There’s no doubt that cell phones are dangerous — at least in one way: Texting and driving leads to countless car accidents, injuries, and deaths.
But cell phones may also be harmful in other ways — producing radiation that potentially disrupts bodily functions in small ways that build up over time.
There is still considerable debate over the potential links between the phone use and chronic disease. Much research has been done, especially concerning brain cancer, with most of it failing to find a correlation.
But some studies have raised questions about potential dangers — so much so that the World Health Organization has classified cell phone radiation as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
As a result, some health advocates advise taking precautions to limit cell phone risks, just in case they are eventually proven to be significant.
“In a way, we’ve all unwittingly become part of an uncontrolled population-wide experiment on cell phone safety,” says Chris Kesser, a leading natural health practitioner. “And the precautionary principle applies — we don’t know that it’s harmful, but it makes sense to take reasonable measures to reduce exposure in case it is.”
The “exposure” of concern is radiofrequency waves (RF), a type of microwave radiation that allows your cell phone to communicate with the local cell tower.
When you hold the phone next to your head, the RF radiation bombards your brain. No one is sure how much harm that may cause, but some studies suggest kids may be most vulnerable.
“The rate of microwave radiation absorption is higher in children than adults because their brain tissues are more absorbent, their skulls are thinner, and their relative size is smaller,” according a report from the Environmental Health Trust published recently in the Journal of Microscopy and Ultrastructure.
Still, no one knows how much damage that radiation may cause. Research has been inconclusive.
But a recent $25 million study using lab rats sent shockwaves through the cell phone industry.
Scientists with the government’s National Toxicology Program meticulously exposed thousands of rats to calibrated RF levels to approximate human usage. The more exposure they got, the more likely they were to develop rare forms of brain and heart cancer.
“I was surprised because there had been so many studies before that had pretty consistently not shown elevations in cancer,” says David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the State University of New York at Albany.
“In retrospect, the reason for that is nobody maintained a sufficient number of animals for a sufficient amount of time to get results like this.”
Brain cancer isn’t the only concern. Human studies have also suggested that cell phone radiation may increase the risk of leukemia in some children and can affect fertility in men by reducing sperm count, motility, and viability.
Even more alarming, experts say the body can interpret RF as an invader, triggering protective biochemical reactions that can disrupt communication between cells, increase free-radical buildup, encourage leakage in the blood-brain barrier, cause genetic damage and spark a cascade of other biological problems.
Fortunately, almost all of the bad stuff happens only when the cell phone is very close to the body. So you can reduce the risks by taking the following precautions:
- Distance yourself from your cell phone. Keep it at least six inches away from your body by using a hands-free headset or speaker phone mode while talking. Don’t carry it in your pocket or at your waist, or use “airplane mode” if you do.
- Use a land line whenever possible.
- Avoid cell phone calls when the signal is weak. The worse the reception, the more RF the phone will generate in trying to stay connected.
- Keep calls short, or send a text message instead.
- Limit your kids’ cell phone usage as much as possible.
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