Holding a cell phone to the ear for 50 minutes was associated with increased brain activity according to a study performed by the National Institutes of Health and published in the Feb 23 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
The use of cell phones has steadily been on the rise around the world. In fact, 300 million cell phones are in use in the US, and more than 85% of US adults own a cell phone. With the increase in cell phone usage among US adults and children, scientists are concerned about the possible short- and long-term health impacts of cell phone use.
There have been numerous studies that have attempted to determine if their is a link between cell phone usage and brain cancer and results have often been inconsistent and inconclusive This is the first study of its kind to look at the impact of cell phone usage on brain activity.
A team led by Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, conducted an experiment to evaluate the effect of cell phone use on brain glucose metabolism, a marker for brain activity. The brain uses glucose to create energy and function; the more brain activity, the greater the usage of glucose by the brain.
Between Jan 1 and Dec 31, 2009, 47 healthy volunteers participated in the study at Brookhaven National Laboratory (Long Island, NY). The subjects had a cell phone placed over their left and right ear while the lay in a PET scanner for 50 minutes. Glucose levels were measured when both phones were turned off and when only the right phone was turned on and playing a muted pre-recorded message for 50 minutes.
Activity in the part of the brain closest to the antenna (orbitofrontal cortex and temporal pole) increased by 7% when the cell phone was turned on as compared to when both cell phones were turned off (35.7 vs 33.3 μmol glucose/100 g per minute).
At this point it is unclear what the implications of increased brain activity associated with cell phone usage might be for the long-term health of the general population. The scientists concluded that cell phone users should wear a headset whenever feasible to minimize the brain’s phone exposure.