By Michael A. Smith, MD
A while back, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) attempted to test the safety of cell phones by measuring the amount of radiation they emit and assessing the related health effects on humans. Unfortunately, in their haste, the government used a mannequin that approximated a 6-foot tall, 220-pound person as their benchmark. Based on this pretty questionable human model, the FCC concluded that radiation from cells phones is minimal and therefore not dangerous.
Here’s the problem: A person of that size represents only about 3% of the total human population. Where does that leave the rest of us? For example, I’m 5-feet, 6-inches tall and I weigh 140 pounds. Is it scientifically viable to compare my stature to a 6-foot, 220-pounder when estimating effects of radiation? Probably not.
Dr. Devra Davis is a former senior advisor in the United States Department of Health and Human Services and is one of the researchers questioning the initial FCC evaluation. Here’s what she had to say on the topic: "The standards for cell phones have been developed based on old science and old models and old assumptions about how we use cell phones, and that's why they need to change." We agree.
Cells Phones Emit EMF and MicrowavesThis is what we do know: Like all electronics, cell phones emit electromagnetic radiation, or EMF. They also contain chips that radiate heat as microwaves. Now, EMF and microwaves are not necessarily dangerous if they dissipate into the surrounding environment. But what happens when they dissipate into your brain? Truth is, no one knows for sure.
Of course, questioning cell phone safety is nothing new. One study last year associated cell phone use with a slight increased risk of a type of brain cancer called a glioma. In another study from the National Institutes of Health Research, scientists found that cell phone use was associated with an increase in brain activity. Whether this can be linked to an increased risk of cancer or not has yet to be shown.
And what about kids? For example, we know that a child’s bone marrow is extremely sensitive to radiation. Could this also be true for young, developing brain cells? As you can see, it’s obvious that we really need more testing.
But who’s going to do this testing? Would it be the cell phone industry or the government? If universities want to study the possible risks of cell phones, for example, who’s going to pay for it?
As you can see, there are many questions that need to be answered before the risks can be properly assessed.
A Compelling Flaw in the Latest Cell Phone Radiation StudyThe latest study on cell phones making the rounds concluded that they are safe1. This was a large study of 2.9 million people in Denmark. The original study was published in 2007, and this was an update published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
Now keep in mind, this new update on cell phone safety was published just five months after the World Health Organization concluded that cell phones could be carcinogenic.
The Denmark study used a registry with mobile phone contracts beginning in 1982 — the year cell phones were introduced in Denmark — until 1995. The authors investigated the development of brain cancer in cell phone users compared to the known risk for brain tumors in the general population. They found no increased risk with cell phone users, but there’s a major flaw in the study that needs to be addressed.
See, the investigators counted cell phone subscriptions rather than actual use by individuals. This method didn’t include people who had corporate subscriptions or people who used cell phones without a long-term contract. Oops!
Statisticians will tell you that small details like these can totally dilute any association between cell phone use and cancer risk. Even the study’s authors acknowledge this potential problem with the study’s design.
So where does this leave us? Well, it leaves us with a fuzzy picture, that’s for sure. Only time will tell if there’s a real risk of cancer from cell phone use.
How to Minimize Cell Phone Radiation Risk … Just in CaseBelow are some suggestions for protecting you and your family, just in case this risk becomes a measurable reality down the line:
1. Use a regular ear piece — Experts tell us that Bluetooth devices have their own potential problems and should not be used. Instead, using a regular ear piece is your safest bet.
2. Use text messages — but not while driving. Texting puts a safer distance between your brain cells and your cell phone … and it’s distance that really counts. If it turns out that EMF and microwaves cause tumors, dispersing them into the environment is a better bet than dispersing them into your brain.
3. Limit use for kids — since the most threatening danger is for kids. Children’s brains are still developing, and, as such, any sort of radiation can be harmful. Don’t allow children to use cell phones until their teenage years if possible. That, by the way, is just our opinion.
4. Avoid unlimited plans — Unlimited plans only foster more and more cell phone use. Yes, these types of plans are attractive, but you’ll probably just end up using your phone more. Sometimes limits are a good thing.
Interested in reading up on how you can protect yourself with nutrients? Here's a Life Extension Magazine article on optimizing your defense against radiation with nutrition and supplements.
What do you think about the safety of cell phone use? Do the recent studies concern you or make you feel better? Please let us know what you think.
- Am J Epidemiol. 2011 Aug 15;174(4):416-22.
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