How mobile phones cause cancer, depression
There is now ‘clear evidence’ that cell phone radiation can cause cancers of the heart, brain and adrenal glands, a landmark United States (U.S.) National Institutes of Health (NIH) study warns.
A final report, released last week, confirms the preliminary findings that were released in 2016 after scientists were alarmed by early indications that cell radiation may be carcinogenic.
Although the tests were done on rodents at levels much higher than humans are currently exposed to, the link between cell phones and cancer in male rats was undeniable.
For female rats and mice of both sexes, the evidence was less clear as to whether cancers observed were associated with signal exposure.
Still, scientists warn that the new research suggests that men in particular should take precautions to minimize the exposure of sensitive areas to cell phone radiation.
Senior scientist Dr. John Bucher at the National Toxicology Program (NTP) in Durham, North Carolina said: “The exposures used in the studies cannot be compared directly to the exposure that humans experience when using a cell phone.
“In our studies, rats and mice received radio frequency radiation (RFR) across their whole bodies.
“By contrast, people are mostly exposed in specific local tissues close to where they hold the phone.
“In addition, the exposure levels and durations in our studies were greater than what people experience.”
The finding was the result of a $30 million 10-year study to assess the health effects in animals exposed to RFR with modulations used in 2G and 3G cell phones.
The final reports represent the consensus of NTP and a panel of external scientific experts who reviewed the studies in March after draft reports were issued in February.
Bucher explained: “Cell phones utilize a specific type of radio waves, or radio frequency radiation (RFR), to transmit between the devices and the network.
“Exposure of people to RFR occurs primarily through use of cell phones and other wireless devices.”
The newly-published study focused on 2G and 3G technology. Now, cell service companies have moved on up to 4G, LTE and are rolling out 5G.
Though newer phones are equipped to communicate through these frequencies, the researchers say the new study’s finding’s still shed worrying light on what our technologies do to our bodies.
“While newer technologies have continued to evolve, it is important to note that these technologies have not completely replaced the older technologies,” said Bucher.
“In fact, today’s phones are very complex in that they contain several antennas, for Wi-Fi, GPS, 2G/3G bands, etc. The results of these studies remain relevant to current exposures, although the power levels of the exposures were much higher than typical patterns of human use.”
The lowest exposure level used in the studies was equal to the maximum local tissue exposure currently allowed for mobile phone users but this power level rarely occurs with typical use.
The highest exposure level in the studies was four times higher than the maximum power level permitted in our cell phones.
Bucher, his team, and outside experts that they consulted about the study agree that this report represents the most solid evidence to-date that the link between cell phone radiation and the tumors they saw in rats is real.
“A major strength of our studies is that we were able to control exactly how much radio frequency radiation the animals received – something that’s not possible when studying human cell phone use, which has often relied on questionnaires,” said Bucher.
Exposure to RFR began in the womb for rats and at five to six weeks old for mice, and continued for up to two years, or most of their natural lifetime.
The RFR exposure was intermittent, 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off, totalling about nine hours each day.
RFR levels ranged from 1.5 to 6 watts per kilogramme in rats, and 2.5 to 10 watts per kilogram in mice.
These studies did not investigate the types of RFR used for Wi-Fi or 5G networks, which may have very different health effects.
Future studies will focus on developing measurable physical indicators, or biomarkers, of potential effects from RFR.
These may include changes in metrics like DNA damage in exposed tissues, which can be detected much sooner than cancer.
“This animal evidence, together with the extensive human evidence, coupled with the rising incidence of brain cancers in young people in the US, conclusively confirms that radio frequency radiation is a Category 1 human carcinogen,” said Dr Anthony Miller, a University of Toronto Dalla Lana School of Public Health Professor Emeritus.
Also, teenagers who talk on the phone a lot, and hold their cell phones up to their right ears, score worse on one type of memory test. That is the finding of a new study. That memory impairment might be one side-effect of the radiation that phones use to keep us connected while we’re on the go.
Nearly 700 Swiss teens took part in a test of figural memory. This type helps us recall abstract symbols and shapes, explains Milena Foerster.
She’s an epidemiologist. That’s someone who studies disease patterns within a population. She worked on the study as part of a team while Foerster was at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute in Basel, Switzerland. (She is now at the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France.)
Teens participated in memory tests twice, one year apart. Each time, they had one minute to memorize 13 pairs of abstract shapes. Then they were shown one item from each pair and asked to match it with one of five choices.
The study volunteers also took a test of verbal memory. That’s the ability to remember words. The two memory tests are parts of an intelligence test.
The researchers also surveyed the teens on how they use mobile phones. And they got call records from phone companies.
The researchers used those records to estimate how long the teens were using their phones. This allowed the researchers to calculate how big a radiation exposure each person could have gotten while talking.
All cell phones give off energy in the form of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, or RF-EMFs. Radio and TV broadcasts also use this type of energy. So do microwave ovens and some other gadgets.
For a phone, that energy carries information, in the form of calls or texts between phones and cell phone towers. That radiation also can travel into people’s bodies as they use their phones. And some of its energy can be absorbed by the body.
So far, scientists have not shown that radiation from phones causes harm, says the Federal Communications Commission. Research is ongoing, this U.S. agency notes.
Three cell phone towers in the distance
Mobile phones send and receive data from cell phone towers in the form of electromagnetic energy. They use a type of energy called a radiofrequency electromagnetic field, or RF-EMF.
A phone user’s exposure to RF-EMFs can vary widely. Some teens talk on their phone more than others. People also hold their phones differently. If the phone is close to the ear, more radiation may enter the body, Foerster notes.
Even the type of network signal that a phone uses can matter. Much of Switzerland was using an older “second-generation” type of cell-phone network when the group collected its data.
That type of network can expose people to between 100 and 500 times as much RF-EMF radiation as newer networks, the study reports.
Many phone carriers have moved away from such networks. And more companies plan to update their networks within the next few years.
The teens’ scores in the figural memory tests were roughly the same from one year to the next.
But those who normally held their phone near their right ear, and who were also exposed to higher levels of radiation, scored a little bit worse after a year. No group of teens showed notable changes on the verbal memory test.
Why might one type of memory be linked to cell phone use, but not another? Foerster and her colleagues think it could have to do where different memory centers sit in the brain. The site that deals with the ability to remember shapes is near the right ear.
“This may suggest that indeed RF-EMF absorbed by the brain is responsible” for the results, said coauthor Martin Röösli. He, too, is an epidemiologist in Basel at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute.
The report was published last July in Environmental Health Perspectives.
Also, scientists warn children as young as two are developing mental health problems because of smartphones and tablets.
Just an hour a day staring at a screen can be enough to make children more likely to be anxious or depressed. This could be making them less curious, less able to finish tasks, less emotionally stable and lowering their self-control.
Although teenagers are most at risk from the damaging devices, children under the age of 10 and toddlers’ still-developing brains are also being affected.
But research shows ‘zombie’ British children spend nearly five hours every day gawping at electronic devices.
Researchers from San Diego State University and the University of Georgia say time spent on smartphones is a serious but avoidable cause of mental health issues.
“Half of mental health problems develop by adolescence,” professors Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell said.
“There is a need to identify factors linked to mental health issues that are [able to be changed] in this population, as most are difficult or impossible to influence.
“How children and adolescents spend their leisure time is [easier] to change.”
Parents and teachers must cut the amount of time children spend online or watching television while they’re studying, socialising, eating or even playing sport.
Professor Twenge said her study, one of the biggest of its kind, backs the American Academy of Pediatrics’ established screen time limit – one hour per day for children aged two to five.
It also suggests a similar limit – perhaps two hours – should be applied to school-aged children and adolescents, she added.
The researchers analysed data provided by the parents of more than 40,000 US children aged two to 17 for a nationwide health survey in 2016.
The questionnaire asked about the youngsters’ medical care, any emotional, developmental or behavioural issues and their daily screen time.
Lead author, Dr. Jean Twenge, from San Diego State University, said: “Compared with previous generations, teens in the 2010s spent more time online and less time with traditional media, such as books, magazines and television.
“Time on digital media has displaced time once spent enjoying a book or watching TV.”
The researchers worry declining reading rates among teenagers will affect their performances at school as they lack the concentration to understand text books.
The researchers analysed the results of the Monitoring the Future study, which surveys approximately 50,000 students aged 13-to-18 every year in the US.
Adolescents spending more than seven hours a day on screens are twice as likely to have been diagnosed with anxiety or depression as those who spent an hour.
Links between screen time and wellbeing are stronger among adolescents than young children, the study found.
Professor Twenge said: “At first, I was surprised the associations were larger for adolescents.
“However, teens spend more time on their phones and on social media, and we know from other research that these activities are more strongly linked to low wellbeing than watching television and videos, which is most of younger children’s screen time.”
Even moderate use of four hours is also associated with lower psychological well-being than one hour a day.
Pre-schoolers, or under fives, who are high users are twice as likely to often lose their temper – and are 46 per cent more prone to not be able to calm down when excited.
Among 14 to 17 year olds, more than four in ten (42.2 per cent) of those in the study who spent more than seven hours a day on screens did not finish tasks.
About one in eleven (9 per cent) of 11 to 13-year-olds who spent an hour with screens daily were not curious or interested in learning new things.
Writing in the journal Preventative Medicine Reports, the professors said they were particularly interested in links between screen time and diagnoses of anxiety and depression in youngsters, which have not yet been studied in great detail.
They said: “Previous research on associations between screen time and psychological well being among children and adolescents has been conflicting, leading some researchers to question the limits on screen time suggested by physician organisations.”
The US National Institute of Health estimates children and adolescents commonly spend an average of five to seven hours on screens during leisure time.
Evidence is growing of the adverse effects this has on health.
This year the World Health Organisation decided to include gaming disorder in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases.
And in December 2017 a team of Oxford University researchers found UK ‘zombie’ children’s average daily screen time has leapt in a generation from just under three hours to four hours and 45 minutes.
Experts warn ‘addicted’ children risk sleeplessness, obesity and falling victim to cyber-bullying, while losing valuable social skills through a lack of face-to-face contact.