It seems that nowadays everybody has a cell phone — even kids have their own cell phones. This is the communication age. Everything is so much easier and entertaining now that we can talk to friends and family, stay connected with work, text message, surf the Internet, listen to music, take pictures, or play games at any time — all on a device that is smaller than your hand.
However, we’ve all heard about the contentious issue of whether or not regular cell phone use could cause brain tumors. The debate has raged on for years — with studies seeming to prove both sides’ claims. However, a recent study sheds new light on the effects of cell phone emissions on the brain — and it seems to have nothing to do with the tumor concerns.
A cell phone is basically a two-way radio. When you speak into a cell phone, it converts your speech into radio waves and sends them to a receiver. The receiver transmits your call through a telephone network to the person whom you’re calling. When receiving a call, your phone converts the radio waves it receives into the voice of the person you are speaking to.
It’s these radio waves — also referred to as “electromagnetic fields” (EMFs) — that were the subject of the aforementioned study. Researchers in Italy decided to monitor the physical effects of cell phone EMFs on people’s brains. This is not to say that they’re looking at symptoms or long-term effects, rather they wanted to see if the brain’s activity changed when exposed to these radio waves.
The study involved 15 males between the ages of 20 and 36. The participants attended two 45-minute sessions of transcranial magnetic stimulation (which employs powerful, rapidly changing magnetic fields on the brain in order to figure out how it functions) using cell phone EMFs or a sham signal in a period of two weeks.
Each subject had a session where they were exposed to EMFs, and each had a session where the EMF signal was actually turned off (but neither they nor the researchers in attendance were aware of this). Before and after the sessions, the researchers recorded temperature and brain activity.
While they found no temperature change, the researchers did find that there was a significant change in “cortical excitability” in the area with most physical exposure to the EMFs (right where your cell phone would rest against your head). The effects lasted for about an hour after the session. This means that certain brain cells became more active following EMF exposure.
While this is a very interesting finding, as it shows that a cell phone does affect the brain, it doesn’t tell us what the activity means to a person’s health. The Italian researchers are theorizing that the cell phone EMFs could actually be beneficial to certain people, such as those individuals suffering from migraines, dementia, or stroke. However, they also believe that the radio waves could be very harmful to epileptics or brain disease patients.
More larger and long-term studies are needed to show exactly what we’re dealing with when it comes to cell phones and our brains. Whether the cell phone is a hazard to your health or a source of potential treatment, or both, remains to be seen.
Everyone does seem to agree, though, that children should not use these gadgets regularly, as any physical effects will be magnified in their still-developing bodies and minds.