Last Updated Mar 24, 2011 6:11 PM EDT
According to the latest research, you should be concerned and modify the way you use your cell phone.
First the background: Though the study is preliminary and raises more questions than answers, it was one of the first of its kind to find that low level radiation, the kind emitted from cell phones, altered brain activity.
The study, conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Drug Abuse and published in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association, compared brain activity via a PET scan in subjects who had cell phones turned on for 50 minutes or turned off. The subjects did not know whether or not the phone was in use because the sound was muted. The researchers found a 7 percent increase in brain activity in the area closest to the phone, specifically an increase in the metabolism of glucose.
It is well accepted that the low frequency emissions of cell phones are too weak to damage DNA, and would not cause cancer through that mechanism. But this research points to another possible mode. The New York Times speculated that the increased glucose metabolism could lead to the creation of free radicals, volatile molecules that can damage healthy cells, and that the radiation could cause a low level inflammatory response.
Researchers have been debating the cell phone-brain cancer link for years and even the largest study to date had confusing results. The Interphone study, an international decade-long study released last year, found increases in three types of brain tumors in longtime frequent cell phone users, but it also found that average users had a lower risk of the three cancers, a confounding result that put the whole study into question.
"But a second group of researchers from Sweden also found long term increased risk of glioma brain tumors and acoustic neuromas," said Louis Slesin, editor of the Microwave News. "Yes, the research is inconclusive but it's becoming highly suggestive of a risk." Some doctors have urged people to err on the side of caution and limit their brain's exposure to cell phones.
Slesin provided these 10 ways to lower your exposure.
- Use a land line whenever you can, like in the office or at home.
- Use a hands free set. A headset or earbud keeps the radiation away from your brain.
- Use speaker phone. It also keeps radiation away from your brain.
- Avoid the phone when reception is weak. When cell phones are far from towers (and show fewer bars), they emit more radiation to communicate with the tower. Wait till you get outside, rather than making a call in the elevator, in a basement, or in the subway.
- Keep conversations short. Try to use a land line when you need to sit in on a conference call or any other conversation you know will take some time.
- Use blue tooth cautiously. A blue tooth uses much less power than a cell phone, but there is no distance between your head and the device (your ear actually creates some distance for a hand held cell phone). Plus, a blue tooth is always on you and it's not clear whether you're constantly getting exposed even when you're not using the phone. You may be better off using a headset.
- Try texting instead of talking. No exposure to your brain.
- Don't talk on the train or in a car. Try not to use phone in fast moving vehicles, even as a passenger, because as you travel, your phone moves from one cell tower to the next, and each time it tries to connect, your phone uses maximum power to make contact.
- Wait a few seconds after dialing before putting phone to ear. During the time the call is connecting, the phone uses maximum power. It will power down once the connection is made. Keep it on speaker phone until someone picks up.