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Effects of Cell Phone Radiation

Effects of Cell Phone Radiation

Today, cell phones are among the most popular means of communication throughout the world. However, concerns are being raised over the possible effects of the radiations emitted by them. Read on to know more.
Bidisha Mukherjee
Quick Fact
In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) included mobile phone radiation under the category of Group 2B, which indicates that this radiation is possibly carcinogenic.

Radiation can be defined as the energy that is transmitted in the form of rays, waves, or particles. We are exposed to various types of radiation. Some are harmful to our body, whereas others are not. Mobile communication takes place through radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation, due to which these waves are emitted by cell phones. There are two types of radiation; namely ionizing and non-ionizing.
Ionizing radiation: It can cause permanent or irreversible damage to the body cells by changing the tissue structure and resulting in unwanted chemical reactions. Gamma rays and X-rays are two main examples of this type of radiation.
Non-ionizing radiation: It does not cause any long-term damage to the body tissues, and is considered to be relatively safe. It may cause a temporary heating effect on the body. Examples of this type of radiation include microwaves and radio waves.
Effects of Cell Phone Radiation on the Human Body
Due to Rise in Temperature
Microwaves work on the principle of dielectric effect (like in a microwave oven, to heat food), i.e., when they are incident on an object, a bipolar movement is caused between the molecules of the material, and it results in a simultaneous vibration and increase in the temperature of that object. The human body also experiences a similar effect, and the major parts affected include the ears, eyes, and the brain. Studies are being conducted to prove the ill-effects that this radiation can have on the human body. Studies on rabbits suggest that electromagnetic radiations have adverse effects on the cornea of their eyes.
Non-thermal Effects
According to research, body cells are triggered by radio waves, which causes thermoreceptor molecules in the cells to wrongly interpret DNA and RNA coding signals, which may further result in genetic changes. These alterations might be caused by production of heat shock proteins, which try to protect the body cells from getting affected by heat stress.
Due to Absorption of Radiation
The amount of emissions made by mobile phones is quite less. Our body is exposed to such radiation while making or receiving calls. Radio waves emitted by mobile handsets are absorbed by our body. They have a mild heating effect on the living tissues. It is likely that this rise in temperature does not cause any damage to the cells. However, there are indications that cell phone radiation can cause a few changes in cell functioning. These changes are mostly temporary in nature. Bodily processes such as activation of proteins, communication between the body cells, and genetic functions are affected by radiation. Though the exact reasons behind these changes have not yet been ascertained, heating of tissues is believed to be a major cause.
The levels of radiation emitted by cell phones are measured on the basis of Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), which denotes the amount of radiation that is absorbed by the human body. A limit for SAR (1.6 W/kg) was set in the US, by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC). The manufacturers that produce phones having radiation levels greater than the standard value are not given the required licenses.
Effect on the Blood-brain Barrier
This barrier is present in the central nervous system, and it's responsible for restricting the passage of unwanted substances between the blood stream and the neural tissue. As the term suggests, the function of this barrier is to block or prevent certain harmful substances from entering the brain or the spinal cord, while allowing the inflow of useful substances like oxygen. Radio waves emitted by cell phones may increase the permeability of the blood-brain barrier, as a result of which microscopic bacteria may enter the restricted zone between the blood stream and neural tissue. However, it has been observed that this is minimal, and does not last long. Usually, normal functioning is restored when the radiation stops. This change is believed to occur due to microscopic heating. It is not known to cause any major harm.
Cognitive Effects
In 2009, research based on cognitive and aptitude tests on human beings suggested that long-term exposure to radiation from mobile phones affected brain function. Memory, performance, and level of thinking were found to have been affected.
Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity
Long-term usage of mobile phones has produced numerous effects on the health of their users. Many cases of hampered brain function, cancers, and genetic defects attributed to excessive cell phone usage have been reported in the last decade. The ill-effects result from the absorption of radiation by the body. Symptoms include tinnitus, skin rashes, muscle pain, tingling sensation in the head and on the skin, hot and burning sensation, fatigue, dizziness, disturbed sleep patterns, headaches, etc.
Effects on the Unborn Babies
There is no conclusive evidence of whether cell phone radiations affect the unborn child and it's debatable whether women should avoid using cell phones during pregnancy. However, doctors do advice pregnant women to restrict its use, as the emitted electromagnetic waves may have adverse effects on the unborn baby. Some studies indicate that when an unborn baby is exposed to radiation, behavioral and cognitive changes are seen when the baby grows up. Also, a stronger radiation might affect other bodily processes that may in turn hamper the child's growth.
A cell phone emits radiations of higher intensity if it has a low signal strength, and vice versa. Hence, pregnant woman are advised to use mobile phones only if/when network signals are strong, as in this case, the resultant radiation energy would have a minimum effect on the unborn baby.
Risk of Cancer and Tumors
Radio frequency (RF) radiation emitted from cell phones is believed to increase the risk of cancer or tumors in humans. Several intensive studies are being conducted to investigate if cell phone radiation causes cancer. The possibility is not totally ruled out. Cancer takes many years to develop within the human body, whereas the common use of mobile phones began just ten years ago. Naturally, it will take some more time to find out whether there is any relation between cancer and cell phone radiation. Attempts have been made to establish a link between the risk of tumor and cell phone radiation. But so far, there is no strong evidence to prove that the use of cell phones can give rise to such a health risk. However, some studies reported that the risk of brain tumors increases manifold, if cell phones are used for a long period. Mobile phones emit radiation in the form of radio frequency (RF) waves, and according to a few studies, the usage of phones for more than an hour per day for 10 years, might significantly increase the chances of a brain tumor. The risks of developing acoustic neuroma (a type of tumor that begins at the ears and continues till the brain) can increase due to heavy use of mobile phones.
Gene Toxicity
In a European study called REFLEX [Risk Evaluation of Potential Environmental Hazards from Low Energy Electromagnetic Field (EMF)] conducted in 2004, several DNA samples were exposed to about 0.4 to 2 W/kg of radiation. The results showed effects like minute damage to the cell organelles (mitochondria and ribosomes), minute alteration in several genes, an increase in cell multiplication, etc. But these effects were not proven on a large scale, and studies on this are still on. In 2008-2009, a few meta-studies reported genotoxicity in the exposed genetic material of DNA samples, which was a result of exposing them to RF.
Effect on Sperm Count and Quality
Low sperm count or quality are among the prime reasons behind the increasing cases of infertility around the world. Several studies have shown a direct relation between decrease in sperm count and extensive use of mobile phones. These studies were in the form of controlled experiments that were conducted on human subjects, and experiments conducted on sperms to assess their quality. In case of every subject, the count and quality of sperms was checked. As a part of these studies, couples facing difficulties in child-bearing were asked questions about their lifestyle and whether it involved heavy use of cell phones. There was a link found between fertility problems and excessive cell phone usage. The University of Athens conducted an experiment on fruit flies, wherein the insects were exposed to radiation for a few minutes. The exposure was found to result in a decrease in their reproductive capacity.
Many hospitals discourage the use of mobile phones within their premises. This is because the electromagnetic signals from these devices may interfere with certain medical equipment like pacemakers and defibrillators, even when the phones are in standby mode. The possibility of major disturbances is high in intensive care units (ICUs) and Neonatal intensive care units (NICUs).
The growth in mobile phone technology is taking place at a rapid pace. On the other hand, researchers have not made any major breakthroughs to prove the actual effects of cellular radiation. It is best to minimize the exposure to cell phone radiation by avoiding their overuse.