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A new study published in JAMA investigated the harmful effects of cell phones on the brain. The conclusion is less than clear. People have been debating the effects of cell phones since they were first introduced. There have been scientists and citizens who feel cell phones pose a significant threat. There are also those who believe we have other things to worry about.
Investigators from the National Institute of Health conducted a study on 47 healthy adults. The researchers put cell phones to both ears and conducted PET scans of the brain (an imaging technique that measures metabolic activity in the form of glucose consumption) with both phones deactivated, and with the phone adjacent to the right ear activated, in random sequence. Activation of the right cell phone was in mute mode so that participants were blinded to the intervention.
The study found three key points which will do nothing to resolve the cell phone controversy, at least for now. First, researchers found that whole brain metabolic activity was unaffected by cell phone activation. Second, brain metabolic activity directly adjacent to an activated cell phone was significantly increased. And third, the researchers have no idea what, if any, clinical significance this has.
It is interesting that brain metabolic activity increases with a cell phone but it is not known if that is bad or not. It is well known that radio-frequency waves penetrate human bodies, and we now know they activate brain activity, but there is no clear evidence they harm us in the process. The published data, based on many studies and observations in hundreds of thousands of people, remain open to interpretation. One study in the Netherlands examined the issue in over 400,000 people, and found no evidence of harm. A meta-analysis in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, however, concluded there was possible evidence of increased risk of brain tumors from extended cell phone use demonstrated in studies least subject to bias. Of course cell phones have only been used by a large portion of the population for a decade or two, so certainly more long-term research is needed.
For now, I guess, the cell phone debate will continue with the microwave debate. All those radioactive waves may turn us into the Hulk someday. Or maybe not.