In just a few decades cell phones have totally taken over our lives. Many times, it’s for the better. When was the last time you actually pulled a map out of the glove compartment to try to navigate somewhere? Or had to stand out in the rain to hail a cab? But are potential cell phone health impacts something to worry about?
Are our devices completely safe? We haven’t been using cell phones long enough to fully study long-term impacts and say using them definitively causes specific diseases. But then again, it took decades to prove a surefire link between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer, too.
Now, I’m not suggesting we all ditch our phones … I rely on mine for so many things. But the following findings may give you reason to take some commonsense cell phone safety precautions to minimize your risk.
Possible Cell Phone Health Impacts
Cell phones emit non-ionizing radiation, which are radio waves known as a type of electromagnetic radiation. We do know that human tissue closest to cell phone antennas absorb some of this energy. (1)
While studies linking cell phone use to brain cancer bring mixed results, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society did give credence to a particular research project. In 2016, the U.S. National Toxicology Program released data related to the agency’s large-scale, $25 million study investigating cell phone use and cancer risk. The results? Very high signal cell phone radiation did result in a slightly increased risk of malignant gliomas in the brain. Risk of schwannomas, rare tumors that develop on the nerve sheath of the heart, also increased with cell phone use. As the dose of radiation increased, so did cancer risk. (2, 3)
The World Health Organization listed cell phone radiation as a 2B carcinogen in 2011. That classification means cell phone radiation is “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” (4)
Medical literature does suggest that beginning cell phone use during teenage years results in a four-to-five times higher risk of a brain cancer diagnosis. (5)
In a first-of-its-kind study published in the Oman Medical Journal, researchers found students who moderately and heavily used cell phones in talk mode experienced a significant alteration to thyroid stimulating hormone levels. (Higher than normal TSH levels, and low average T4 levels were observed.) That may not seem like a big deal, except that even tiny changes to thyroid hormone levels can alter brain function. The study authors say “based on these results, it may be concluded that electromagnetic fields emitted by mobile phones may cause some detrimental effects on thyroid function.” (6)
Cell phone radiation may trigger negative effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary thyroid axis, throwing off normal thyroid hormone levels. (7) However, a 2016 study published in International Radiation Biology found no link between cell phone electromagnetic radiation and thyroid cancer. (8)
Men, please think twice about keeping your cell phone in your pocket or clipped to your belt. Sperm of men exposed to cell phone radiation die three times faster than those unexposed to the radiation. The sperm also experience three times the level of mitochondrial DNA damage, too. Not good news for men’s health or fertility. (9)
Cell Phone Health: Protect Yourself
When it comes to cell phone radiation, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You can drastically reduce your exposure without giving up your device. Here are some common-sense tips:
- Text instead of talking whenever possible, and use speaker mode or use a hands-free kit when you do make calls.
- When talking on your cell phone, hold it an inch or more away from your head.
- Make only short or essential calls on cell phones.
- Avoid carrying your phone against the body, like in a pocket sock or bra.
- Don’t talk on the phone or text while driving.
- If you plan to watch a movie on your device, download it first, then switch to airplane mode while you watch.
- If you can, avoid making calls when you have a weaker signal. Radiation is higher when your bars are lower.
- Avoid making calls in cars, elevators, trains and buses. Cell phones work harder to push a signal through metal, so radiation increases.
- Keep cell phones away from children and out of their mouths. (10)
Final Thoughts on Cell Phone Health Threats
- We’ve only been heavily using cell phones since the 1990s. That’s not enough time to get a full scope of potential long-term health impacts in humans. Remember, it took decades to draw a conclusive link between lung cancer and cigarette smoking.
- Studies linking cell phones to cancer, particularly brain cancer, are mixed. But several recent well-designed studies suggests cell phone use could slightly increase the risk of certain types of brain cancers.
- Electromagnetic radiation from cell phones could also tinker with hormone health, sleep patterns, mental health and more.
- You can drastically reduce your exposure to cell phone radiation using simple tactics like texting by holding the phone away from your body instead of making long calls, keeping the phone on airplane or away from you while you sleep and not keeping your phone on your body all day.