Cell Phone Research Suggests Fetal Risk

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March 19th, 2012
By Laura Sanders

Round-the-clock cell phone radiation may harm growing brains, a mouse study suggests. Mice exposed to an active phone for the duration of a pregnancy gave birth to pups that displayed long-lasting behavioral and brain abnormalities, researchers write March 15 in Scientific Reports.

Although the results indicate that chronic exposure to cell phone radiation can disrupt the fetal brain in mice, it’s unclear whether the same holds true for people. “The paper is an interesting paper. There are no two ways around that,” says Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in Bethesda, Md., who has studied the effects of cell phone radiation. “The issue is, ultimately, what is the significance to humans?”

In the study, reproductive endocrinologist Hugh Taylor of Yale School of Medicine and colleagues rigged up bare-bones cell phones (not smart phones) to pregnant mice’s cages. Half the phones were actively receiving a call on mute for the entirety of the mice’s pregnancies, which last about 17 days. The other phones were inactive.

On average, offspring from the mothers exposed to cell phone radiation performed worse on a memory test, moved around more, and were less anxious than mice who were not exposed to cell phone radiation. Nerve cell signaling in the prefrontal cortex — a brain region that, in humans, sits behind the forehead and has been implicated in many mental disorders — was also dampened in exposed mice.

In the report, Taylor and his colleagues suggest that these behavioral and brain deficits are similar to those seen in people with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and speculate that increased cell phone use could explain an increase in ADHD in children.

Other scientists disagree. “To blame the increase in ADHD on mobile phones, that is premature,” says cognitive neuroscientist and ADHD researcher Katya Rubia of King’s College London, who says that such a claim is alarmist and unjustified. The behavioral deficits of the mice are very different from the behavioral symptoms seen in people with ADHD, she says.

Mouse fetuses in the experiment were between 4.5 and 22.3 centimeters from the phone at all times — creating a different exposure than what a human fetus would receive. And Volkow notes that human fetuses have more protective amniotic fluid around them. “The exposures were too high and too intense to be translated to humans,” she says.

So far, other research has hinted at a possible link between pregnant women who used cell phones frequently and behavioral problems in their children. Two studies, led by epidemiologist Hozefa Divan, who conducted the research at UCLA and at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, found such an association. But more studies are needed, he says. “There’s still a lack of really solid evidence one way or the other.”

In the meantime, the researchers agree that pregnant women should avoid carrying a cell phone near the abdomen. “I don’t want to sensationalize this or cause panic, but I think it’s worth being cautious,” Taylor says.

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by: Leah Zerbe

Last year, the World Health Organization named cellphone radiation a possible carcinogen, putting it in a class with DDT, lead, and tailpipe exhaust in terms of potential to cause cancer. Because the technology is still relatively new and cancers could take decades to develop, researchers haven’t been able to definitively prove or disprove that cellphones, or other wireless devices like iPads, cause cancer.

The latest evidence suggesting you might want to practice the precautionary principal to protect your family from cellphone radiation? A new animal study out of Yale University found that prenatal exposure to cellphone radiation increases the risk of a child’s developing ADHD symptoms. This isn’t the first study to link cellphones to behavioral problems in kids. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health found that children born in the mid- to late-1990s, the early days of cellphone use, were more likely to experience behavioral problems by age 7 if their mothers used a cellphone on a regular basis during and after pregnancy.
Another recent study found that a child’s growing body can absorb up to 10 times the radiation an adult’s body absorbs, another reason to limit exposure.

Aside from an increased risk of behavioral problems, cellphone radiation has been linked to ringing in the ears, bone loss, concentration problems, and sometimes, rashes.

The good news is you don’t have to totally abandon your iPad or smartphone to protect yourself from cellphone radiation.

Use these tips to drastically reduce the amount of radiation your absorb from cellphones and similar gadgets.

Put your phone in a safer mode. If you’re using your phone for certain tasks, you may not even need the wireless transmitters turned on. “”Teach your kids to keep their phone or iPad on Airplane Mode as much as possible,”” Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, author Zapped: Why Your Cellphone Shouldn’t Be Your Alarm Clock and 1,268 Ways to Outsmart the Hazards of Electronic Pollution . “”Switching off the Wi-Fi and 3G transmitters reduces radiation exposure but still allows access to music, movies, apps, and games.””
Don’t sleep with your phone. Make sure family members, especially children, turn off radiation-emitting devices every night, and never allow them to sleep with the devices on or near them. Use a good old-fashioned alarm clock, not a cellphone version, near the bed.

Pick a Pong. Pong cellphone and iPad cases were developed by MIT, Princeton, Harvard, and UCLA scientists, and have been tested in labs to ensure they reduce radiation exposure by up to 95 percent below the FCC limit. Even celebrities like Jillian Michaels and Mila Kunis have been spotted with Pong cases.

Establish some headroom. Use speaker phone instead of talking with a cellphone up against your head, and favor texting versus talking whenever possible…it creates more space between the device and your body. (Just don’t text while driving!)

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