For a while now, people have been worried about the long-term exposure to electromagnetic radiation from cell phones. There’s even been a buzz about brain cancer and the likes. Should you be concerned?
Twenty years ago, cell phones were still a rare, ugly accessory with terrible service and a bulky body. Now, 90% of American adults own a cell phone, and more than half own a smart phone. The question is, do they effect our health?
The two most researched health conditions associated with cell phone use are male infertility and brain cancer.
Cell Phones and Infertility
Several studies have found an association between cell phone use and male infertility/ Decreased sperm quality as well. For example, a study published in 2008 found that of 361 men attending an infertility clinic, participants who used a cell phone more frequently had lower sperm count, motility, and viability, and had more sperm with abnormal structure. Two other studies also found a higher percentage of abnormal sperm in men who used a cell phone.
Animal experiments have also been conducted to better determine whether a cause and effect relationship exists, and what the mechanism might be. Studies where rodents were exposed to cell phone radiation have found decreased sperm motility and abnormal structure, as well as increased DNA damage and oxidative stress. For example, rats exposed to an active cell phone for just 1 hour/day for 4 weeks exhibited reduced sperm motility and increased oxidative stress compared to controls who were exposed to a cell phone without batteries for the same period of time.
On the other hand, a different experiment found that young rats actually showed better sperm motility and structure following exposure to cell phone radiation, which is opposite of what other studies have found. It’s also important to keep in mind that animal studies don’t generalize to humans particularly well in this case. Due to differences in structure of the testes, the doses of radiation used likely have a much larger effect on the animals than it would on humans.
Researchers have also conducted experiments on human semen samples by exposing half a sample to cell phone radiation, and keeping the other half as a control. Exposed samples had higher levels of oxidation, as well as decreased sperm motility and viability.
In general, the authors of these studies come to the same conclusion: that a significant amount of evidence does show that cell phone radiation could be harmful to male fertility, but that the study designs are inconsistent, often not reproducible, and don’t always control for variables well.
With that said, its better to be safe than sorry, get an arm band!
Cell Phones and brain Cancer
Cancer is probably the hottest topic regarding cell phone safety. The first and most important thing to keep in mind is that unlike gamma rays or x-rays, microwave radiation, the frequency used by cell phones (and microwaves) — is non-ionizing, and is actually a lower frequency than UV rays or even visible light.
Because of this low frequency, cell phone radiation does not have the energy necessary to break molecular bonds, so it can’t directly cause cancer by mutating DNA like other types of radiation can. Animal research shows this. Cell phone radiation was not found to cause or promote cancer in isolated human cells or in rodents. We should still, however consider the other effects that cell phone radiation could have on the body, and whether those effects could increase the risk of cancer in the long run.
For example, we mentioned there is some evidence that cell phone radiation increases oxidative stress in cells, which can lead to DNA damage. Several studies found increased DNA damage in the brain cells of rats after exposure to cell phones, and since the effect was blocked by antioxidant administration, it’s likely that oxidative stress was the cause. Many animal studies have also found no increase in DNA damage following exposure to cell phone radiation, so experimental evidence is still inconclusive.
The Bottom Line
The reality of it is that there isn’t any conclusive evidence to really tell you if your cell phone is a danger to your health. I will say however that the male infertility data, although not conclusive, does leave a few open ended questions that might warrant concern.
I would play it safe and either keep my cell phone away from my crotch while I’m at home or buy an arm band case or leave it in my backpack/briefcase while I’m out and about.