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January 09, 2012

Wake Up Call: What You Should Know About Your Cell Phone

Increasing Exposure

The holiday season is now behind us and while cell phones were high on many Christmas “wish lists” we must make sure they aren’t presenting health hazzards to us or our loved ones!

Life without cell phones and other wireless devices has become nearly unthinkable, but a growing number of experts now worry that our near constant immersion in these force fields could be endangering our health.

Invisible to the eye, electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) are powering an ever-expanding thicket of appliances and electric lights, and more recently, a burgeoning network of cell towers, wireless routers and the ever-present cell phones that gird our lives.

According to noted author and researcher, Ann Gittleman, PhD, we are exposed to as much as 100 million times more electromagnetic radiation than our grandparents were.

Worry intensified this year after the World Health Organization (WHO) analyzed the data and called cell phones a possible carcinogen. The jury is still out on the range of possible effects, but a raft of studies now links EMFs — especially those from cell phones carried close to our bodies — to brain tumors, damaged DNA, fertility problems and autism.

With cell-phone usage surging from a hundred million people worldwide in 1997 to some 5 billion today, even small increases in risk could pose a serious global threat. “Studies show people would rather leave home without their wallet than their cell phone. The cell phone has become an extension of the body,” says Devra Davis, PhD, former researcher for the National Academies of Sciences and president and founder of the Environmental Health Trust.

EMFs are Everywhere

What is all the fuss about, anyway? Electromagnetic frequencies — essentially different forms of radiation that vary along what physicists call the “electromagnetic spectrum” — abound in nature. They build up after thunderstorms and travel through the planet from pole to pole. Light is the most familiar EMF, but modern technology also generates EMFs: x-rays, radio waves and microwaves, to name a few.

What makes one form of electromagnetic radiation fundamentally different from another? In a nutshell: Its wavelength and frequency. Shorter waves are more energy intensive; some, like x-rays and gamma rays, emit so much energy they can break living tissue apart, a characteristic that has caused experts to label them “ionizing.” By contrast, longer waves, like TV waves, radio waves and microwaves, emit less energy; they don’t ionize living tissue and have been widely embraced as safe.

University of Washington scientists exposed live rats to cell-phone-like radiation and then examined their brains. DNA from brains of exposed rats was damaged, while DNA from unexposed rat brains remained intact.

In 2003, Swedish researchers were reporting that cell-phone radiation breached the blood-brain barrier, the vascular and immune barricade keeping toxins out of the brain. In one study, scientists exposed rats to cell-phone radiation for just two hours, varying intensity among the rats in order to reflect the types of exposures human cell-phone users might receive. When the rats were euthanized roughly 50 days after exposure, and their brains studied, scientists found significant blood-vessel leakage and shrunken, damaged neurons. The higher the level of radiation, the more damage was done.

According to research in the 2010 International Jourlnal of Epidemiology, risk of getting a brain tumor was higher for those using cell phones the most — 30 minutes a day or more for at least 10 years.

Young Brains and Cell Phones

According to several experts, there may be even a bigger concern than brain tumors. “A much larger concern is damage to neural connections in the developing brain and to the reproductive health of men and women,” says Davis.

When it comes to reducing EMF-exposure risks, every millimeter of separation between a cell phone and the brain is protective. With thinner skulls and smaller ears, children are closer to the radiation source. In fact, researchers have long reported significantly higher absorption rates of radiation for children — about twice as much for those under age 8.

When it comes to disruption of neural connections, compelling research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association this year shows that 50-minute cell-phone calls increase glucose metabolism in the area of the brain closest to the phone antenna — specifically, the orbitofrontal cortex and temporal pole, regions involved in sensory integration, language, decision making, and social and emotional processing.

The study’s lead author, psychiatrist Nora D. Volkow, MD, of the National Institute of Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, says that because children and adolescents have the most “neuro-plastic” brains, they would be at greatest risk. “We don’t know what happens when you get repeated exposures. What happens over the course of 10 or 15 years?” Therein, lies the concern. What happens with long-term, repeated exposure at an early age?

Simple Steps to Protect Yourself and Loved Ones

Research presented at a conference this May underscores Volkow’s concerns. After researchers exposed adult rats to mobile-phone-like emissions, they found damage to the cerebellum, a part of the brain important for language, attention and motor control. After exposing pregnant rats to similar radiation during gestation, the researchers documented cell loss in the newborn rats’ hippocampus, a part of the brain pivotal to memory formation.

It appears that cell phones can also threaten fertility. Research shows that cell-phone radiation could cause DNA fragmentation in the ovarian cells of insects, drastically reducing reproductive capacity. At the same conference, research was also presented that exposed rats to two hours of cell-phone radiation a day for 35 days. At the end of that period, exposed rats had high levels of free radicals that resulted in an increased risk of infertility and cancer.

The news is disturbing for humans as well: Research from the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio recently suggested that cell phones may lower sperm count in men — especially those who kept the phone on “talk” mode, and carried it on their body, most often in their pants pocket.

Ways to Protect Yourself from Electromagnetic Radiation

  1. When talking on your cell phone, your safest bet is to use the speakerphone mode. Your second best option is a wired headset. A Bluetooth emitter is your third choice. Turn your headset off when the phone is not in use.
  2. Try not to keep your phone turned on next to your body throughout the day. Or, if you must, position the cell phone so that the antenna, which emits radiation, is facing away from you.
  3. Try to use your phone when you have the maximum number of bars, indicating the best reception. When signal quality is poor, your phone emits more radiation.
  4. Try not to use your cell phone in elevators, cars, trains or planes. Cell phones draw more power, and emit more radiation in enclosed metal spaces.
  5. Text instead of calling whenever possible.
  6. You may be tempted to use one of the many radiation shields on the market, but keep in mind that they may hamper reception, causing your cell phone to churn out more radiation.
  7. Strive to keep your bedroom as free of electronic radiation as possible. In addition to routers, banish cell phones, wireless phones and computers (FYI--the new generation of wireless baby monitors, often configured to sit right under the bed or the mattress, emit radiation comparable to a cell phone).

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