Natural News, November 14, 2008
by Reuben Chow
More and more people are owning and using cell phones today. On top of that, people are using them from a younger age. While the evidence of any health risks of cell phone use is far from clear-cut, some studies have suggested that it can increase cancer risk, cause behavioral problems in children as well as affect male fertility.
Health Danger 1 – Decreased Male Fertility
In 2007, research at the Cleveland Clinic found that men who used cell phones for more than four hours per day had markedly poorer sperm quality than their counterparts with lower cellphone usage.
Recently, the same team delved deeper. In a study published in Fertility & Sterility, they obtained sperm samples from 32 men and split them into 2 groups – control and test.
After being placed an inch from a 850-Mhz cell phone which was in ‘talk’ mode, the sperm in the test group samples had higher levels of harmful free radicals as well as lower levels of protective antioxidants as compared to the control group, i.e. the unexposed sperm. These resulted in a drop in the affected sperm’s function, motility as well as overall health.
There was, however, no significant difference in DNA damage between the two groups.
This is a small, laboratory-based study, and more research is definitely still needed in this area. On top of that, sperm in men would actually be further away from cellphones, and also be protected by a few layers of human tissue. However, despite these factors, the findings of this study still offer cause for concern, and men, especially those planning to start a family, may want to keep their cell phones as far away from their reproductive parts as possible.
Health Danger 2 – Increased Cancer Risk
Much of the research done on the link between using cell phones and any possible increase in cancer risk has centered on brain cancer, largely because it is the organ in closest proximity to the gadget. And the evidence so far has been mixed.
“It’s fair to say that the data aren’t all in yet. There are a small number of epidemiological studies that have suggested a possible increase in cancer risk. But comparable studies in other populations haven’t confirmed these findings,” said Dr David L McCormick, who is the director of the Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute in Chicago.
While cell phones do emit radiation, it is apparently of the type called non-ionizing radio frequency, and does not pose the dangers of ionizing radiation – X-ray machines are one source of such damaging radiation. According to Dr McCormick, the weak signals released by non-ionizing radio frequencies do not cause damage to DNA. For example, in animal studies, no evidence of DNA damage by low levels of radio frequency was found.
A number of studies have not shown up a link between cell phone use and increased cancer risk. However, one possible limitation of those studies is their limited timeframe. After all, cancer, especially brain cancer, takes years, even decades, to develop.
And, the thing is, there are studies which have shown increased cancer risk for frequent cell phone users.
For example, a piece of research led by Dr Siegal Sadetzki, an epidemiologist at Gertner Institute, Chaim Sheba Medical Center, Israel, found that heavy cell phone users had a 50% higher risk of developing a parotid tumor. Such tumors arise in the salivary gland near the ears and the jaw, a position where cellphones are typically held, and they can be malignant or benign.
The findings of this study were important because it actually tracked the cellphone users for more than a decade. Significantly, a link was also found between tumor location and the side of the head whereby the users usually placed their cellphones.
Adverse Health Impact of Cell Phones on Children
Of graver concern is the effect of cell phone use on children. Many of our young ones are using cellphones today, sometimes for hours at a stretch. Some households do not even have a landline anymore, and cellphones are the main mode of teleconversation.
Earlier this year, market research and consulting firm Harris Interactive conducted a survey of more than 2,000 American teens. It found that 79% of teens, or 17 million of them, use cellphones, compared with only 36% in 2005. That is more than double.
And children are more susceptible to any potential dangers because their nervous systems are still in development. It is thus possible that the radio frequency emissions from the phones could cause other health issues in other parts of the body – for example, the central nervous system could be affected, thereby having a negative impact on learning or behavior, or cancers could result in organs other than the brain. These are points put forth by Dr Leeka Kheifets, a professor of epidemiology at UCLA’s School of Public Health.
Then there is also the matter of head size. As described by Ronald Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, while radiation from a cell phone only travels about 2 inches into the brain of an adult, it goes beyond the center of a child’s brain. That’s deep impact.
Health Danger 3 – Behavioral Problems in Children
And there are studies which reveal the negative impact of cell phones on the health of the young ones.
For example, quite recently, Dr Kheifets and researchers in Denmark looked at over 13,000 Danish children born in 1997 and 1998. The children were part of a study called the Danish National Birth Cohort.
The study discovered that those children who used cell phones and whose mothers had used cellphones during their pregnancy had 80% higher incidence of behavioral issues.
These include emotional issues, hyperactivity, inattention and having problems with their peers. Even those children who themselves did not have cellphone exposure except during their mothers’ pregnancies had 54% higher incidence of such problems. These figures are indeed worrying.
Cancer in Children
When we combine the “cancer” and “children” of cell phone use, the result is even more frightening and shocking.
A recent study conducted in Sweden revealed that children and teenagers who use cellphones have five times the risk of getting brain cancer. Professor Lennart Hardell, leader of the study, said that “people who started mobile phone use before the age of 20” had more than five times the incidence of glioma, which is cancer of the glial cells that support the central nervous system.
In addition, these young cell phone users have five times the risk of getting acoustic neuroma, which is a disabling tumor of the auditory nerve that often causes deafness.
Further, the study revealed that cordless phones increased cancer risk greatly too – the corresponding increase in risk of glioma being four-fold instead of five.
The Worst May Be Yet To Come – More Research Is Needed
We already have some indications of the dangers of cell phone use, particularly in affecting children and teenagers as well as in raising cancer risk. The alarming thing is, the worst is probably yet to come.
Dr Vini Khurana, an Australian neurosurgeon, recently published a paper on the Internet which stated that phone use “has far broader public health ramifications than asbestos and smoking”.
Having analyzed data from more than 100 different studies, he concluded that most of them did not cover timeframes long enough to measure the potential impact on brain cancer risk. In addition, he said that there is a lack of research on children. Dr Khurana actually appeared on the Larry King show, and his stance was described by Dr McCormick as being “rather extreme”.
But he has a point, and it is clear more research is needed. This was echoed, to a certain extent, by Dr Sadetzki, who said that research carried out on children as well as long-term studies should provide better clarification on the possible health risks of cellphone use.
“Since many people are now using hands-free sets with their cell phones for various health and safety reasons, it’s important that we continue studying this topic to gain a better understanding of the true impact these devices are having on every part of the body,” added Dr Edmund Sabanegh, director of the Center for Male Fertility for the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.
What Next For Us?
It is possible that short-term exposure to handphones is safe. “At this point, it looks unlikely that cell phones are causing brain tumors, particularly from short-term exposures,” said Dr Kheifets.
The problem is, our exposure is hardly “short-term” anymore. So many people today are using cell phones. Not only that, we use them frequently and for long periods. The young ones have started using cellphones at a relatively tender age, too, where it is believed they will be more susceptible to any possible health risks.
With cell phone technology still rather new, and the overall lack of long-term research on its dangers to health, it is surely better to be safe rather than sorry.
As Dr Sadetzki said, “I believe that the cellphone technology has a lot of advantages and is here to stay. But we, as a society, need to decide how to use it. […] I think that the precautionary principle advising the use of simple measures to lower exposure should be adopted and taken seriously.”
Dr Khurana, for example, himself uses hands-free cell phone devices.
Let us take the necessary precautions and, in the meantime, hope that a worldwide brain cancer epidemic is not waiting to blow up in the next decade or two. That would truly be disastrous.
About the author:
Reuben Chow has a keen interest in the area of natural health and healing and carries out regular research on the topic. His website, All 4 Natural Health, offers a basic guide on natural health information. It details simple, effective and natural ways, such as the use of nutrition, various herbs, herb remedies, supplements and other natural remedies, to deal with various health conditions as well as to attain good health.
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