Using a Cell Phone Changes Brain Activity, Study Finds

A new <"">cell phone study finds the popular devices can in fact cause changes to brain activity. The study, conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, is one of the first, and the most prominent, to offer scientific evidence that cell phones affect brain metabolism. What is not yet understood is exactly how the brain changes induced by using a cell phone might impact health over the long-term.

The randomized cell phone study, conducted between January 1 and December 31, 2009, included 47 participants. The study found that 50-minutes of cell phone use was associated with increased brain glucose metabolism (a marker of brain activity) in the region closest to the phone antenna.

In conducting the study, which appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), cell phones were placed on the left and right ears and brain imaging was performed with positron emission tomography (PET) with (18F) fluorodeoxyglucose injection, used to measure brain glucose metabolism twice, once with the right cell phone activated (sound muted) for 50 minutes (“on” condition) and once with both cell phones deactivated (“off” condition). Analysis was conducted to verify the association of metabolism and estimated amplitude of radiofrequency-modulated electromagnetic waves emitted by the cell phone. The PET scans were compared to assess the effect of cell phone use on brain glucose metabolism.

The researchers found that whole-brain metabolism did not differ between the on and off conditions. However, there were significant regional effects. Metabolism in the brain region closest to the antenna (orbitofrontal cortex and temporal pole) was significantly higher (approximately 7 percent) for cell phone on than for cell phone off conditions.

“The increases were significantly correlated with the estimated electromagnetic field amplitudes both for absolute metabolism and normalized metabolism,” the authors write. “This indicates that the regions expected to have the greater absorption of RF-EMFs from the cell phone exposure were the ones that showed the larger increases in glucose metabolism.”

“These results provide evidence that the human brain is sensitive to the effects of RF-EMFs from acute cell phone exposures,” the researchers write. They add that the mechanisms by which RF-EMFs could affect brain glucose metabolism are unclear.

The authors of the study assert that their findings indicate a need to further investigate potential long-term cell phone health effects.

“Concern has been raised by the possibility that RF-EMFs emitted by cell phones may induce brain cancer. … Results of this study provide evidence that acute cell phone exposure affects brain metabolic activity. However, these results provide no information as to their relevance regarding potential carcinogenic effects (or lack of such effects) from chronic cell phone use.”

The possible correlation between cell phone use and health issues, especially tumors, has been the subject of fierce debate. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, several small studies found some correlation between long-term cell phone use and brain tumors, but most research has yet to find a connection to cancers or any other diseases. However, cell phone critics point out that most research has not been thorough enough, and say it could be decades before the true consequences of cell phone use will become apparent.

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