Long talks on a cell phone stimulate brain activity, but is that cause for concern? A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows a link between cell phones and brain cell metabolism, but leaves the health implications undetermined.
The study, led by a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, found that after 50 minutes of cell phone use, participants experienced an increase of 7 percent in their brain glucose metabolism, a reflection of increased activity.
Researchers monitored 47 people using positron emission tomography, also known as PET scanning, to measure the location and timing of brain activity. As the Los Angeles Times reports, the researchers found that despite official skepticism that cellphones’ electromagnetic energy affects nearby brain cells — including statements issued by the Food and Drug Administration — it clearly does.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Nora Volkow, who directs the drug abuse institute, says the study is cause for some concern. As she told the Times, “Because there’s been such a massive expansion in cellphone use these past 15 to 20 years, it behooves us to try to understand whether, if we use these devices repeatedly and intensively for years, do they have lasting effects?”
Other experts were less worried.
“Is this a cause for any kind of real concern or alarm? I would say absolutely not,” Dr. Jack Kessler, the chairman of neurology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told the Chicago Sun-Times. He said the observed increase in brain activity was relatively small.
Previous studies have linked cell phones, which emit a radiofrequency wave similar to microwaves, to brain tumors and other ailments, and various governmental agencies have struggled to find an appropriate stance on the issue.
In October, the Federal Communications Commission eliminated a longstanding recommendation for cell phone users worried about the health effects to purchase phones with lower radiation emissions. Its new stance is that all FCC-approved phones meet safety standards.
That move followed a landmark law passed by the local government in San Francisco last June, which required cell phone vendors to post the amount of emissions associated with each model.