Cell Phones and Electromagnetic Radiation

What Kind of Harm Can Cell Phone Radiation Cause?
There’s no argument that cell phones emit an electromagnetic field, which is a form of microwave radiation, that enters the brain when the cell phone is held against the ear, and there’s good research showing that the field does affect brain function. (See Research section below.) Although research has not shown that short term cell phone use causes cancer, a large population study has shown that people who use cell phones for more than ten years on the same side of the head have a 40% higher risk of certain types of brain tumors.

Research on other effects of cell phone radiation on the brain is scant and we need more. The bottom line is that we know long-term cell phone use can increase the risk of some brain tumors, but that much more research needs to be done on other types of potential harm caused by frequent exposure to cell phone radiation.

Those of you who have a Gauss meter can hold it up to your cell phone when it’s connected and see for yourself how strong the electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) are. A Gauss meter measures EMFs that are emitted by just about any device that’s plugged in, such as household appliances, hairdryers, TVs and power tools for example.

More about Electromagnetic Fields
Cell phones vary widely in the strength of the fields they emit, which you can find out more about here:Tips for Safer Cell Phone Use. Using a Bluetooth, a wireless earpiece, helps protect the brain, but we still tend to be walking around with cell phones attached to our hips or in our purses. Wireless earpieces are also very expensive and not practical for most families.

The electric field created by a cell phone passes through and out of the human body with minimal effect at lower frequencies, and it is relatively easy to block with conductive substances such as metals. The magnetic field, in contrast, passes through almost all substances and thus has more potential to harm to the body.

Cell phone radiation is different from the radiation created by x-rays, which are a form of ionizing radiation. Cellphone radiation consists of electromagnetic waves which are measured in two components, the electric field (V/m) and the magnetic field (mG). Don’t assume all electromagnetic fields are bad—some are used for healing and we have an electromagnetic field around every cell in our bodies. The problem is that we just don’t know very much about which kinds of EMFs are harmful and which aren’t.

The Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) is a measure of electromagnetic field absorption in a human body and is measured in a unit of absorbed energy per time and weight (W/Kg). The U.S., Canadian and Australian legal limit for SAR is no more than 1.6 W/Kg taken over a volume of 1 gram of tissue. The Ladybug has been shown to lower the SAR for a cell phone between 62 and 92 percent.

The Issue of Heat
Cell phone radiation falls into the microwave range and as such it generates heat. The human brain is very sensitive to heat and has bony structures behind the sinuses that are thought to specifically protect the pituitary gland from becoming overheated. While a short phone call is not going to generate enough heat to upset the brain, long phone calls do have that potential—another good reason to use a wireless headset such as a Bluetooth if you talk on a cell phone a lot and another good reason not to allow children to have long conversations on cell phones. Having a Ladybug on your cell phone will noticeably reduce the heat it generates.

More Research is Badly Needed
Large population studies of the effect of cell phone use have almost exclusively focused on cancer and neglected the many other types of harm that electromagnetic radiation could potentially have on the human body. For example, the REFLEX (Risk Evaluation of Potential Environmental Hazards from Low Energy Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Exposure Using Sensitive in vitro Methods) project, which studied the effects of electromagnetic fields on various types of cells found that, “Intermittent exposure to ELF-EMF at 50Hz, a common electrical mains frequency, had genotoxic [damaging to DNA] effects on human fibroblasts, human melanocytes and some animal cells. Lymphocytes and other cell lines, meanwhile, remained unaffected; In fibroblasts, a direct correspondence between the intensity and duration of ELF-EMF exposure and the number of DNA breakages or micronuclei, both markers of genotoxicity, was discovered.”

The Middle Ground
Back in 2000, Dr. Gerard Hyland, a physicist from the U.K. published an article in the prestigious medical journal the Lancet, titled, “Physics and biology of mobile telephony.” Dr. Hyland’s paper is an excellent summary of why we should be concerned about cell phone use (and cell phone towers), and where research should be pointed. Some of the research has been done since then, but much has not. Here’s the abstract of Dr. Hyland’s article:

“Although safety guidelines—to which mobile telephones and their base-stations conform—do protect against excessive microwave heating, there is evidence that the low intensity, pulsed radiation currently used can exert subtle non-thermal influences. If these influences entail adverse health consequences, current guidelines would be inadequate. This review will focus on this possibility. The radiation used is indeed of very low intensity, but an oscillatory similitude between this pulsed microwave radiation and certain electrochemical activities of the living human being should prompt concern. However, being so inherently dependent on aliveness, non-thermal effects cannot be expected to be as robust as thermal ones, as is indeed found; nor can everyone be expected to be affected in the same way by exposure to the same radiation. Notwithstanding uncertainty about whether the non-thermal influences reported do adversely affect health, there are consistencies between some of these effects and the neurological problems reported by some mobile-telephone users and people exposed longterm to base-station radiation. These should be pointers for future research.”

The conclusion is clear: we know a little bit about possible harmful effects of cell phone radiation on humans, but there’s a lot more we need to know. In the meantime, it’s important to be prudent about cell phone use. Again, here are some Tips for Safer Cell Phone Use.

References, Research and Resources

Huber R, Treyer V, Borbely AA et al, “Electromagnetic fields, such as those from mobile phones, alter regional cerebral blood flow and sleep and waking EEG,” 2002 J Sleep Res 11(4): 289-295. Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.

Abstract: Usage of mobile phones is rapidly increasing, but there is limited data on the possible effects of electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure on brain physiology. We investigated the effect of EMF vs. sham control exposure on waking regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) and on waking and sleep electroencephalogram (EEG) in humans. In Experiment 1, positron emission tomography (PET) scans were taken after unilateral head exposure to 30-min pulse-modulated 900 MHz electromagnetic field (pm-EMF). In Experiment 2, night-time sleep was polysomnographically recorded after EMF exposure. Pulse-modulated EMF exposure increased relative rCBF in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex ipsilateral to exposure. Also, pm-EMF exposure enhanced EEG power in the alpha frequency range prior to sleep onset and in the spindle frequency range during stage 2 sleep. Exposure to EMF without pulse modulation did not enhance power in the waking or sleep EEG. We previously observed EMF effects on the sleep EEG (A. A. Borbély, R. Huber, T. Graf, B. Fuchs, E. Gallmann and P. Achermann. Neurosci. Lett., 1999, 275: 207-210; R. Huber, T. Graf, K. A. Cote, L. Wittmann, E. Gallmann, D. Matter, J. Schuderer, N. Kuster, A. A. Borbély, and P. Achermann. Neuroreport, 2000, 11: 3321-3325), but the basis for these effects was unknown. The present results show for the first time that (1) pm-EMF alters waking rCBF and (2) pulse modulation of EMF is necessary to induce waking and sleep EEG changes. Pulse-modulated EMF exposure may provide a new, non-invasive method for modifying brain function for experimental, diagnostic and therapeutic purposes.


Lahkola A, Auvinen A et al, “Mobile phone use and risk of glioma in 5 North European countries,” International Journal of Cancer 120, 1769-1775 (2007)

Abstract: Public concern has been expressed about the possible adverse health effects of mobile telephones, mainly related to intracranial tumors. We conducted a population-based case-control study to investigate the relationship between mobile phone use and risk of glioma among 1,522 glioma patients and 3,301 controls. We found no evidence of increased risk of glioma related to regular mobile phone use (odds ratio, OR = 0.78, 95% confidence interval, CI: 0.68, 0.91). No significant association was found across categories with duration of use, years since first use, cumulative number of calls or cumulative hours of use. When the linear trend was examined, the OR for cumulative hours of mobile phone use was 1.006 (1.002, 1.010) per 100 hr, but no such relationship was found for the years of use or the number of calls. We found no increased risks when analogue and digital phones were analyzed separately. For more than 10 years of mobile phone use reported on the side of the head where the tumor was located, an increased OR of borderline statistical significance (OR = 1.39, 95% CI 1.01, 1.92, p trend 0.04) was found, whereas similar use on the opposite side of the head resulted in an OR of 0.98 (95% CI 0.71, 1.37). Although our results overall do not indicate an increased risk of glioma in relation to mobile phone use, the possible risk in the most heavily exposed part of the brain with long-term use needs to be explored further before firm conclusions can be drawn.


Lonn S, Ahlbom A et al, “Mobile phone use and the risk of acoustic neuroma,” Epidemiology 2004 Nov;15(6):653-9

Abstract: Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet, S-171 77 Stockholm, Sweden. Radiofrequency exposure from mobile phones is concentrated to the tissue closest to the handset, which includes the auditory nerve. If this type of exposure increases tumor risk, acoustic neuroma would be a potential concern. METHODS: In this population-based case-control study we identified all cases age 20 to 69 years diagnosed with acoustic neuroma during 1999 to 2002 in certain parts of Sweden. Controls were randomly selected from the study base, stratified on age, sex, and residential area. Detailed information about mobile phone use and other environmental exposures was collected from 148 (93%) cases and 604 (72%) controls. RESULTS: The overall odds ratio for acoustic neuroma associated with regular mobile phone use was 1.0 (95% confidence interval = 0.6-1.5). Ten years after the start of mobile phone use the estimates relative risk increased to 1.9 (0.9-4.1); when restricting to tumors on the same side of the head as the phone was normally used, the relative risk was 3.9 (1.6-9.5). CONCLUSIONS: Our findings do not indicate an increased risk of acoustic neuroma related to short-term mobile phone use after a short latency period. However, our data suggest an increased risk of acoustic neuroma associated with mobile phone use of at least 10 years' duration.


Valentini E, Curcio G et al, “Neurophysiological Effects of Mobile Phone Electromagnetic Fields on Humans: A Comprehensive Review” Bioelectromagnetics 28:415-432 (2007)

Abstract: In recent years a growing number of people have begun to use mobile phone technology. This phenomenon has raised questions and doubts about possible effects on users’ brains. This literature review focuses on the human electrophysiological and neuro-metabolic effects of mobile phone (MP)- related electromagnetic fields (EMFs) published in the last 10 years. To this end, all relevant papers have been reported and, subsequently, a literature selection has been carried out by taking several criteria into account, such as: blind techniques, randomization or counter-balancing of conditions and subjects, detail of exposure characteristics and the statistical analyses used. As a result, only the studies meeting the selection criteria have been described, evaluated and discussed further. The main goal of this review is to provide a clear scenario of the most reliable experiments carried out over the last decade and to offer a critical point of view in their evaluation. It is concluded that MP-EMFs may influence normal physiology through changes in cortical excitability and that in future research particular care should be dedicated to both methodological and statistical control, the most relevant criteria in this research field.


Microwave News
For those who want to know more, Microwave News is a well-researched and balanced look at both the detrimental effects of EMFs and the possible healing effects of some frequencies.


The Interphone Study
The Interphone Study is a series of multinational case–control studies set-up to determine
whether mobile telephone use increases the risk of cancer and, specifically, whether the radiofrequency radiation emitted by mobile telephones is carcinogenic. Separate studies have being carried out for acoustic neurinoma, glioma, meningioma and tumours
of the parotid gland.


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