Is Your Cell Phone Frying Your Brain?

It’s not far-fetched to assume that holding up a radiation-emitting device to your head is a bad idea. Yet that is something nearly all of us do every day, sometimes for hours on end. Believe it or not, your cell phone lets off radiation and that has some people concerned. Not to fear, though — science has so far found no reason to support the notion that phone calls are frying our brains.

A Quick Lesson in Radiation

There are many different types of radiation. Generally, they’re split into two categories: ionizing and non-ionizing. The first category includes x-rays, some high-energy UV rays, and cosmic rays. Cell phones give off radio waves, which are in the non-ionizing group. While ionizing radiation has been linked to cancer, non-ionizing radiation has not. Its only known side effect is that it makes things warm — as you may know, radio waves can also be called micro waves. Other familiar sources of radio waves are FM and TV broadcasts, radar, and wireless devices. That means, for many of us, our entire bodies are being exposed to radio waves all day. Cell phone exposure, on the other hand, is mostly concentrated in a smaller area and only while you’re near the phone.

Some Standout Research

Even though general findings about radio waves are in favor of cell phones, plenty of studies have been conducted to check their safety. A 2011 study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that, after 50 minutes of exposure, brain glucose metabolization increased in regions of the brain physically closest to the phone’s antenna. Whether that has any consequences is unclear. Other studies have hinted at increased cancer rates amongst heavy users of cell phones — as in six hours a day or more — but none of these results have held up to scientific snuff.

In an Interphone study that spanned 13 countries, researchers found a small increase in glioma risk amongst the heaviest cell users. However, that same study found that low-level users had less risk than people who rarely used cells phones, and other factors may have biased the results.

The Million Women Study in the UK found an association between cell phone use for more than five years and an increased risk of acoustic neuroma. They also found this risk increased with duration of use. This association has been questioned because incidences of these tumors between 1998 and 2008 in the UK didn’t increase, although cell phone use skyrocketed during this time.

How to Avoid Cell Phone Radiation

Science is giving cells the OK, but you might remain unconvinced. Luckily, that’s easily addressed. “The real thing is, if you’re worried about it, there are things you can do about it,” says John Moulder, professor of radiation biology at the Medical College of Wisconsin. He suggests a few simple fixes for your cell phone fears:

â–º First, get an earpiece. Bluetooths are also radio frequency devices (albeit very low-level ones), but there are wired ear jacks, too.

â–º Once you have that, Moulder says to put the phone away from your body rather than holding it or having it in your pocket.

â–º Lastly, avoid using your phone when you have bad reception. “The fewer bars there are, the more powerfully the phone has to broadcast,” says Moulder. He says your phone may increase its output tenfold or more in areas with poor service.


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Volkow ND et al. “Effects of cell phone radiofrequency signal exposure on brain glucose metabolism”

The INTERPHONE Study Group, “Brain tumour risk in relation to mobile telephone use: results of the INTERPHONE internation case—control study”

Benson V et al. “Mobile phone use and risk of brain neoplasms and other cancers: prospective study”