A new study into the effects of mobile phones on human brains published in the Journal of the American Medical Association reveals that extended conversations on mobile phones accelerate the metabolic rate of the brain. The study was not focused on identifying health risks, but it may spark a new debate about the way cell phones impact the health of their users. The spike in metabolic rates is lower than the one identified in the case of visually stimulating electronics.
The new study found that radiation from cell phone antennas determines brain tissues nearby to consume levels of energy that are 7 percent above normal rates. While it is yet unclear what the significance of this discovery and what the exact mechanism are, the study is the first one to provide reliable data on the effect of mobile phones radio frequencies on the brain.
Nora Volkov, neuroscientist at the National Institute of Health, and her team studied the brains of 47 persons who had cell phones attached to both sides of their head. While one phone was engaged in a 50-minute long phone call, the other was off and muted to prevent any audio waves from producing effects on brain activity.
Twenty minutes after the call started, the subject was injected with a radioactive sugar-based substance. The brains of the subjects were then imaged with a Positron Emission Topography scanner. The radioactive sugar stacked up in the regions of the brain that were most active during the remaining 30 minutes of the call and showed the levels of energy usage in those brain areas. It was revealed that the side of the brain with the active call used, in average, 7 percent more sugar than would be normal under circumstances of normal brain activity.
According to Dardo Tomasi, a physicist at the Brookhaven National Laboratory and member of the research team, the activity revealed in the study is several times lower than when people watch movies, for instance.
However, despite the fact that the changes in the brain’s metabolism are small, the effect cell phones have is not natural and, according to Tomasi, the human brain is not naturally equipped to handle it.Based solely on this finding, it is impossible to deduce the potential long-term implications, but further study would not come at high expense and it is seen as a worthwhile endeavor.
Tricky Field with Inconclusive Results
Many recent studies have been conducted in order to identify potential risks to health derived from intensive use of mobile phones. Most studies have focused on potential links between cell phones and occurrence of cancer, but the results were negative.
While the use of cell phones was not found to cause cancer, it does not exclude the possibility of other radiation-based effects. At the least, the level of radiation emitted by mobile phones would increase the temperatures in close by tissue. The majority of the studies in the field, however, gave out conflicting results. Add to that the fact that cell phones have not been around for too long, which means that potentially damaging long-term effects are yet to be produced.
According to Nora Volkov, previous studies included a maximum of 14 test subjects and their brain activity was monitored only for short sessions of up to 60 seconds. Since the effects of cell phones on the brain are quite weak and the samples were small in size and duration, the statistical value of the results is significantly low, explained Volkov. The study conducted by Volkov and her colleagues included 47 people, which were monitored over long time spans in order to collect relevant data.
Geoffrey Kabat, cancer epidemiologist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, said that the study did not result in clinical conclusions, but it does offer the best insight into the effects of cell phone radiation on the brain and it shows that the small effect of radiation increases with extended exposure.