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Are Cell Phones Harmful to Your Brain?

Now, you first might think I’m an alarmist, but I can assure you that I don’t tend to be. I’ve had a cell phone of some kind since about…1997? I posted about how I love my iPhone, which I acquired in November of 2009. Of course, now that I bought it, a newer version is coming out soon…the infamous one that was “left” at a bar.

My wife has been cautioning me about my cell phone use since about…1997? She is concerned that I’m bombarding my brain with radiation, and am going to get brain cancer as a result. She tends to be on the more…cautious side (I choose my terms carefully). I’m certainly not on my cell THAT frequently, but I still use it fairly regularly. I don’t text while I drive (that increases accident rates 23x as well as being illegal in Texas and many other states). I generally use the headphones or the speaker phone when I talk, mainly to keep my wife happy. She also doesn’t like me to…ahem…always keep my cell in my pocket.

Frankly, I’ve been pretty dismissive of the idea that cell phone use can cause any serious health problems. I mean, wouldn’t the FCC, FDA, OSHA, CDC, YMCA…or some government agency…step in and restrict their use if they were that bad for us?
While one part of me is not an alarmist, there is another part that believes that big business can influence a lot of politicians and government panels. Certainly, from an industry/commercial standpoint, one can see that there is a vested interest in showing that cell phone use is not harmful in any way. Literally, billions upon billions of dollars are at stake.

In recent years, the concerns about potential radiation dangers from cell phone use have picked up momentum. I recently read two cautionary articles on the subject: one by Bryan Walsh in the March 15, 2010 issue of Time magazine and another by Paul Scott in the May 2010 issue of Men’s Health. With 270 million Americans and 4 billion cell phone users worldwide, even a small increase in cancer risk for frequent and long-term cell phone users could have major public health impact.

Cell phones emit low-level radio frequency (RF) radiation whenever they send or receive calls. These RF waves are only a billionth in intensity of known carcinogenic radiation like X-rays. Still, it is possible that there has been somewhat of a rush to judgment in saying that cell phones are completely safe. It seems that industry-funded studies, not surprisingly, have not found results suggesting that cell phone radiation is harmful. Both the National Cancer Institute and the World Health Organization have stated that there isn’t evidence that cell phone use presents a public health hazard. But, there have been a number of independent studies that have found some harmful effects of cell phone radiation on lab animals.

One of the inherent problems with these studies is that brain cancers can take several decades to develop. Indeed, Dr. Devra Davis, founding director of the center for environmental oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute indicated that it took 40 years for brain tumors to show up after the atomic bomb was detonated on Hiroshima. So, how can we expect to truly know the effects of prolonged cell phone use after only about 10 years?

What is perhaps more alarming is that, because they have thinner skulls than adults, children’s brains get zapped with several more times the levels of radiation than permeate adult brains. There is a lot of research being done to explore this issue to try to get a “definitive” conclusion about this very important issue.

What can we do until this research comes out? Well, I’m for erring on the side of caution at this point. Here are a few suggestions that can protect you and your loved ones…just in case.

1. Use your speaker phone to listen/talk on your cell. The RF radiation weakens with distance, so if you use your speaker phone, the radiation is negligible.
2. Use ear buds with a mic to listen/talk on your cell. My iPhone ear buds work great to talk on the cell. They provide enough distance from the cell phone to negate potential risk.
3. There are new cell phone cases that reduce the RF radiation significantly, like those from Pong Research.
4. If your kids…even your toddlers…play games on your cell, put the cell phone in airplane mode. From what I’ve read, the cell phones emit the levels of radiation that are of concern when one is making/receiving calls. Thus, the higher levels of RF radiation are not emitted when the cell is being used for gaming. Still, kids and toddlers have much thinner skulls than adults, so putting the cell in airplane mode could further reduce the RF radiation exposure.

Hopefully, RF radiation from cell phones turns out to be a non-issue. In the meantime, a few simple, painless adjustments can mitigate any potential risks and help you keep your peace of mind about this controversial issue.

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