Cellphone use yields more ‘active’ brain scan: study

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 22, 2011 19:16 EDT
google plus icon
  • Print Friendly and PDF
  • Email this page

WASHINGTON – Cellphone use appeared to measurably increase brain activity in dozens of test subjects in a new study, though it failed to resolve a debate over whether the devices pose health risks.

The study in Wednesday’s edition of The Journal of the American Medical Association, was carried out by scientists at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

The research, conducted over the entire 2009 calendar year, aimed to determine whether cellphone exposure affects regional activity in the brain.

Cellphones were first placed on the left and right ears of 47 test subjects. Two PET-scan brain images were then taken: the first with the right cell phone activated but the sound muted for 50 minutes, and the second with both cell phones turned off.

Researchers said they found increased brain glucose metabolism — a marker of brain activity — in the region closest to the phone antenna of the activated cellphone, but not in the de-activated one.

But they acknowledged that the clinical significance of the findings remained unclear and that further research was necessary to determine whether the electromagnetic fields emanating from cell phones could affect human brain function with “long-term harmful consequences.”

“These results provide evidence that the human brain is sensitive to the effects of RF-EMFs from acute cell phone exposures,” they wrote.

“The dramatic worldwide increase in use of cellular telephones has prompted concerns regarding potential harmful effects of exposure to radiofrequency-modulated electromagnetic fields (RF-EMFs).”

The scientists were especially concerned about the “potential carcinogenic effects” from these cell phone emissions.

But epidemiological studies linking cell phone use to the occurrence of brain tumors have been “inconsistent,” they noted.

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
By commenting, you agree to our terms of service
and to abide by our commenting policy.
  • mick

    The “measurably increase brain activity” is probably cancer cells deciding when to get together !

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bob-Zentrails/100001475536421 Bob Zentrails

    As a scientist, I wonder how this could be true, yet much more powerful RF emissions don’t seem to do anything at all to the brain, which is a good thing since many of us are bombarded with all sorts of RF radiation constantly.

    It seems an awful lot like the correlation that is periodically proven, then unproven in studies of people who live near high power transmission lines.

    Non-scientists (and people who pretend they are trained scientists like MD’s) don’t know how easy it is to find “correlations.” It’s a much different matter to prove any cause and effect, which the media always portrays as the same thing as “correlations.” They are not. Correlations usually are meaningless.

    In this article for instance, it states that “the clinical significance of the findings remained unclear” immediately followed by a bunch of wild speculation that presupposes just the opposite. The clear implication is that the findings do in fact have “clinical significance” which they do not. A common way to prepare the reader for this type of argument is to have a scary headline that says something like: “Cellphone use linked to abnormal brain metabolism.” which is indeed how most people would interpret the title used in this article.

    Then it’s stated early in the article that “it failed to resolve a debate over whether the devices pose health risks.” which implies that there is a fraction of scientists who argue that the devices do pose health risks when in fact there are no legitimate scientists saying that and no debate exists except in the author’s imagination.

    It’s an old communications manipulation trick: state something which is speculation as if it were proven fact, then move right on to the consequences of what that fact would produce if indeed it were factual. The technical term for this line of argument is “baffle them with bullshit.”

    Makes for a better story, you see.

  • Anonymous

    As long as the accelerated brain activity isn’t brain cancer developing from the cell radio RF energy.

  • mick

    “Correlation doesn’t mean causation ,you f#*#ing moron ! ” is the phrase my 19 y/o boy tells me…he’s right !
    But you failed to tell us what kind of “scientist” you are .And you must admit “radio frequency radiation” from a distance of tens of yards (or meters) as compared to “radio frequency radiation” in full contact with the body are many levels of magnitude higher .What is it ,the ” inverse square law ” ?


  • Guest

    Cellphones operate around the Microwave band of the Electromagnetic Spectrum. Although this energy is non-ionizing, it does not take rocket science to postulate that it may be bad to hold a low-power microwave oven directly next to one’s dome for an extended period of time. If it can excite molecules enough to cook food then It can probably excite some of my brain cells as well, even in the milliwatt output range that cellphones typically operate at.

    My own personal, and numerous, experiences have shown that talking on a cellphone, for even a few moments, can give me a headache, but more likely will just make inner ear hurt/feel weird.

  • Anonymous

    From a neuroscientist, in response to “Mr. Zenrails”:

    While these data cannot currently be interpreted definitively, one aspect of this study which tentatively concerns me is the increased glucose metabolism.

    The neurochemical, neuroendocrine, neurometabolic, etc., systems are maintained within a very sensitive interval in which they perform optimally — not unlike the conditions which give rise to life itself — and are severely disrupted (if they don’t fail completely) given too much or too little of a given neurotransmitter (eg serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, etc), hormonal activity, level of metabolic activity, etc.

    Observed localization of the increased glucose metabolism certainly warrants further study. As we both know, this is the nature of science; however, I don’t see any “old communications manipulation trick” in the article, especially given that “science journalism” has a proclivity for hyperbolic headlines.

    After all, you yourself quote the very first sentence of this “science journalism” article which explicitly states that the present study “[fails] to resolve a debate over whether the devices pose health risks.”

  • Anonymous

    In free space, all electromagnetic waves (radio, light, X-rays, etc.) obey the inverse-square law which states that the power density of an electromagnetic wave is proportional to the inverse of the square of the distance from a point source…


    Well done, sir…

    Physics not being my field of specialty, I hadn’t checked up on the inverse square law as it concerns radio waves…

    Anyway, the observed upregulation of the brain’s glucose metabolism is worrisome enough; hopefully specialists in several disciplines will come together to expand on this obviously valuable research.

  • Anonymous

    Just read the actual article (gotta love the VPN)…the authors have more than enough statistical power (sensitivity) to reliably detect even small effects with 47 participants (1-beta > .80) and their effects are quite significant; normalized relative to whole brain metabolism they are significant at the p < 0.001 level (the p-value correctly interpreted: probability of observing the same or more extreme value under the null hypothesis ("no effect") is less than a tenth of one percent; certainly possibly but highly unlikely) with increases in the right orbitofrontal cortex and right superior temporal gyrus…they claim the radioactive tracer they used ((18)FDG) is more sensitive to long-lasting effects than those used in other studies, although they did keep the right phone in the "on" condition for 50 minutes (!)…they propose RF-EMF disrupts the integrity of the blood-brain barrier, but note that the significance of alteration of a biomarker of the BBB integrity, transthyretin, is "unclear"…and report a linear relationship between electric field amplitude and cellphone-induced upregulation of brain metabolism…their figure 1 certainly supports the inverse-square law; most of the brain saw no change, while those closest to the ear see quite a bit…

    50-minute exposure to RF-EMFs seems kind of extreme, although maybe more people than I'd expect spend that long talking at a time on their cell phones…long story short, probably a good idea to limit the duration of your cell calls…

  • Anonymous

    see my other comment, but you raise a good point…

    it’s not that there is a thermal effect from cell phone usage (at least based upon this article and those it cites); the reality may be much worse…RF-EMF may affect the blood-brain barrier, the permeability of the (neuronal) cell membrane, neuronal excitability, and perhaps neurotransmitter release…that is to paraphrase this article’s reference #4, more specifically:

    Hyland GJ. Physics and biology of mobilie telephony. Lancet. 2000; 356 (9244): 1833-1836