012).

Infertility has become a mounting problem in America and Canada. According to Statistics Canada, infertility in Canada has almost doubled between 1992 and 2010, not just among couples who got married older, but also among younger couples in their 20s.

Cellphone Radiation, Pregnancy, and Children

The latest, peer-reviewed science finds prenatal cellphone radiation exposure damages test mammals’ offspring. Several new, independent studies confirm previous research that pulsed digital signals from cellphones disrupt DNA, impair brain function, and damage sperm.

Many studies have found that exposure to low-intensity cellphone radiation can open the blood-brain barrier. This can enable toxins in the blood to penetrate the brain. A recent study found that children who used cellphones were more likely to exhibit ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity) symptoms than children who did not use them, but this effect was observed only among children who used cellphones who had slightly elevated lead levels in their blood. Moreover, in the children with some lead in their blood, the more they used their cellphones, the more likely they had ADHD symptoms.

On December 12, 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics sent a letter to the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting reassessment of cellphone exposure limits:

“Children are disproportionately affected… The differences in bone density and the amount of fluid in a child’s brain compared to an adult’s brain could allow children to absorb greater quantities of RF (radiofrequency) energy deeper into their brains than adults. It is essential that any new standards for cellphones or other wireless devices be based on protecting the youngest and most vulnerable populations to ensure they are safeguarded through their lifetimes.”

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report last summer calling on the FCC to update cellphone exposure limits and testing requirements. The report noted that the testing requirements are inadequate as cellphones are being used closer to the head and body than the test requires. Thus, actual users’ exposure to cellphone radiation may exceed the legal limit.

Are all Cellphones Equal with regards to Radiation?

The amount of cellphone radiation your phone emits depends on various factors, including your location and distance from cell towers. Some cellphones generate as much as eight times more radiation than others. A measurement, called the SAR (Specific Absorption Rate), is available on the Internet for every cellphone, but this measures the maximum amount of radiation emitted, not the typical amount. You can’t find out how much radiation a phone generates during average daily use, which may be more important in terms of cumulative health risk. Some low SAR phones may generate more radiation on average than high SAR phones.

Your cellphone carrier also matters. One study shows that GSM phones can emit 28 times more radiation on average than CDMA phones. Another study shows GSM affects EEG readings more than CDMA. Your cellphone carrier determines which type of phone you have. In the US, people can choose to use a CDMA phone by selecting Verizon or Sprint; however, in Canada all carriers use GSM phones. Soon voice calls will use 4G technology, that is LTE, instead of GSM or CDMA. More comparative studies on different carrier standards are needed, especially the newer standards.

Recommendations on Cellphone Usage

Although further research is needed, we cannot afford to wait for conclusive evidence. There are more than 300 million cellphones in use in the US. Two-thirds of children eight and older use them. The government’s regulations are outmoded and need to be revised. About a dozen nations have issued precautionary health warnings. It is time to publicize practical ways in which people can minimize their personal health risk. In addition, I have recommended an annual assessment of $1 on each cellphone. In the US, this would generate $300 million annually for vitally needed research and education.

Here are some practical steps cellphone users can easily adopt:

Keep your cellphone away from your body. Don’t keep the phone near your head or reproductive organs whenever it is turned on. Don’t sleep with the phone near your bed. The amount of radiation is related to the square of the distance, so keeping your phone 10 inches away reduces your exposure 100-fold compared to an inch.
Use a corded headset or other hands-free method such as a speakerphone or text. Keep your calls short.
Minimize cellphone use among children, teens, and pregnant women. A child’s brain absorbs twice as much radiation as an adult brain.

Don’t use your phone when the signal is weak, for example, on an elevator or in a moving vehicle, as the phone is designed to increase its signal strength to compensate.

When carrying a cellphone in your pocket: Keep the cellphone turned off, or deactivate its signals (i.e. keep it on airplane mode, plus turn off the WiFi and Bluetooth functions). Turn it on or activate it periodically to check for messages, or check for messages from a land line. The cellphone is designed to send signals to cell towers regularly to identify its location, whenever it’s turned on. The WiFi antenna in a smartphone sends beacon signals continually if it’s not turned off.
Demand that the government revise regulations, fund research, and issue precautionary health recommendations.

Article References: http://goo.gl/d6w4PO
For more information, contact Joel M. Moskowitz, Ph.D. at 510-643-7314, email: jmm@berkeley.edu webpage: http://cfch.berkeley.edu. Electromagnetic Radiation Safety Website: http://www.saferemr.com or on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/SaferEMR

Dr. Joel Moskowitz is on the research faculty at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Public Health. He has conducted research on chronic disease prevention and health promotion for more than 30 years, has authored dozens of peer-reviewed health publications, and is director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Family and Community Health. 

 

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