The Cell Phone & Brain Cells Connection

By IMI blog contributor, Amanda Hammond

In our fast-paced western society, cell phones have become a must-have. They allow us to connect with clients, send Emails, post on Facebook, watch stocks plummet and keep up with Occupy Wall Street.  We can do all of this on the bus, in a taxi or shopping downtown all while showcasing our fantastic musical taste via our ringtone! 83% of Americans own some type of cell phone as of last August and smart phone use is expected to double in the next four years. Here is why this is scary.

Cell phones are quite good at emitting electromagnetic radiation… and we hold them up to our heads.  In fact many teenagers seem to have glued them there.  A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association explained how using a cell phone of any kind for more than 50 minutes changes brain cell activity.  The brain’s glucose metabolism increases causing more cells to make energy from that extra glucose.  Because this process is being initiated in an unnatural manner triggered by radiation, scientists worry what kind of impact this could have on our health.

The area with the most brain activity in this study was, as you probably guessed, the part of the brain closest to the antenna of the cell phone.  This is not just a concern for those of us who are healthy thought healthy brains are the ones studied.  What about children and people who are already affected by a neurological issue?  According to Dr. Nora Volkow, a neuroscientist at the National Institute of Healthy and the leader of this study, “If someone already has brain damage and then stimulates it with electromagnetic exposure from a cell phone, it could trigger something dangerous.”  Volkow also feels that the radiation exposure of child users could be significantly greater than that of adults and believes “the pediatric population is at a higher risk.”

Scientists have indeed found that children’s brains absorb TWICE the amount of radiation as those of adults.  Being thinner and softer, their skulls are less equipped to shelter their brains from invasive electromagnetic radiation.  Current protocol for cell phone radiation testing isn’t considering children’s usage of phones.  Children are absorbing twice as much in their heads and three times as much in the hippocampus and hypothalamus!  They also absorb more radiation through their eyes than adults do and ten times more in their bone marrow.  And what do babies love to play with?  Our smartphones!

The Federal Communications Commission’s cell phone certification process uses a mannequin head filled with fluid named SAM.  This is a poor way to study radiation effects for many reasons.  First of all, the SAM method doesn’t account for the various tissues actually found in the human brain, most of which absorb radiation at different levels.  Another issue is that this mannequin head is modeled after a large man’s.  That leaves many of us out.  I am certainly not a large man and those who are- how lucky you are to be the population of most concern to the FCC! 

There are applications on smartphones now that are specifically made for babies and toddlers like calming noise simulators, animal sounds and flashcards.  These are the LAST members of our population who should be using them with their vulnerable skulls that in many cases aren’t completely closed yet.  Though there is pressure for cellular phone companies to include warning labels on their phone packages at the time of purchase, it hasn’t happened yet. This is because though many studies have found compelling data on the subject, much of it can be refuted or called inconclusive. 

To protect your family from radiation exposure, I’m not going to tell you to throw your Droid away though Droids are one of the worst offenders.  Don’t worry.  Instead, use a headset, speaker phone or text messaging when communicating.  The idea is to keep the antenna away from your brain while you are using it.  Part of self-care is to keep all of our habits and behaviors in check.  To me this means I need to keep tabs on research regarding my lifestyle choices.  Since I choose to use a smartphone, I take proper precautions to avoid excessive radiation.  I use it mainly for texting and my toddler certainly is not allowed to play with it.  I’m also thinking of switching to a model that emits less radiation.  I’m hoping that some of you upon reading this will make some adjustments to limit your exposure as well. 



Heavy use of cell phones may increase tumour risk: study, The Globe and Mail- Canada, May 2010

Not-so-Smart Phones: Some New Favorites Rank High in Radiation, EWG, Feb. 2010

Cell phone exposure increases brain cell activity, CNN Health, Feb. 2011


About Amanda Hammond

Amanda Hammond, IMI blog contributor,  is the founder of Ready Or Not Baby Planning Services in Wisconsin.

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