Cell Phone Radiation and Your Brain – An Expert Weighs In

Lack of Brain Tumor Epidemic Does Not Prove Safety of Cell Phones; Warning Labels Needed

Expert scientists working with Environmental Health Trust (EHT), a nonprofit research and educational group, say that new studies showing that cell phone radiation excites the brain strengthen the need for a major research program on cell phones and health, revamping approaches to setting standards, and putting warnings on cell phones.

Writing in today’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, a team of researchers led by the director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, psychiatrist Nora D.Volkow, found that just 50 minutes of cell phone radiation significantly affected brain function and metabolism of glucose—the brain’s main fuel—in those parts of the brain that received the most cell phone radiation.

Ronald B. Herberman, M.D., chair of EHT’s Board and a renowned cancer biologist and physician, indicated that this work offers an important clue about the ways that cell phone radiation can alter the brain and also shows why it is appropriate to take special precautions with cell phones today.

“This stunning report indicates that even short-term exposure to nerve cells from cell phones can increase glucose in the brain,” said Dr. Herberman.  “We know that increased glucose also occurs with infections and other inflammatory processes, and leads to the production of potentially damaging reactive oxygen radicals that can alter the ways that cells and genes work.  This important finding should stimulate many biologists to perform in-depth studies to determine the consequences of such changes in nerve cells or other bodily cells in the region of the radiation.  We need to develop a better understanding of how radiofrequency radiation might contribute to increased risk for brain tumors as well as other alterations in brain functions.”

Echoing advice he had issued as director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute in 2008, Herberman noted that this new report provides additional reasons for taking steps to reduce direct exposure to the brain from cell phone radiation.  “We need to take simple precautions to reduce brain exposures to cell phone radiation, while research on the biological impact of exposure to microwave radiation from cell phones is carried out in the meantime,” he said.

“The latest research from the California Institute of Technology and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) confirms that just 50 minutes of cell phone radiation affects the brain,” says Lloyd Morgan, Senior Science Advisor to EHT.  “Yet standards for phones today rest on the assumption that such effects cannot possibly occur.  It is time to revise the standards, and to take into account both the short- and long-term effects that microwave radiation from cell phones can have on the brain and body.”

Morgan explained that glucose in the brain indicates excitability.  “The areas of the brain that had increased glucose in the JAMA study are involved in thinking, sensing and decision making, including repression of antisocial behavior.”

Sharing Morgan’s concerns, EHT scientific advisor Richard A. Stein, M.D., Ph.D., said, “By using radio-labeled PET scans to examine glucose and energy metabolism in the brain of healthy adult volunteers, the NIDA team got as close as one can get to visualize brain metabolism and brain activity in real time, in response to non-ionizing radiation.  Their results validate and reinforce previous reports that used other experimental approaches, and have found that microwave radiation altered cellular signaling pathways and brain activity.

“As glucose is the sole energy source in the brain under normal dietary conditions, and there is an absolute requirement for glucose during synaptic transmission in the nervous system, the results of the current study emerge as even more significant,” Dr. Stein said.  “Of course, we do not know whether the changes in glucose metabolism represent the primary perturbation, or whether they occur secondarily, as a response to some other disturbance—such as the activation of heat shock pathways, which was reported to occur by several independent groups in response to non-ionizing radiation.  But one thing is certain—the current study clearly reveals changes in a pathway that is essential for brain energy metabolism and synaptic transmission, and is intimately interconnected with other pathways that fulfill fundamental roles in biological systems.  The Volkow study is an important contribution to public health.”

Previous work from Prof. Dariusz Leszczynski’s group at the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, published in 2008 in BMC Genomics, involved a human study where punch skin biopsies were taken from the forearm of 10 human volunteers who were  exposed for 1 hour of cell phone radiation.  Study has revealed that the expression level of 8 proteins was changed upon exposure, and 2 proteins were changed in all volunteers, suggesting that  protein expression changes might occur in response to RF exposure.

Writing in the journal Nature Neuroscience last month, neurobiologists at the California Institute of Technology showed that very weak varying electric fields affect the thinking, resting or sleeping brain.

Dr. Devra Lee Davis, president and founder of Environmental Health Trust, says that this new work, combined with studies carried out by Henry Lai, Allan Frey and others in the past three decades and documented in her new book,Disconnect: The Truth About Cell Phone Radiation, What the Industry Has Done to Hide It, and How to Protect Your Family (Dutton, 2010), reinforces the need for revamping our current approach to cell phone safety.

“Cell phone standards assume that no biological impact of microwave radiation from cell phones can occur without a detectable change in temperature,” said Dr. Davis.  “In fact, this JAMA study used phones with a SAR of less than 1 W/kg for 50 minutes and found significant increases in brain glucose—the sugar that provides the brain’s main source of energy.

“The current study shows, along with other studies, that there are additional concerns related to cell phone use, besides tumors,” adds Dr. Davis.  “Tumors are just the tip of the iceberg, but their development is preceded by years of other biological perturbations that have profound medical relevance—and this study confirms that significant biological changes occur after relatively brief exposures such as those that take place daily with the world’s five billion cell phones.

“Could the stimulating impact of cell phone radiation to boost brain energy explain some of the growing addiction many of us feel for our phones?”  Davis asks.  “That is one of the many research questions that should be addressed.”

EHT is working with experts and governments in a number of U.S. cities and states, and in Finland, France, Israel and other countries around the world, to encourage a major independent research program on cell phones and simple precautionary policies in the meantime.

While that research is being carried out, EHT encourages simple precautions to reduce microwave radiation to the brain and body, such as those recommended by EHT chair Herberman in 2008 and now endorsed by a number of governments and experts around the world.  Phones should be used with headsets or speakerphones and not kept directly on the body, and children should take special care not to have direct exposures.

Based on the growing evidence from laboratories and epidemiologic studies, two leaders of the WHO Interphone study on cell phones have recently broken ranks and are now calling for such precautions to be taken broadly.  They note the growing biological evidence that microwave radiation from phones has impacts and that epidemiologic studies find increased risks of brain cancer after a decade of heavy use.

Professors Elisabeth Cardis and Siegal Sadetzki have urged that it is prudent to reduce exposure by simple means at this time, ranging from using speakerphones and headsets to reducing call time and children’s use of phones generally.

“There are now more than 4 billion people, including children, using mobile phones,” they write. “Even a small risk at the individual level could eventually result in a considerable number of tumours and become an important public-health issue.  Simple and low-cost measures, such as the use of text messages, hands-free kits and/or the loudspeaker mode of the phone could substantially reduce exposure to the brain from mobile phones.  Therefore, until definitive scientific answers are available, the adoption of such precautions, particularly among young people, is advisable.”

A recent widely publicized piece in the journal BioElectromagnetics concluded that because the U.S. and U.K. do not currently have a brain tumor epidemic (from 1998–2007) and cell phones have been in use for a decade, therefore cell phones are safe and there is no need for precaution.

Regarding this study, Allan Frey, a well-known expert in the field of bioelectromagnetics, noted the fallacy of the argument:

“It is well established in the scientific literature that generally a cancer is not seen until 10 to 30 years after the exposure to an agent.  In addition, the radio frequency-biological literature shows that cancer is not seen until at least 10 years after the exposure, which is consistent with the rest of the scientific literature.”

In criticizing this study, Frey points out, “The authors analyzed data on brain tumors gathered before most of their study population owned a cell phone.  Also, most of their population did not have a cell phone for more than five years.  Thus, the authors knew or should have known, that if cell phones induced or promoted brain cancer, that their study would not have shown it.  Yet they did the study and concluded in their paper that their study showed that there was no need for ‘…interventions to reduce radio frequency exposure from mobile phones’ that are used today.”

“To conclude that cell phones are safe misreads the science and misleads the people,” Dr. Davis advised.

For more information, please visit www.ehtrust.orgwww.powerwatch.org, and http://www.bioinitiative.org/

Reference to BMC Genomics study:

Karinen A, Heinävaara S, Nylund R, Leszczynski D. Mobile phone radiation might alter protein expression in human skin. BMC Genomics 9, 2008, 77 (www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2164/9/77)

About Environmental Health Trust

Environmental Health Trust (EHT) educates individuals, health professionals and communities about controllable environmental health risks and policy changes needed to reduce those risks. Current multi-media projects include: local and national campaigns to ban smoking and asbestos; working with international physician and worker safety groups to warn about the risks of inappropriate use of diagnostic radiation and cell phones, exploring what factors lie behind puzzlingly high rates of fibroid tumors, breast cancer and endometriosis in young African American women, and building environmental wellness programs in Wyoming and Pennsylvania to address the environmental impacts of energy development, the built environment and radon. EHT was created with the goal of promoting health and preventing disease one person, one community and one nation at a time. Capitalizing on growing public interest in Dr. Devra Lee Davis’s popular books, When Smoke Ran Like Water, a National Book Award Finalist, and The Secret History of the War on Cancer, and recent documentary films, the foundation’s website will become the go to place for clear, science-based information to prevent environmentally based disease and promote health, and will have portals for the general public, children, and health professionals.

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