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Cell Phone Radiation: Health Hazards & How To Minimize Your Exposure

by Dr. Sarah Cimperman


For the first time in our evolutionary history, we are surrounded by a sea of radiofrequency radiation. It is used by meteorologists, astronomers, air traffic control, global positioning systems, microwaves, cordless phones, cell phones, wireless devices and wi-fi “hot spots.” We can’t see or hear or feel radiowaves, but they can affect our bodies.

Hundreds of studies on the health effects of radiofrequency radiation in general, and cell phones in particular, have shown mixed results. Those sponsored by the cell phone industry consistently find no evidence of harm while independent researchers consistently find cause for concern. However, one thing is clear: The longest studies, those that have followed cell phone users for ten years or more, regularly find an increased risk of brain cancer.

Cell phones are here to stay, but there are several simple steps that everyone can take to minimize their exposure to radiofrequency radiation and even prevent some of the damaging effects.

Radiofrequency Radiation

Cell phones are radios that convert data, sound and pictures into pulsed signals of radiofrequency radiation, a form of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation. These signals are absorbed by the tissues they come into contact with. The closer you are to the source, the stronger the radiation and the deeper the penetration. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that radiofrequency fields from cell phones held next to the head can penetrate four to six centimeters into the brain.

Radiofrequency signals are dangerous because, as research has shown, they can disturb DNA, damage chromosomes, alter gene expression, induce abnormal brain waves, change blood flow patterns and glucose metabolism in the brain, and create free radicals in the body. Free radicals can damage cells and compromise the blood-brain barrier, a system of capillaries designed to keep potentially harmful substances away from sensitive brain tissues. Once this barrier is breached, toxins can enter the brain and cause damage.

Radiofrequency radiation has not been well studied in children but it is well accepted that because their brains are still developing, their tissues are thinner, and their heads are smaller, they are especially vulnerable to the effects of cell phone signals. Experts estimate that the brains of children absorb twice as much radiation, or more, than those of adults.

This is especially concerning given the extensive use of cell phones by young people. A 2009 survey found that 75 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds own cell phones. One in three sends more than 100 text messages each day or 3000 texts each month, and more than four out of five sleep with their cell phones under their pillow, or on or next to their bed.

Harmful Health Effects

Researchers that followed regular cell phone users for ten years or more found an increased risk of developing brain tumors, both benign and malignant. Shorter studies have associated heavy use of cell phones with

• Parotid gland tumors in the cheek

• Acoustic neuromas, tumors of the nerve connecting the inner ear to the brain

• Altered electrical activity in the brain

• Hearing loss

• Impaired vision

• Neurological problems

• Behavioral problems

• Headaches

• Increased blood pressure

• Heart rate variability

• Disrupted sleep

• Fatigue

• Increased release of mercury from dental amalgams

• Fertility problems in men

Cell phone exposure in utero has been shown to increase heart rates and decrease cardiac output in fetuses, and cause developmental problems in children. A study at the University of Los Angeles, California followed more than 13,000 children from pregnancy through age seven. They found that prenatal and postnatal exposure to cell phone radiation was associated with behavioral problems, emotional difficulties and hyperactivity, and that prenatal exposure was a greater risk factor than postnatal exposure. Other research has linked cell phone signals to memory and learning difficulties in children.

Minimizing Exposure

To minimize exposure to radio frequency radiation, take these pre-cautions:

1. Use a corded land line whenever possible.

2. Before you buy a cell phone or other wireless device, consider the SAR, or specific absorption rate, which indicates the relative amount of radiofrequency energy absorbed by the body when using a given product. The Federal Comm-unications Commission allows wireless phones to have a maximum SAR level of 1.6 watts per kilogram, but studies show that biological effects occur well below this level. Researchers in Sweden, who analyzed the cell phone use of more than 2400 people, found that negative health effects started when the SAR was greater than 0.5 watts per kilogram, especially when phone calls were long.

3. Read all of the materials that come with your cell phone or other wireless device. If there is no retractable antenna, it is embedded in the phone and you will likely find, in the fine print, that the manufacturer warns against placing the phone next to your head. Many new models are tested with a “spacer” that prevents the cell phone from coming within a half inch (or so) of the ear and greatly increases the amount of allowable radiation. This small space really makes a big difference because signal strength drops off dramatically with distance. Experts estimate that for every millimeter a cell phone is held away from the head, the brain is exposed to ten percent less radiation.

4. Keep cell phone antennas away from pregnant women, babies and children.

5. Do not keep wireless devices in your pockets or next to your body when they are turned on. Do not sleep next to your cell phone if it is turned on.

6. Use a headset, wireless headphone (like Bluetooth) or speaker whenever possible. When you can’t use a hands-free device, regularly change the ear you listen with.

7. Keep calls short and when you don’t need to speak in person, send text messages instead.

8. Use your cell phone only when the signal strength is strong. Weak signals increase the output of radiofrequency radiation.

9. Avoid using your cell phone inside spaces enclosed by metal, like elevators, subways, trains, planes and cars.

Antioxidant Protection

Free radicals produced by radiofrequency radiation are unstable molecules missing an electron. They readily react with other molecules in order to gain an electron, causing those molecules to become unstable free radicals themselves. This starts a chain reaction that damages cells and tissues in the body.

Studies show that free radicals from cell phone radiation can be countered with antioxidants. Researchers have found that vitamin C, vitamin E, Ginkgo biloba, melatonin, and a compound found in honeybee propolis (caffeic acid phenethyl ester or CAPE) can prevent or diminish oxidative damage from cell phones.

A multivitamin can provide adequate amounts of antioxidant vitamins C and E, but these nutrients can also be found in food. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources of vitamin C, and vitamin E is found in raw nuts and seeds, yogurt, tofu and tempeh, and leafy greens like spinach and wild purslane. Eating these foods regularly can provide natural protection.

For some people, supplements are also useful. But before taking any new medicine, natural or not, always talk to your doctor about the possibility of interactions and adverse effects, and the best dosage for you.

References are available at adifferentkindofdoctor.blogspot.com.

Dr. Sarah Cimperman is a naturopathic doctor in private practice in New York City. For more information, visit www.drsarahcimperman.com  or call 646-234-2918.


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