We live in an era where technologies of all kinds are accelerating at an ever increasing pace. But maybe no technology has become a part of so many people’s daily life as quickly as cell phones. According to the Neilsen 2010 Media Industry Fact Sheet, there were over 223 million cell phone users in America over the age of 13 last year. Therefore the results of a study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association could have implications for the over two thirds of Americans who are cell phone users (myself included).
The research article, titled “Effects of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Signal Exposure on Brain Glucose Metabolism”, was the most rigorous study to date questioning if cell phone use can have an effect on brain cells. This study included 47 participants and was conducted by using two cell phones, with one placed at each ear. The phones were held in place for two 50 minute sessions. One 50 minute session, neither phone was receiving a signal. In the second 50 minute session, the right sided phone was receiving a recorded phone call with the volume placed on ‘mute’ (this way the person was not actually hearing any sounds from the phone). After each 50 minute session, PET brain scans were performed to look at the activity of the brain cells.
The results found that overall, the whole-brain metabolism did not change between the “on” and “off” phones. However, in the area of the brain closest to the phone’s antenna metabolism was significantly higher. Therefore, in healthy people, 50 minutes of cell phone exposure was shown to increase brain cell metabolism in the area closest to the antenna.
It is unclear what can be extrapolated from these findings and the long-term effects that increased brain cell metabolism may have. Nonetheless, this study will change the way cell phone safety is discussed and may send a strong signal to the public encouraging cell phone users to take advantage of the safety benefits of headsets and hands-free pieces.
- Volkow, N. et al. Effects of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Signal Exposure on Brain Glucose Metabolism JAMA. 2011;305(8):808-813.