published Friday, February 25th, 2011

Cell phones and brain activity

About two-thirds of Americans have a cell phone and almost all of them use the device frequently without much thought about the long-term health effects of the practice. Until now, there's been little conclusive research on the topic, but a new study by government researchers suggests that the low levels of radiation emitted from the phones could be a matter of concern. That is worrisome.

The study by the National Institutes of health, published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is among the first to provide scientific proof that cell phones can affect brain metabolism. Researchers found that less than an hour of cell use causes a marked increase in the area of the brain that is closest to the phone's antenna. What the means in terms of health requires additional study.

The radiation emitted by cell phones has long been a worry of some scientists and physicians. They fear that the radiation can cause tumors or other deleterious health effects. Others aren't so sure. Indeed, earlier studies have been inconclusive in finding a correlation between long-term cell-phone usage and brain tumors. Still, the new report reinforces concerns about a possible connection.

Researchers noted that the changes detected in brain metabolism by scans of study subjects confirm that the human brain is sensitive to the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the phones. The effect of that radiation on the brain, the scientists cautioned, is uncertain. Additional research, they said, is required to determine if the radiation can cause tumors or other illnesses. Given the ubiquity of cell phones and their extraordinary frequency of use, such research should start immediately.

For the moment, most major medical groups -- the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute among them -- say that current data on cell phones and health is encouraging in that it finds no increased risk of rare brain tumors among those who use cell phones. The concern, though, is that cell phone use is still a relatively new phenomenon and that it could take another decade or two for health consequences of that use to appear. That possibility should propel additional research -- and encourage concerned cell phone users to consider using an earpiece or headset whenever possible.

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